Posted on Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 by Ethan Anderton
Yesterday, we talked about the 16 minutes of Wonder Woman that Warner Bros. Pictures and director Patty Jenkins showed us at their post-production facility in London, not to mention details on the story presentation that laid out the events of the first act of the movie for us. Now we get to dive deeper into all the work that Jenkins has poured into this movie, which has been something she had pursued on and off for 10 years before she finally ended up behind the camera.
In between watching the Wonder Woman footage, we were able to speak with Jenkins as a group for about 40 minutes, talking about everything from how the film changed throughout the various pitches she made over the years to how much of an influence Richard Donner’s Superman has been on the movie, and how they chose to approach the character through a modern lens.
Read on for our full group interview with Patty Jenkins.
Can I ask you about your journey in getting this film made? I heard that you pitched this story like 10 years ago…
It wasn’t quite that I pitched it. I had been making superhero short films, hilariously, because then I went on to see a door open to write and direct Monster. So I was like, great, I’ll do that. Then suddenly, I was a super dark director. But people who knew me growing up were like, “Of course you’re making Wonder Woman.” That’s the irony. The irony is that it was much more shocking that I made Monster than it was that I made this.
I don’t love all superhero films, but I love a great one. So I had my first meeting with Warner Bros. in 2004. They said, “Hey, we’re interested in meeting. What do you want to do?” I said, “Wonder Woman. I want to do Wonder Woman.” Since then, I came in every year to have a meeting about it at some point. It’s funny, because my Mom actually sent me the script and I’ve got to frame it somewhere, but I have a copy of a submission to me, like, “Patty, we’d love for you to consider writing and directing Wonder Woman.” And I was pregnant when I got it. It was 2008, and I was like, “Well, I can’t now. Now’s not the time to do it.” Then it went on its own journeys, and I kept going and talking about it.
So then when this came back around, I had been around the block. I almost did Thor and saw how that went. The story turned into something where I didn’t feel I was the right director for [it]. You just start to have respect for things where you have the right director. So when it first came back around, it was finding its place in the universe. It was more speculative. Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. I’ve always wanted to do Wonder Woman, but now it’s complicated. Because now it’s in a whole other thing. It’s not just me coming in and doing it.
But they went on their journey, then it turned out they found themselves wanting to do exactly what I had been wanting to do for all those years, which is just a straight-up origin story. I just want to do the origin story and be really straightforward about it. Then they came back to me and said, “We want to do the origin story.” I said, “So do I! Let’s go!” So it was interesting because it was both a sudden thing but also an easy sudden thing, because I had been talking about it, and thinking about it, pulling photographs. My assistant, who’s with me here today, Anderson, he and I have pulled photos for this movie and put together a visual presentation for how it would be done many times. So in a way, it was like, boom, I know exactly how I want to do this movie.
There’s always a context under which the viewer is watching it, and for me, as a woman, watching this film, there’s a context under which over the last 10 years, or even 20 years, a lot has changed for women with the rise of digital media, the feminist movement has reached kind of a new age with social media as well, the representation of women. So I’m wondering whether any changes in our times have informed how true to the character you wanted to be. And you as a woman, in Hollywood as well, you’re actually one of a minority of women role models that we look to.
It did change, but interestingly it changed in a slightly different way. I went into saying “She’s my Superman.” She can’t be dark and angry and nasty. I kept seeing that female heroes always had to be some alt character. They couldn’t just be the main lead. They had to be made more interesting somehow. And I was like, no, no, no, no, no. Not her. She’s just going to be Wonder Woman. She’s Wonder Woman. I love Wonder Woman. Let her be.
I think the thing that surprised me is that I came in naively thinking let’s make that. But there was more fear in the world, at every studio, about doing that kind of thing. Just a belief that only boys liked action movies and boys didn’t like female characters. So what do you do to address that? That’s what changed. Things like Hunger Games started to show something else was possible. I think the way I always wanted to do it became possible.
I grew up in a bit of a feminist fantasy with a single mom. I was totally shielded, in a way, from the idea that I couldn’t do something or couldn’t be something. I felt like it’s been more of an education to me. Like, why can’t everybody see that it doesn’t matter if it’s about a dog or a woman or a person from another country, it’s about the story you’re telling. We’ve told universal stories about different things. I think people were much more nervous about that than they are now. It’s ironic that you could make an animated film about a dog as a universal character, but God forbid it be a human being…
I love the way she says in the clip you played, “I’m the man who can.”
Exactly. It’s funny, because we just replaced that line with a different reading, and I don’t like it as much. Because the one that I like is where she’s completely oblivious at the meaning of it. She’s like, “I’m the man who can.” That’s what it sounded more like before. Now it sounds a tiny bit strident, like “I’m the man who can.” She has no feminist agenda at all. It never occurred to her that anybody would be, that was what made her being, like Having any kind of feminist storyline at all…she can never be lecturing and she can never be scolding. Because she just walks out like, “What’s going on? Why would this be happening? Why are you acting like that? What’s the problem?” Which is such a funnier way to look at it and talk about it. Like, “That’s absurd! Why wouldn’t I fight”‘ So we had fun with that part of it.
How much changed between your earlier pitches and what ended up in the movie?
It changed every time, I think. I had a couple versions that were modern day, and you find someone who’s the long lost, great, great, great, grandchild or whatever of Wonder Woman. And you’re like, “Oh, there was a story in the 60s about this person who used to be Wonder Woman.” So you’re referencing Lynda Carter more and kind of saying, “Oh there was this superhero, Wonder Woman, who walked the Earth and did all these things.” And then as the story starts to progress, she’s like, “Yeah, my grandmother, whatever.” But then at some point, boom, some moment comes, and you’re like “Oh, that’s her. She’s just immortal. She just went into hiding all this time.”
It was always various ways of whether it had to be the original origin story or do we jump into modern times. I didn’t want to do her origin story in modern times. It was depending on which way it could be done. It was about making it a modern movie. Thor is fine to go into modern times because people don’t really associate him with the ’70s or ’60s. But her, she is kind of associated. She’s a little time stamped, so I didn’t want to start with that story now.