No Small Wonder: Gal Gadot Takes Summer by Storm

This month, Wonder Woman finally gets her own movie, and our cover star (former pageant queen, ex-combat-trainer) is wielding the lasso of truth.

It's a hectic lunchtime at the Chateau Marmont when Gal Gadot arrives, stopping briefly in the patio to embrace a friend before finding her seat. As she does, another loose acquaintance pops by to admire her Burberry ankle boots, then lingers. Gadot, 32, graciously accepts the compliment, smoothing her sweater over her Wolford black pants and leaning back with an exhale familiar to any woman who has ever been in her third trimester. (Her daughter Maya was born in March, joining 5-year-old sister Alma.)

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Her hair is pulled into a tidy ponytail, eyes lined with black liquid. The look—sharp, cosmopolitan ease—is a refined contrast to the L.A. scene (where many adults still seem to compete over who can spend the most money to dress like a child). When the visitor at last departs the table, Gadot winces, embarrassed by the unsolicited attention.

"When I first came to Los Angeles, I couldn't read people," she says frankly. "I always felt there was a subtext." It's an opaqueness absent in her home country, where unfiltered boldness rules the day. "In Israel, people have chutzpah," she asserts, raising a fist. "People take issue with it, but I'd rather have that than play games. Here, everyone's like, 'We love you; you're so wonderful.' I prefer to know the truth, not waste time."

"In Israel, people have chutzpah. People take issue with it, but I'd rather have that than play games."

It is this directness that makes Gadot the best kind of girl's girl, a woman with backbone and no taste for bullshit. You see it in her public appearances, where she is unfailingly quick to give shout-outs to female colleagues. You hear it from Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, who calls Gadot one of the most genuine, solid women she's ever met. You feel it when Gadot meets you in person for the first time and gives you a full body-contact hug—even though she is eight months pregnant, a stage where most women don't want anything, let alone anyone, touching their body. A body that, pregnancy aside, has been the subject of much public scrutiny since Gadot's casting as Wonder Woman.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Initially, the 5'10" Gadot was deemed to be too small. Her breasts, especially. (Because everyone knows that's where women's superpowers really lie.) Gadot didn't let the disparagement or the outsize expectations rattle her. She shook it off, reminded naysayers that in the original legend, Wonder Woman would have had only one breast (in Greek mythology, Amazons removed one side to better handle a bow), and set about packing on 14 pounds of muscle.

When Wonder Woman cameoed in 2016's otherwise leaden Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gadot silenced—and wooed—critics with one cannily arched brow. After which she stayed classy, choosing not to revel in her victory over the troll army. "I don't enjoy conflict in my life," she says plainly. "Unlike Wonder Woman, I'm not a fighter." She takes a quick swig of water, reconsiders. "I will fight for good. I am … " she pauses a beat, searching her second language for the proper word. "Righteous."

Isla Fisher, who worked with Gadot on last year's dark comedy Keeping Up with the Joneses, sees her friend in a more mischievous light. "When my first kids' book came out, Gal took me into the bookshop and bought a copy," Fisher recalls. "Then she smuggled another copy to the front of the shop window so that other people would see it."

As the first woman to direct a major superhero movie, Jenkins admits bringing the modern version of the DC Comics idol to life (Wonder Woman opens June 2) was an "intense pressure cooker," a stress that bonded her and Gadot so tightly they now vacation together, a connection for which she is profoundly grateful. "Gal quickly became the person I wanted to talk to about everything," Jenkins says. "We'd shoot together all day. And then on weekends, we'd be like, 'What do you want to do?' That's maybe not totally normal," she concedes, chuckling.

What attracts Jenkins to Gadot are the very qualities that make the actress the ideal choice to embody the icon, says the director: "I really believe what's inside the human being shows up on film. Wonder Woman has this honorable core. So does Gal." Which is to say, Gadot is decent offscreen as well as on, unimpeachable in the Christopher Reeve–Superman model. She is not going to end up mascara-smeared on TMZ, slurring into the camera as she's fireman-carried out of a bar by her bodyguard.

She is also, by all accounts, a workhorse. Described by colleagues as tireless, Gadot believes in effort. She's a first-to-arrive, last-to-leave employee.

"I'd be dead if I did as much work as she has," marvels Jon Hamm, another costar on Keeping Up with the Joneses. "It just seems impossible. I can only speculate how difficult it is to act in a second language. And at this level, on this giant major motion picture, it has to be daunting. She works really hard. And it shows."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

"She can do anything you ask her to," Jenkins says. "That's not something you find every day. Gal is all of it."

Back at the Chateau, Gadot acknowledges that being "all of it" is de rigueur for her. She was both Miss Israel and an Israeli Defense Forces combat trainer. She meditates and rides motorcycles. She's a self-proclaimed social butterfly who wishes she had more time alone. She's no fan of disarray, professional or personal.

