BURBANK, Calif. (AP) — She might not get top billing in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” or even very much screen time, but Wonder Woman still manages to steal the show from her caped counterparts in the superhero spectacle.
It’s not a moment too soon either. Despite the popular 1970s television series starring Lynda Carter, this is the first time the lasso-wielding crusader has been in major live-action film. And it’s all a setup for her own stand-alone feature coming in 2017 from director Patty Jenkins.
Tasked with playing the Amazonian warrior is 30-year-old Gal Gadot — a model who stumbled into acting when an agent spotted her photo and asked her to audition for a Bond girl role. She didn’t get it, but it did eventually lead to a role in the fifth and sixth “Fast & Furious” movies as the ill-fated fan favorite Gisele. Gravity defying car franchise aside, Gadot was still a relative unknown when she was announced as the new Wonder Woman in 2013.
And, like many casting decisions involving beloved characters, hers was not met warmly. Many complained that the former Miss Israel was simply too thin. An early photo of her in the gladiator-inspired Wonder Woman costume assuaged some concerns. By that point, Gadot had gone through nine months of rigorous training focusing on martial arts and sword work to get into Wonder Woman shape. It wasn’t much of a stretch either, considering Gadot served as a combat instructor in the Israeli army for two years.
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Gadot has kept an even temper about the chatter from the start.
“Being an actress, my responsibility is to not pay too much attention to all the noise around me, but to pay attention to the script, to the director, and protect the character,” Gadot told reporters recently.
At 5 feet 10 inches, Gadot is a striking presence both in person and on the screen. In the film, seen first as Diana Prince, her outrageous cool and skintight asymmetrical frocks turn the heads of many characters — Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne included.
“Gal is so mysterious and sexy and interesting and strong that whenever she’s on-screen I think there’s definitely a projection for men who think, ‘Well I want to flirt with her,'” Affleck said. “I think she provokes in the audience the desire to be flirted with.”
While her introduction might be predicated on her glamorous image, her power is what makes her stand out, and “Batman v Superman” gives a little preview of her fighting skills, too.
“She brings something particular, something statuesque, something otherworldly to the character,” said Henry Cavill, who plays Superman. “It’s remarkable to see.”
As the mother of a 4-year-old girl who loves princesses but often complains about how the princes are always saving them, Gadot is especially excited to be bringing this character to life.
“I’m so happy to be the one who is going to tell the Wonder Woman story,” Gadot said. “It’s so important for girls and boys to have a strong female superhero to look up to.”
“Batman v Superman” is a tease of an introduction to the character whose story will be explored more in “Wonder Woman,” which is currently in production for release next year. Gadot stars alongside Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen and Chris Pine.
“I think it’s about time to have a strong female energy projected into the world,” Pine said earlier this year.
Not only is it Wonder Woman’s first film, but it’s also the first major film of this new era of interconnected superhero franchises to focus on a woman — beating “Captain Marvel” to theaters by a year.
As for Gadot, although she’s happy to be one of the first, she doesn’t want to be the only one either.
“The more the merrier,” she said. “There’s plenty of room for many more women to come.”
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr