Wonder Woman sneak peek: director Patty Jenkins on bringing Diana and Steve Trevor to life

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Jan 8, 2019, 11:00 AM EST (Updated)

[Editor's note: Last week Editor At Large Aaron Sagers traveled to Warner Brothers' production facility in London for details on the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. The report is broken up into three parts, and there are minor spoilers throughout for those who do not wish to know anything about the film.]

Note: This is part three of a 3-part report of the visit to the Wonder Woman edit studios. Make sure you read Part 1  - which is a general overview of the film and the villains - and Part 2 - which is a detailed, scene by scene breakdown of some key beats. 

Patty Jenkins has a superhero movie to make and might want to borrow some of the speed and endurance of Wonder Woman as she still works to complete a blockbuster opening in just under three months. Yet, as the director joined a select group of journalists in a screening room of the Warner Brothers production facility in London last week, she was talkative, upbeat and easy with a laugh – perhaps not entirely unlike how her titular character behaves when headed into battle.

Below: My reaction to my Wonder Woman edit bay visit


Similar to all highly anticipated Hollywood flicks -- especially those about superheroes in a shared universe -- there has been an intense amount of scrutiny surrounding the pic. In fact, Jenkins' production may be subject to even more attention considering this is the first live-action movie about the iconic character and really the first big-budget, female-led comic book movie.

Jenkins admitted the level of rumor mill speculation can be maddening and is a new experience for her.

"There have been real, and not real, spoilers of people talking about various, different things," Jenkins shared. "You sit every day and watch so much online speculation, and you're just going crazy to show people the film! But, of course, we have to wait."

But while the wait continues, Jenkins said she did have the idea to invite us to London, show off some footage and answer some questions about what fans will see when the movie starring Gal Gadot opens June 2. Read ahead for an in-depth conversation with Jenkins about her work on the film and how the plot has evolved since she first began pitching it to Warner Bros. more than a decade ago. We also discuss Wonder Woman's mission, the absence of a feminist agenda, who the villain may (or may not) be and why Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) cannot be a damsel in distress.

And don't miss our plot description of the movie and breakdown of the scenes we screened.

The footage we're watching, with Steve and Diana on the boat, and arriving in London, is just a third of way into the movie?

About, yeah. It's typical First Act/Second Act break. The First Act is really her origin. It's where she came from, who she is. That's what's been so super-fun about this. You look at who she goes on to be in the world, in the future. And seeing this person as a child, on to becoming an adult, and the hero she is, in this film.

Can you talk about the journey in getting this made? I read you pitched this story ten years ago …

Yeah, it's funny. It isn't quite that I pitched it. I had been making superhero short films, hilariously, because I then went on to see a door opened to write and direct Monster. So I was like, oh great, I'll do that. Suddenly I was a "super-dark director." But people who knew me growing up were like, "Of course you're making Wonder Woman." That’s the irony; it was much more shocking that I made Monster than that I made this.

I love a great superhero film. And as soon as I made Monster, my first meeting with Warner Brothers, in 2004, they said "We're interested. What do you want to do?" I said Wonder Woman.

Since then, I came in every year to have a meeting about it at some point. Interestingly (my mom sent me the script, and I've got to frame somewhere) I have a copy of a submission to me: 'Patty, we'd love for you to think about writing and directing Wonder Woman.' And I was pregnant when I got it, in 2008.

I was like, well, I can't now. Now is not the time to do it. Then it went on its own various journeys, and I kept going and meeting on it and talking about it. When it came back around, I had been around the block now, and almost did Thor: The Dark World, and saw how that went, how that story turned into something I didn't think I was the right director for. You start to have respect that things need to have the right director.

When it first came back around, it was like finding its place in the universe. It was more speculative: 'Maybe I am, maybe I'm not, because now it's complicated, and now it's in a whole other thing.' It wasn't just me coming in and doing it.

They went on their journey, and it turned out they found themselves wanting to do exactly what I'd been wanting to do for all those years, which is a straight-up origin story. I just wanted to do the story and be really straightforward about it.

