Ex-Israeli beauty queen put on 7.7kg of muscle to play Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot can add scene-stealing to her list of superpowers on screen and off.

When the cast of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice gather at the Warner Brothers lot in Los Angeles to talk to The Straits Times and other media, the 30-year-old Hollywood newcomer somehow fields more questions than any of her famous co-stars.

This, despite the fact that the Israeli model and former beauty queen is just a bit player in the new film, which stars Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman and opens in Singapore tomorrow.

The story is a dark and brooding tale that requires Affleck and Cavill to mope around a fair bit, so at a press screening in Los Angeles, the only time the audience cheers is when Gadot appears in a critical scene.

At the press event the next day, reporters still cannot get enough of the charming actress - flanked by heavy-hitters Affleck, 43, and Cavill, 32, she answers questions about the movie and how she hopes her stint as Wonder Woman will inspire her four-year-old daughter Alma as well as other children.

"I'm so happy to be the one who's going to tell the Wonder Woman story because it's such an important story to tell. I think it's so important for girls and boys to have a strong female superhero to look up to," she says.

This is the biggest role to date for the former Israeli television actress, who was a model and the 2004 Miss Israel pageant winner before she began appearing as minor supporting characters in films such as Knight And Day (2010) and three instalments of The Fast And The Furious franchise (2009 to 2015), where she played weapons expert Gisele.

She missed out some major roles - including the one that went to Olga Kurylenko in 2008's Quantum Of Solace - but one day got a call about a mystery part in a new Warner Bros movie.

"They wanted to audition me for something, they would not say what, so, of course, I was intrigued and I did. And two weeks later, they asked me to do a camera test with Ben and I said, 'Great, what's the role?' My agent said they would not say a word, but to expect a call from director Zack Snyder.

"And Zack called me that night and said, 'I'm not sure you have it in Israel, but have you ever heard of Wonder Woman?' I think I went dead for a good few seconds," Gadot recalls, with a laugh.

After the auditioning process, which stretched to seven weeks, "they finally called to say I got the part", says the star, who beat Kurylenko, 36, for the role.

As the lasso-wielding badass, Gadot is also getting her own movie - next year's Wonder Woman, which has just started filming.

In the meantime, Batman and Superman concede that she stole a bit of their thunder in this movie.

Affleck says: "Gal did such a great, amazing job and made all the scenes that I was in with her better. It made me better. She's my favourite part of the movie when she shows up."

Cavill agrees, adding: "Gal cuts a fine figure as Wonder Woman. She brings something particular, something statuesque, something other- worldly to the character."

The person Gadot is most keen to impress, however, is Alma, her daughter with Tel Aviv real estate developer Yaron Varsano.

"She adores princesses, but at the same time, she'll tell me, 'The princess, she is so weak. She falls asleep, the prince will come and save her and kiss her and he's the hero!'"

So she is glad that she is getting to play such a female character who so clearly does not need a prince to rescue her.

But the film-makers took some heat from fans when news of Gadot's casting broke - some comic- book aficionados said she was too thin and flat-chested to play the character, who cut a rather voluptuous figure in the comic books as well as in the 1975-1979 TV series starring Lynda Carter.

Firing back at her critics, she said in a recent Glamour magazine interview that if they want her breasts to be "accurate" to the comics and Wonder Woman's origin story as a member of the Amazon tribe of female warriors, that means slicing off one breast - because according to Greek mythology, that is what Amazonian women do so it would not get in the way of their bow and arrow.

In addition, the actress - who was a combat instructor in the Israeli army when she did her two years of national service - embarked on a regimen of martial arts training to prepare for the role and added 7.7kg of muscle to her frame as a result.

"I feel so much better now," she told Glamour. "When you feel strong, it changes everything: your posture, the way you walk. I look at photos from five years ago and think, 'Whoa, I was too skinny. It's not cool.'"

While she is full of praise for the Wonder Woman played by Carter in the 1970s series, she fully intends to make the character her own, even if it means ignoring some of the most ardent fans.

"You can't please them all. My responsibility is not to pay too much attention to all the noise around me, but to pay attention to the script, to the director Zack and to protect the character and to try to tell her story the best I can."

This article was first published on March 24, 2016.
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