Wonder Woman: Lynda Carter on how portraying the original warrior princess helped shape a generation
For more on the heroine, pick up Entertainment Weekly’s The Ultimate Guide to Wonder Woman, featuring the cast and creators of the new film and the character’s long history, on sale now.
It’s been more than 40 years since Lynda Carter leaped into action as the most famous daughter of Paradise Island, but rarely a day goes by when the actress isn’t reminded of her superhero tour of duty. “If I’m in the airport, people will come up and just hug me because they feel like they can — and that’s the greatest,” says Carter, the singer and actress who became a tele- vision icon thanks to her starring turn as Wonder Woman. “They just want to hug because some place, some memory in their lives, I meant something to them.”
Brash and brave, fierce and fearless, Carter’s Wonder Woman meant everything to young fans who were mesmerized by her work on the hit series (which premiered on ABC in 1975 before moving to CBS for two more seasons). Her Amazon was unfailingly capable — stopping bullets cold, making liars tell the truth — and Carter embraced the role with gusto. The actress thought up the famous spin by which Diana Prince transformed into her powerful alter ego: “In the comic book, Diana Prince just left and came back as Wonder Woman. But for the show, they couldn’t figure out how I would make the change.” And she enthusiastically performed her own stunts, including one in which she was suspended from a helicopter as it flew through a canyon, all while rock- ing skin-tight satin hot pants and a bustier. Try that, superfellas. Despite hanging up her golden lasso in 1979, Carter has remained committed to Wonder Woman’s ideals of justice, equality and love, working on behalf of progressive causes with her husband of 33 years, attorney Robert Altman. “I try to inform,” says the actress, who has acknowledged that her recent guest-starring turn as the pantsuit-clad President Marsdin on the CW’s Supergirl is inspired by Hillary Clinton.
She has continued to make her voice heard in other ways too. Carter, who began her career as a vocalist, has released three studio albums — her latest collection, The Other Side of Trouble, is due this year — and she can be heard in popular video games such as the Elder Scrolls series and Fallout 4 (for the latter, she wrote and sang five original songs). “I’m always working on something new,” she says.
Nevertheless, Carter’s happy to revisit her most immediately recognizable role, the valiant, larger-than-life character whose presence figures even in some of her earliest memories.
CARTER I was very young. I had read the Wonder Woman comic books when I was a child; I was much more interested in those than I was in Betty and Veronica, even though I liked those as well. Just the whole idea of a superhero . . . I grew up in the era of women who were young and vibrant during World War II. They were doing all this work for men, and then the [men] tried to put the genie back in the bottle—and they couldn’t. My mother said, “Oh, you can do anything that you set your mind to. We women were out there in the factories and were doing all these jobs that we were always told that we couldn’t do. And when they needed us, we were right there.”
The character resonated strongly with that audience.
It’s the idea of intelligence as well, inner strength. …It is about thinking much more than might. We contribute a different element to life around us than men do. When we look at countries that suppress women’s rights, I think that they are missing the point. Women have so much to offer.
That’s at the core of the character. She’s strong, she’s smart…
She’s just intrinsically good. She’s about truth and people doing the right thing and not for personal gain or profit. That’s why she’s got her Lasso of Truth. “Okay, let’s just cut the bulls—. You don’t want to tell me the truth?” [Laughs] “Okay, here we go.”
You brought many of your own ideas to the character. What do you think was important for the audience to see?
It was about feminism and women’s rights. [The producers] got a lot of blowback for that. But I said it’s ridiculous to dumb [Diana] down. She’s not wearing something over her face. You don’t suspend belief that [Diana and Wonder Woman are] not the same person. I wanted to make her smart.
Even though it was packed with ridiculous moments involving brainwashed gorillas, time-travel plots and campy disco parties, the show was groundbreaking in terms of its depiction of an empowered female lead. Still, Carter was one of only a few women on-set.
CARTER There were no other women on the set besides the script supervisor and myself. The hair people were usually women, but there were no makeup women —there were makeup men. One of the things I’m most proud of is that my show [helped in the early years to promote] a stuntwomen’s association; the stunt – women’s union. [Before that,] they didn’t have women doing stunts, they had men doing stunts in wigs.
I don’t see how that would have worked.
No. The hair was popping up the top, and they were very uncomfortable in tights. And their bodies [didn’t look right;] I don’t care how far away you got the camera!
Have you ever regretted accepting the role?
No, no, no, no. It was a breakthrough for women on television. It was a breakthrough certainly for my career. Yes, it cast a long shadow, but it really did mold my whole career, and I’ve never regretted it. I always talk about Wonder Woman. There’s a new girl on the block now, and she will have plenty of time to talk about it.
In October 2016, to commemorate Wonder Woman’s 75th anniversary, Carter met “new girl” Gal Gadot at the United Nations as they bestowed the rank of Honorary Ambassador on the heroine. Intended to honor the character and bring attention to such issues as gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls, the announcement did not quite go as planned; the move drew protest from opponents who criticized the decision to select a “character with an overtly sexual- ized image” for such a role. (Wonder Woman’s U.N. tenure ended in December.)
CARTER All this stuff about costumes — “Oh, it’s exploitive and blah blah blah.” Give me a break. You can’t say that the sock in the pants of Superman wasn’t. Get over it. That’s a woman’s body. We are all that. We’ve always been that, but we’re also every other shape and color and size. It’s not our problem [what we look like], it’s yours. I am a woman. This is how I look. I’m smart, and I’m this and I’m that as well.
I don’t understand the threat that women represent. We’re not a threat. We complete the whole picture. I’ve got a great father, brother, son, husband, great male friends, wonderful men in my life, and I embrace them all. Their brain goes one direction, and mine goes another. They do think differently than us. I, for one, always expect my husband to read my mind.
While Carter and Gadot spent time together at the U.N., they had little opportunity to discuss their mutual role. But Carter, who was outspoken about the importance of having a woman at the helm of a Wonder Woman film, did talk at length with director Patty Jenkins.
CARTER Over a period of quite a few months, we talked on the phone. It really was [about] why I thought my portrayal worked, why it lived, what my intentions were from the beginning about the charac- ter. We were so much on the same page of the interpretation of what embodies this character. [Wonder Woman is] not thinking she’s all that. She’s powerful, but…
Why do you think it took so long for this character to get a movie?
They were, I think, struggling to cast it and struggling to get the story right. I think they wanted to distance it from anything I did in the past. They have gone back to more of a historical story, which I think is good.
What do you hope to see in Gal Gadot’s version of Wonder Woman?
I like her. I just hope it’s successful, that’s all. I think she’s probably pretty kick-ass, and it’s a whole new way to empower women. …We’re not black or white or brown or orange or ginger hair or gray hair or short or skinny or tall or fat. We’re women, and we relate to one another in a very human, sisterly way.
I wanted to know if you were ready at any time to hand off the Lasso of Truth.
Anyone can borrow it at any time.
I hope you’ll be fighting for us for many years to come.
No one’s going to keep me down.