It was interesting, because it was both a sudden thing, but also an easy sudden thing because I had been thinking about it, and talking about it, and pulling photographs about it. My assistant Anderson, who is with me today, he and I have both pulled photos for this movie and pulled together visual presentations on how it would be done many times!

So, in a way, it was like, Boom! I know exactly how I want to do this movie.

Over the last ten years, 20 years, a lot has changed for women with the rise of digital media, the feminist movement has reached a new age with social media, and representation of women. Were there any changes in the time since that informed how true to the character you wanted to be?

It did change. Interestingly it changed in a slightly different way. I went into it thinking she's my Superman; she can't be dark and angry and nasty. I kept seeing that female heroes always had to be some alt-character. They couldn't just be the main lead. They had to be made more interesting somehow. I was like, 'No, not her. Just let her be Wonder Woman.' I think the thing that surprised me was I came in naively, thinking let's make that. There was more fear in the world, at every studio, about doing that kind of thing.

There was a belief that only boys liked action movies, and boys didn't like female characters, so what do you do to address that?

That's what changed. Things like The Hunger Games started to show something else was possible. The way I'd always wanted to do it became possible.

You know, I grew up in a bit of a feminist fantasy with a single mom. I was totally shielded, in a way, from an idea that I couldn't do something. So I felt like it was more of an education for me: Why can't everybody see, it doesn't matter if it's a dog, or a woman, or a person from another country, it's about the story you're telling. We have told universal stories about different things.

People were much more nervous about that than they are now. It is ironic you could make an animated film about a dog that's a universal character, but God forbid it be a human being who is not a man.

In the clip on the boat, Diana says, "I'm the man who can"…

We just replaced that line with a different reading, and I don't like it as much. I was just like, 'Note to self.' This one I like because she is completely oblivious at the meaning of it. Now it sounds tiny bit more strident. She has no feminist agenda at all, and it would never occur to her that anybody would be … that's what made her having any kind of feminist storyline at all, which you can't avoid, is her total oblivion. I cared a lot about that. She can never be lecturing and never scolding. She just walks out, and goes, 'What's going on? Why would this be happening? I'm going to take my clothing off, why are you acting like that?' That's such a funnier way to look at it and talk about it. Because it's absurd. 'I wouldn't fight? Why wouldn't I fight?' We had fun with that part of it.

How has the story changed in these pitches?

It changed every time, I think. I had a couple versions that were modern day, and you find someone who is the long lost great, great grandchild of this Wonder Woman. And you're like, 'Oh, there was this story in the '60s about this person who used to be Wonder Woman.' So you're referencing Lynda Carter more, and saying there was this superhero Wonder Woman who walked the earth, and did all these things.

But as the story progresses, she's like, 'Yeah, my grandmother, whatever …' then boom! Some moment comes, and it's like, 'That's her!' She's immortal and went into hiding all this time. There was all these various ways of whether it had to be the original origin story, or do we jump to modern times? I didn't want to do her origin story in modern times. So, it was depending on which way it could be done.

Thor, it's fine to go into modern times. People don't associate him with the '60s or '70s. She is kind of associated. She is a little time-stamped, so I didn't want to start that story now.

Were there other genres or war films you were drawing upon?

Superman meets Casablanca came up a lot. And Indiana Jones. It was those three films. We are making a classic film. We care about humor, about epic, about heroism, about arc, and story. Make it elegant. Don't hold back. Try for that pocket all the time. Who is Steve Trevor? Indiana Jones or Rick from Casablanca meets Wonder Woman? I'm in for that story, and that's a great Steve Trevor.

Talk about Steve Trevor and the difficulty of bringing him to life. Why is it necessary to avoid making him a damsel in distress?

He actually is very difficult, but very easy, in a way. He has changed not at all since I've been interested because of exactly that. I didn't want him to be a damsel in distress. I didn't want to make an issue out of it, or make a feminist statement with him. I wanted the guy you want to be with, who is cool. I wanted to live up to that emotionally, myself. He's the guy who can be, 'OK, cool.' And be upfront that that was a little intimidating, but they still could help you when you need help, or love you, or support you.

