Patty Jenkins on Wonder Woman 1984, her path as a director, and the franchise’s future
It's been a long road to Wonder Woman 1984 — longer than anyone, least of all director Patty Jenkins, expected. But when the movie finally arrives (simultaneously in theaters and on HBOMax) this Christmas Day, audiences will finally get to see more than a peek of the much-promised golden armor.
On the set of the film in London and in a later phone interview from her home in L.A., Jenkins spoke to EW about the vagaries of sequels, nailing down her dream cast, and what comes next for Diana Prince.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: If the first movie was all about figuring out the tone and the character of your Wonder Woman and proving you could pull off this massive superhero blockbuster thing, what’s your feeling coming into the second?
PATTY JENKINS: It’s interesting, I keep thinking about it. Because on the first one it was, “Everybody says Wonder Woman can’t be done, it can’t be a success.” How's that for pressure? [Laughs] Well of course it’s a huge amount… But certain things have been much easier. Like just the shorthand between all of the cast and the crew, and the story development was much smoother — we knew what we were doing with it a long time ago, we knew how it was gonna go.
Sequels do tend to have a bumpy history.
Spider-mans, Batmans, it’s true. Lots of them, the second one’s better; lots of them, the second one’s worse. But I think you can get to do something more powerful sometimes, because you’re just proving proof of concept the first time… And that conversation of, “Oh, she’s poppier and she’s warm and she’s loving and it’s great and it’s colorful!” — all of those things, those are finally done.
Diana’s motivations and backstory aren’t really like many of the superheroes we know. It’s not, “You killed my parents in a dark alley!” or “Ahhh I got bit by a spider.”
The interesting thing about Wonder Woman — and I’m not saying that other superheroes don’t do this — is that she is less about defeating a villain and more about confronting the betterment of mankind, so it’s almost like she really is a god who’s trying to engage with mankind and how we’re living our lives and make us better people. She’s less about fighting and she’s more about confronting a point of view.
As a demi-goddess, does she have flaws then?
Oh yeah, she’s not perfect at all. I think she’s vulnerable to love, meaning she can be hurt by love. And she’s optimistic, I think she can be wrong about things. And that’s an important thing about Wonder Woman: in the TV show, in the comic books, and in the movie she’s always been an Everywoman in this interesting way, where she loves the people that she loves and she hopes that things get better, she’s hurt and disappointed when they’re not and she has to try to think about what the right thing to do is.
It’s not automatic, she doesn’t have simple story lines where it’s like good versus evil. And so I have always thought of her as incredibly human in lots of ways. That was the Wonder Woman that I loved growing up on the show — that she seemed very human, not perfect and invulnerable.
Gal Gadot, too, seems like someone we shouldn’t relate to as much as we do.
Absolutely. Gal is an incredibly beautiful decent thoughtful kind and well-intentioned person, and she exudes that in every way. I’ve never seen jealousy towards her, even as beautiful and stunning as she is.
Everyone’s rooting for her because she’s rooting for you. And you feel that, you feel that in every take that she’s trying to save people. You feel that Gal is trying to do the best movie for little girls all the time — and not just for her daughters, for everyone. You see how much she cares, how seriously she takes it. It’s wonderful because it’s so in sync with who Wonder Woman should be, and that just happens to be who Gal is.
There’s also sort of secret rom-com happening inside both movies.
It’s a huge part of that character. I never did do a chemistry test [with Gadot and Chris Pine.] Weirdly, just when I met him I knew for a fact that I didn’t need to. But he’s also really unabashedly unfazed by powerful women. He’s exactly what you’re looking for, not a secondary character cowed by Wonder Woman but someone who can stand right beside her.
And you know, so can other Chrises. This is not to put down the other Chrises! But this Chris in particular, he can be like “Wow, I’m a little intimidated,” but yet it’s hilarious. He’s not beta at all, he’s a super alpha who can wear absolutely on his sleeve his discomfort.
So from day one I was always saying it should almost be like Wonder Woman meets Indiana Jones, where Indiana Jones would never be emasculated, he’d always be like “Okay you go, you go fight.” You want somebody who can embody that, and Chris just very naturally is great at it. He’s warm and he’s chill and always funny and truly appreciates women.
On that movie and this movie I can’t be grateful enough how truly friendly everybody is with each other and how much everybody really likes each other. On set one day Pedro [Pascal] and Kristen [Wiig] and Gal put on, like, an entire musical. [Laughs]
That's a nice segue to talk about casting Kristen as Barbara-slash-Cheetah.
What I didn’t want was two sexy hot women fighting in a flat way, you know? I wanted somebody who was a great actress who had dimension and vulnerability and a great sense of humor and all of these different qualities who then transforms into something for a reason.
In the lore, Cheetah is often someone who’s friends with Diana but jealous of her. So I feel like she’s playing a character who’s both ends of the spectrum — your warm funny friend who’s kind and interesting and then can transform into something completely different. It’s funny, I don’t even think of her being a female villain, although she is.
I always felt this way when I made Monster [Jenkins’ 2003 debut, which won Charlize Theron an Oscar for her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos], too. When people were talking about her being a female character I was like “Oh, I totally forgot that it was a female character a long time ago. I’m just telling a story about person under duress who turns into a killer.”
I feel that same way about the villain being Kristen, where I’m sort of like “Yes, she happens to be a woman, but she’s right from the Gene Hackman [in] Superman school of great, funny, tremendous actors who also can transform into something else.”
People are always pitching me stories about women as being about a woman — and that’s fine and those movies are great, but as long as you’re doing that, you’re not actually moving anything forward. Like Superman’s not about being a man, he’s saving the world you know? [Laughs]
All the "lady director" stuff you're labeled with, is that just exhausting at this point?
I definitely mind. It has been a huge drag. But at the same time I’m so proud to be any step in changing that conversation, so I feel both at all times. The side of me that’s involved in any way with making change I’m proud of. The side of me that’s being held back by being a woman director first is a drag.
Every movie I make may have a female lead coincidentally, but I don’t make “women’s movies.” I’m just making movies for everybody that might have female leads, you know? And so the world is slowly coming around.
I’m also baffled by the whole phenomenon because for years before Wonder Woman I was saying ‘Does anybody notice that 70 percent of the box office is female?” And nobody even talks about it! So frankly I was thrilled that the first movie was a success, but that there’s a huge female audience I wasn’t surprised at all: “Well, yeah.” [Laughs]
The reason that she’s the sensation that she is is from the original comic book is because she’s a woman. She’s not a woman who’s like a man. She’s beautiful and loving and vulnerable and kind and soft and always was. Lynda [Carter] did such a great job at that, and Gal has done such a great job of preserving it.
Let's talk about the setting. In the first film obviously, you’re not dealing with viewers’ memories of WWI, because they don’t have any outside of history books. How was it on this one to get back the ‘80s, a decade you actually lived through?
Super trippy. Because there was this veneer between us and 1917 where you’re able to be like, “‘Well, ‘they’ did things this way.” But still it’s like learning a language that you’re not related to.
What’s so interesting about doing the ‘80s is that first of all, even finding Kristen’s outfit — I have such a close relationship to her initial outfit in this movie, because it’s that Esprit thing, the baggy top and skirt with the leggings underneath it that we all saw in Seventeen magazine and tried but it looked terrible on you in junior high.
To pull it off you have to have Gal’s body, you have to have super-long legs, you have to have the best hairstyle, like the Sun In commercial. All of those things I so totally understand. And so dressing her was great, because we know who [Barbara’s] trying to be and how she’s failing in great nuance.
But the other interesting thing was remembering what it felt like to be an American at that time where no cost had shown up yet. There was the fear of the Cold War, but it really was just “This is gonna go on forever! Just throw trash on the ground, the world is huge, there’s all this space. Everything’s fine! Let’s get more stuff, more trucks, more land, tear it down!” The feeling that the world was this cornucopia that would never stop giving was so enormous and it’s both kind of depressing but also comforting.
And Pedro Pascal’s character really kind of encapsulates that, doesn’t he?
That’s actually what the whole movie is about — the statement of “Yeah sure, you can have it all, we all deserve to have it all. More, more!” And then the question being, what happens if everybody does?
You know if people are living that lifestyle, somebody’s gotta suffer because there’s not enough to go around. So we should all look at ourselves, because we’re all participants in that right now.
What can you tell me about what comes next for Wonder Woman?
The story continues after this in movies that I may or may not direct, but I have two more stories that become the completion of this story and it’s all about women stepping in as women, in the most loving kind pure and natural way. And making a difference in the world without having to change who they are to do it.
Want more on Wonder Woman and WW84? Pick up Entertainment Weekly: The Ultimate Guide to Wonder Woman here or wherever magazines are sold.
Wonder Woman 1984