"I'm a control freak," she says. "My mom used to say, 'When it's messy in the eyes, it's messy in the head.' I won't leave dishes in the sink. I care a lot about organizing things, having my house clean. Let's just say I enjoy knowing what's going on with my shit."

Asked if she is competitive, Gadot cuts her eyes to one side. "Veeery," she answers with pride. "There is a part of me where everything is full-gas, achieving, wanting more," she explains. "Then there is this part in me that leans toward simplicity, slowing down, not wanting to consume so many things, being centered. It's funny. I guess I'm a person of … how do you say it in English? Opposites."

She feels the dichotomy most acutely with her parenting, which she shares with her husband, businessman Jaron Versano.

"My mom raised my sister and me to be confident women with aspirations. And I always felt capable."

"Alma used to ask, 'How come other moms come to school for the recital and you don't?'" she recalls. "It devastated me."

Gadot, best known for her role as an ex-Mossad-agent in three of the Fast & Furious franchise movies, clarified to her daughter that working makes her "really, really, really happy" and that she hopes someday Alma, too, will pursue a passion that brings her independence and joy. Still, "The guilt is something I'm working to let go of."

Her mother, Irit, a high school physical education teacher, emphasized autonomy and competence in her two daughters. "I'm lucky. I grew up not thinking too much about gender," Gadot says. "My mom raised my sister and me to be confident women with aspirations. And I always felt capable. I'm not saying that I'm stronger than most men. Physicality has its own rules. But we all have the same brains; we can achieve the same things."

As a child in Rosh HaAyin, Gadot played multiple sports and spent most of her waking hours scaling fences and skinning her knees. When she was 12, she was given a journal, which she found useless: "I tried writing in it because my friends did," she recalls. "I felt like I was faking it. Hi, dear diary … Like, who is going to care?"

Gadot preferred to explore and test herself outdoors. Her stint in the Israeli army only cemented her fortitude. "I don't cry easily," she says flatly. "When I reach the bar I wanted to reach, I move the bar higher."

While shooting Batman v Superman, Gadot didn't divulge to her coworkers that she was pregnant. She vomited discreetly in corners. Hid her hormone-induced migraines. She feared special treatment, advertising anything that could be considered weakness.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

"I gutted it out. I started to come to set with sunglasses. I had this jug of water with huge pieces of ginger. One of the producers kept on asking, 'Why are you drinking that potato water?'" Gadot laughs. "They thought I'd gone Hollywood." Something Gadot defiantly is not. "When I moved here, I was told that to make it, I should go to parties and clubs," she remembers. "That's bullshit. You book your job because you do the work, not because you go out and mingle."

Her phone rings. It's her father, Michael (an engineer), calling from Tel Aviv, where most of Gadot's friends live, including a group of six women she's known since fourth grade. The two chat amiably in Hebrew, Gadot's face alight. She hangs up, filled with fresh homesickness.

"We've been back and forth, Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, for the past eight or nine years. When we travel back, the scent of the air, just knowing that our family can come over … " Her voice trails off. "It's just different there."

One thing, at least of late, feels familiar.

"In Israel, news is around you all the time. All we do is talk about politics. Now it's the same habit in the U.S."

Gadot pays attention and relishes hearty debate, but at the end of the day, distances herself. "Being pregnant, my psychology mechanism is to protect myself. It's scary to bring children into the world. But again, coming from where I do," she shrugs. "I went to the army; people died. The world is … complicated."

Some may argue, now more than ever. For Jenkins, the timing of Wonder Woman and Gadot's introduction to the universe of superheroes couldn't be better.

"All of these issues are so at the fore," Jenkins notes. "Someone like Wonder Woman getting to be glorious and celebrated and grand? That's its own victory."

Gadot appreciates how vital a female-centric, stand-alone film is in a market cluttered with tired tropes of masculinity. She also wishes the conversation around the debut wasn't always focused on the woman angle.

"Wonder Woman grew up on Paradise Island, surrounded by strong, smart females. Then she comes to the men's world and she realizes that she is not welcome to the Congress, she can't vote. And she finds it super-weird. Not even insulting—she just doesn't get it."

When it's suggested there's a lot of that bewilderment going around these days, Gadot smiles wanly. She empathizes with the longing for superheroes and the more straightforward idealism they represent, especially a character like Wonder Woman, whom we all wish existed right now for the truth lasso alone.

"There's a long way to go until we can make gender a nonissue," she observes, sighing. What she wants for her daughters, for all girls, is that they love themselves enough to "surround themselves with people who make them feel worthy." Worthy all the time, in the real world, not just moments doled out during marches or Women's History Month or while they're watching a movie, however empowering it might be.

"I don't know if it'll ever happen. I'm hoping it will, because life would be so much cooler and less complicated then. Also, for men, by the way." Because the way it stands now, "It's all bullshit."

Gadot's fist is in the air again. She catches herself.

"Look at me. I guess I'm a fighter after all." 

Featured Music: etcetc music - "Lifted"

More from Marie Claire: