LOS ANGELES >> In a world of only women, there are no phallic structures.
At least that’s how Patty Jenkins imagined the island home of the Amazons and their heroic princess Diana, who grows up to become Wonder Woman.
“Like columns? They didn’t make that much sense to me,” Jenkins said in a recent interview. “They felt like an imposition on landscape, which didn’t feel like something that women are jonesing to do.”
As the director of “Wonder Woman ,” Jenkins is creating new worlds for women both onscreen and off. Not only did she help dream up the look of the Amazon island and hire scores of actresses to serve as its resident warriors, she’s the first woman to direct a major superhero movie, and her success could pave the way for others.
As a child, she was inspired by Wonder Woman, describing Lynda Carter’s portrayal on TV as “the embodiment of everything that I wanted to be as a woman.”
“When I was playing Wonder Woman, I was able to do incredible things and save the world,” the 45-year-old filmmaker said.
That’s the feeling she hopes to evoke with viewers of “Wonder Woman,” in theaters Friday. Gal Gadot plays the title character, who discovers her superpowers and fights for justice alongside humans after following a charming spy (Chris Pine) to London during World War I.
The Israeli-born Gadot didn’t grow up with Wonder Woman, but she was always on the lookout for powerful characters to play.
“Usually the women are the damsel in distress or the heartbroken woman or the sidekick, but in real life it’s not the case. In real life, we bring life. We have babies. We have careers. We are so many other things,” said Gadot, a 32-year-old married mother of two. “Wonder Woman symbolizes the magnificence of a woman and how amazing women are. And I think that it’s an important movie not only for women and girls, but it’s also great for boys and men… You can’t empower women if you don’t educate the men and you don’t teach the boys, so as much as it’s important for girls to be exposed and see this movie, it’s important for boys to have a strong female figure that they can look up to.”
Wonder Woman was created in 1941, yet this is her first solo feature film. Jenkins wanted to bring her to the big screen for more than a decade, but studios doubted the appeal of the lasso-wielding superheroine.
“I don’t understand why somebody who has had zero big blockbuster representation for 75 years still has 15 little girls a minute coming to my door dressed as her every Halloween, like how does that not equal dollar signs?” Jenkins said.
Connie Nielsen, who plays Diana’s mother, Amazon queen Hippolyta, also didn’t grow up with Wonder Woman, but had myriad other models of powerful women as a child in Denmark.
“The Denmark I grew up in was a Denmark in which women were, in fact, fully liberated and the whole world had been opened up to us,” she said. “In the magazines in the early ’80s, it was men who were photographed doing the vacuum cleaning in the ads for vacuum cleaners and women were no longer posing on the Ford Mustang.”
So Nielsen felt entitled to question why, on an island populated by only women, her character would wear high heels. She and Gadot, both statuesque, wear wedges in the film.
“I actually had that conversation several times, and Patty was adamant,” Nielsen said. “She really felt like you stand a different way (in heels), and you do.”
The costumes, including the wedges, had to be considered during the physical training, which included horseback riding, archery and swords(wo)manship. For Robin Wright, who was raised on the “Wonder Woman” TV show, training and shooting with the Amazons was the best part.
“I think it was a little daunting for the men because it was very unusual. I think there were like 120 Amazons,” said Wright, who plays the warrior Antiope, Diana’s aunt and teacher. “That’s a different energy on the set, and great for us. We just felt like a team of women that had each other’s backs.”
She called Jenkins “the biggest cheerleader of them all.”
With the film’s arrival this week, Jenkins is thinking about what “Wonder Woman” might mean for a new generation of aspiring superheroes — and filmmakers.
“I am a filmmaker who wants to make successful films, of course. I want my film to be celebrated,” she said. “But there’s a whole other person in me who’s sitting and watching what’s happening right now who so hopes, not for me, that this movie defies expectation. Because I want to see the signal that that will send to the world.”