Since the beginning, I was passionate about hitting that target anyone would want to hit for their love interest. Make him someone I am in love with, who believes in me, and helps me where I have weakness. The vulnerability of that relationship meant everything to me.

I would say it all the time throughout the movie:

You would never do that to Superman, and you would never do that to Lois Lane. If we ever had this thing where 'She can't need his help,' I'd say, OK if Superman was like, 'F—k you, Lois,' how satisfying would that be for anyone?

They have to need each other. It has to be a love story. Everybody has to be stronger, and more powerful, and make it work in that way – and not overthink what it means to say she needs him for a second, or he knows more than her in this way, and she knows more than him in this way. She is a superhero, don't worry about her.

Superman is a great parallel for that. All of them are; you wouldn’t do it to Gwen Stacy. But it's important these people have the people in the world who believe in them, and love them. And help them, yet understand their lives are complicated.

When did you start focusing on a World War I backdrop?

That was a decision I stepped into. When I had talked to them about it before, it was assumed it was World War II. When I came into the project, the studio, and Zack [Snyder] and everybody had decided to look at World War I. I ended up loving it. It was really interesting because we've already seen so many World War II movies and it's such a well-known story.

Whereas if you're looking at a god with an ideal belief system coming into man's world, WWI was the first time we had mechanized war, that we started bombing people from afar. It was a war without any kind of pride or system of what was honorable or wasn't; shooting people from afar. They didn't always have the technology to do that in the same way.

It became cool to explore a different period of time and tell a story you hadn't seen before. And who is the bad guy was much more gray in World War I, which made it interesting. You're not just a straight-up, obvious villain; she ends up being able to question 'What's going on here, and why you firing that gun -- aren't you on the good side?' The complicated nature of that was fascinating, of her observation of man.

What is your inspiration for Themyscira?

The same as Steve Trevor. I want it to feel like it would feel now. I want him to make me fall in love with him like a guy I don't feel sorry for. And so much of what Themyscira is is selling exotic magic. But a lot of it is dated. Like the Roman columns; we've all been all over the world much more now. So what is taking that same classic thing but making it feel like Themyscira should feel like; where it almost looks real but so magical. Taking many things from the lore's different influences but always marching towards making it like some place you're desperate to go that feels absolutely real.

How involved are you in working with Geoff Johns?

Geoff and I are very close. Since my first meeting ever, years and years ago. I pitched in a room, and I pitched a storyline, and his eyes lit up, and said, 'That’s what Dick Donner did for Superman.' We were like, Ding! We've become super close and have very similar goals for this movie.

[Based on the scenes we previewed, described here] Are we supposed to take away that Danny Huston is Ares?

This whole thing is very interesting to me. I don't think we set out to be super mysterious about who the villain is. But it's funny that it has turned into what it has turned into. So now I don't want to comment about it. But, you know … those are definitely good, fun characters [laughs] …

Can you talk about the pressure? You're coming into the biggest genre right now. There is an intense pressure to deliver on a project like this.

It's funny; there are two different realities going on. The idea of getting to make a movie like the ones that impacted me as a child is my life's dream. To make a masterpiece would be my life's dream. And you never will. You will never end up feeling like you did. Each time I worked on something, thought about something, you're aiming so high already for yourself. It is so hard to make a film.

So, on the one hand, almost nothing changed.

My relationship to this movie is still: Am I the right director? OK, can I do it? OK, can I make it great? Oh my God, are we getting close? Oh God, don't let It get messed up!

It is the same ride, in a way. But certainly, I flip back out to this intense focus of what this movie means, and what does it stand for? I was very aware of that with Thor. Very aware. If I'm not confident I'm the best person for this movie, and I'm not confident I can make a good movie out of this, this is politically a big step backwards for women directing blockbusters. So you do have to be aware the whole time. These people need something great, and do I believe I can aim for great with them, and that we have a chance.

In this case, it's slightly less intense because I believe in exactly a great Wonder Woman. It is definitely an interesting life experience. You're stepping into a very intense world. She belongs to a lot of people, and you have a lot of people to please.


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