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Patty Jenkins: A Different Filmmaker

You don’t have to be a man to be a superhero. Wonder Woman 1984 opens with a flashback to Wonder Woman’s early years on the mythical island of Themyscira. Here we see young Diana in training as the older Amazon women teach her not to cheat and lie because ‘no true hero is born from lies’. The film is Patty Jenkins’ follow up to the hugely successful Wonder Woman from 2017, which made more than $820 million worldwide, proving that superhero movies with women both in front and behind the camera can be extremely successful and a highly lucrative endeavor. We spoke to Jenkins, who has had a long career with projects such as Monster (2003), Entourage (2006) and The Killing (2011-2012), about her mega success and what it means to her.

The first Wonder Woman was a huge success. Was it a surprise to you how huge it was and why do you think this was the case?

I always thought that there could be a hugely successful film about Wonder Woman. How successful it was was a big surprise to me. I did not expect it to be a phenomenon which it was for a while, which was a trip. Why do I think it is? I think there are a couple of things. I think as surprised as I have been that people did not have faith that there could be a great female hero, the world was craving it as well, so it ended up hitting that tone. But also I think that it is the very simple true north hero story that we don’t do very often either. The truth is that the world was really craving a superhero, which was about to become a hero instead of just becoming about the villain or worse: about physical strength. That kind of story has been told a thousand times for thousands of years and has great power and was something the audience was dying for.

You are a female director and the team is very much female on this film – do you make different superhero films from your male colleagues?

Yeah. Probably. I think that there is always something a little different about all people and certainly the fact that I am of a different gender weighs in on a different perspective on things. I definitely think that there are choices that I make that I can feel that people find unusual, so they must be different both because I am a person but also possibly shaped by my life experience as a woman. I do think that my ability to see a woman as a universal character while still staying completely feminine and unabashedly just a normal woman is something that I love getting to do. I don’t think that is as easy for men to do with women, so certainly it makes me a different filmmaker.

How has the Wonder Woman success affected your career?

It has obviously been a whole other level of success and put me front and center in getting to take on bigger jobs. We got a lot of attention and it made me more well known. But interestingly, I am always so focused on the movie that I am not even paying attention to it. To me, my experience of making Monster and the success of Monster and then the success of The Killing and some other TV-shows that I have done and the success they had and then the success of this, they are strange all the same. So my life feels very much the same. If I made something that works and resonates with people, then I am succeeding. So it has changed but it has also changed kind of slowly but surely over the years as well. I try to just focus on the work.

What makes Gal Gadot such a great superhero – as Wonder Woman? And what makes her stand out?

She is so akin to the qualities of the character of Wonder Woman it is staggering. She also happens to look like a perfect Wonder Woman. That is very rare that these things come together in that way. She happens to just be a good person – so loving, so kind, so warm, so generous and that is what it is to me: she is a tremendous actress, but she is also a tremendous person. Those things come so easily to her when she is playing this part, and that is a special and rare thing.

You have waited for a long time to release Wonder Woman 1984, how has the journey been, and are you satisfied with the end result with streaming on HBO too?

For the longest time, I was not paying that much attention to the delay because I was so distracted by the peril of the world but as the year went on, it did start to get my attention and I was like ‘Wow, what are we going to do? I don’t know what is going to happen anymore.’ I never thought I would be behind streaming at the same time as releasing in the theaters but it is such a strange year that everything has to be looked at differently and the number one thing that I am doing as a filmmaker is trying to connect with audiences. So now, it is the time when I thought: ‘To have something with some joy and some hope and some pop and some escape but also with some messages of finding a hero within ourselves, if we have that to give, let’s give it right now.  It just changed everythingabout how I felt about what a release should look like. I will go back to wanting to release purely on screen after this for sure. But this moment felt like an exception.

Talk about creating something like the opening sequence. It is fairly easy to write it but executing it must have been tough – the technical aspect is amazing.

Every action sequence in the movie was exceptionally difficult to execute. That one even more so because it is only one scene in the movie and you have to introduce so many complex things to achieve it, like finding the greatest Amazons in the world, who can do all of those different things, training them for six months, designing all of the sets for this world and all the costumes and then shooting it. It was so elaborate for the screen time it took up but it was so worth it and for the people who have never seen the first movie, I think it would be very hard to understand the context of Diana without seeing where she came from, so we went big with how we showed it. It was great to finally see the Amazon Olympics, which we did not get to do in the first movie.

You have a very diverse cast. There is a Dane, an Israeli, a Chilean … what is the strength in that?

I love that. I have always wanted Wonder Woman to be a very international superhero. She is not from one place and so I like that all of these people are coming with their own life experiences and in particular I love that Pedro Pascal plays Maxwell Lord. I changed the character a little bit and I enjoy the idea that he is not this slick businessman. He was never written to be this slick businessman that he thinks he is but I like the fact that he is an immigrant too. So he is someone who is aspiring to the American dream. I really enjoyed having all of these different backstories for all of those different characters. 

Talk about the theme of the film – greed and always wanting more, more, more. Why was this an important theme for you?

I think we are in a world that faces real danger. If you want to talk about what these films are for, they are to inspire people to find the hero within themselves and what is the danger of our time? It is not some bad guy sitting somewhere. It is climate change. It is going to destroy our entire world very soon and it is going to do that because of the way that we have been living and the fact that we have been unable to check ourselves and stop and look at what we are doing. To me, it was very important to make this film resonate with what the evil of our times are, which is our inability to let go of the excess that is now available to us and find a hero within ourselves and that is what I think the movie is really about.

How were the 1980s for you?

I was in Kansas and Washington DC. They were very fun. I had a great time. I was a punk rocker and had great adventures and all the different styles that were going on at the time. It was fun. There was something very carefree about the opulence of that time and what we were all aspiring to, and when I was making this movie there was something so reminiscent about it when I would go back and stand on the set. It would remind me of how it seemed like our success could go on forever. That was a fun thing to visit and I missed the naivete of it. 

Do you see a change in women’s issues since the 80s?

Interestingly, when I was in the ‘80s, I thought that we had already won this battle and that everything was over. My mother had faced sexism and we always talked about it as if that was behind us and that I was going to be able to do anything I wanted in my life. Funny looking back now, I think, of course, that is not true and of course that is still not true. But we have definitely come a long way since the ‘80s and what we accept that women do and what they are seen as certainly I can see it when I look back.