It would be easy to sum up Gal Gadot’s career with two words — Wonder Woman — but her journey to Hollywood is less simple than a twirl of a golden lasso. While she was cast to inspire young women’s dreams, Gadot’s dreams, originally, were rather different. Born in Israel, at 18 years old she entered beauty pageants (“going to be nice to tell my grandkids”), winning Miss Israel in 2004.
After that, she enlisted as a combat trainer in Israel’s mandatory military service; around this time, at 20, she met her husband, Jaron Varsano. She then studied law at university, but the call of the pretty business didn’t let up. Signing with an acting agent, she was cast in 2009’s Fast & Furious and began pinging between Tel Aviv and Los Angeles. In 2016 Gadot landed the role of Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the rest is box office history.
Starring in this month’s Kenneth Branagh murder mystery Death on the Nile, Gadot is also developing Wonder Woman 3 and a biopic of Cleopatra, in which she will star. She’s as no-bullshit as her roles are escapist — and yes, she’ll poke fun at “Imagine” too.
Laura Brown: We’ve not met before, but I’ve always felt you’re more subversive than you appear. For example, when you were a Miss Universe contestant [in 2004, after winning Miss Israel], you deliberately lost the pageant.
Gal Gadot: I’m not the type of girl to do beauty competitions. But I had some time before my military service, and I was like, “That’s going to be nice to tell my grandkids that Grandma competed in Miss Israel.” And then I won. I was like, “Holy shit. Now what?” I didn’t want to win. I never thought I would. I was so naive. I was only 18, and to become a celebrity and have paparazzi around, it was too much for me. When they sent me to Miss Universe, I said, “Never again. I’m not even taking chances.” And they go, “You have to wear evening gowns for breakfast.” It was so ridiculous; I didn’t play by the book. I just did my thing, and I didn’t try to impress them. I was like, “English, no. Me no speak. Very hard language.” And then I didn’t make the first cut. [laughs]
LB: Do you still pull that?
GG: Of course! I always blame the language. In Hebrew, I’m so eloquent with the way I speak and the words I choose. I love language, and sometimes it’s frustrating that I live my life in English now. I dream in English but still don’t have the language completely embedded within me. Whenever I get frustrated, I’m like, “I’m still an immigrant.”
LB: That said, do you think it’s better to work in Hollywood when you’re from somewhere else?
GG: I always look at the glass as half full, so I see it as an advantage, even though I’m sure there are many disadvantages. It took time to adjust to Hollywood — to understand the behavior, to read people, to be more polite and eloquent. I come from a culture where we don’t have filters. We say what we think, good and bad. My parents didn’t raise me to be the star of the family or to become famous. I didn’t think I was going to be an actress. That helped me keep my sanity.
LB: Yep, not every actress could have said, “I might as well do a beauty competition before my military service.”
GG: But you can only speak from the prism of your life and what you know. Everyone I know went to the army — my parents, my grandparents, my friends. It’s kind of in the DNA of being Israeli. It’s mandatory.
LB: You were a combat trainer. What does that entail?
GG: I did a boot camp. It was months of learning how to do Krav Maga and doing drills of push-ups, pull-ups, and running with sacks of sand on the beach. I wasn’t fighting on a field; I was just a gym instructor who prepped training programs for people in the army. It sounds exotic and exciting, but I’d just go to the gym at 5 a.m. and go back home at 4.
LB: Your combat training was in Lycra.
GG: Exactly. At the end of the day, I wore Alo Yoga.
LB: What were your first auditions like?
GG: After my service in the military and modeling, I started university and studied law. There was a casting director there looking for the new Bond girl, and she had seen my card at my modeling agency. I was like, “Listen, I’m not an actress. I’m here because my agent told me you really wanted to see me, but I don’t want to waste your time.” I didn’t get the part, but I started working with acting coaches and auditioning in Israel. I got my first role for a TV show, and that same casting director remembered me and hired me for Fast & Furious. Then I started my affair with acting.
LB: Is that when you moved to the U.S.?
GG: No. I didn’t want to move to the U.S. for a long time. My husband and I would come for three months a year. I’d do auditions and hate it. But it felt like the lighter side of life, and it was refreshing to try something different. Things really changed when I got Wonder Woman, obviously.
LB: Globally, in a second.
GG: By the time I got Wonder Woman, I was really big in Israel. So I was used to fame and knew what to expect. Maybe the scope was larger in the U.S., but really, it’s all the same swamps — just in different locations with different magnitudes.
LB: Is there something to being judged for your appearance early in life that when you get older you just go, “Fuck it, I’m going to talk now”?
GG: I was always, “Fuck it, I’m going to talk now.” I was never shy about my voice. That could have something to do with the culture I’m coming from, the directness and cut-the-bullshit.
LB: I had a friend at the Elle Women in Hollywood awards, and she said that when you received your award, you took the piss and started singing “Imagine.”
GG: Yeah. Might as well. They had a mic there.
LB: So many people just wouldn’t do that.
GG: It just felt right, and I don’t take myself too seriously. And with the whole “Imagine” controversy, it’s funny. [In March 2020 Gadot released a video of her and celebrity friends singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” that was branded as tone-deaf on social media.] I was calling Kristen [Wiig] and I was like, “Listen, I want to do this thing.” The pandemic was in Europe and Israel before it came here [to the U.S.] in the same way. I was seeing where everything was headed. But [the video] was premature. It wasn’t the right timing, and it wasn’t the right thing. It was in poor taste. All pure intentions, but sometimes you don’t hit the bull’s-eye, right? I felt like I wanted to take the air out of it, so that [event] was a delightful opportunity to do that.
LB: Many actresses can be self-conscious or self-censoring, so that was pretty punk, considering. What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?
GG: I don’t feel like I have done anything risky on my end. I feel privileged and grateful and lucky, coming from a tiny place in the Middle East and getting to work with amazing people. I feel like, “Fuck that, just be grateful and shut up.” It takes a lot of hard work, which I’m happy to give. We’re very family-oriented, so being away from our families in Israel is a price you pay. You can’t eat the cake and leave it full, if you say that?
LB: You can’t have your cake and eat it too?
LB: Tell me, how ambitious were you coming up?
GG: I’m hungry, and I’ve always been this way. My parents taught me, “Be like a horse.” Horses are only focusing on their lane, so they were like, “Just focus on your own path.”
LB: What are you ambitious for now?
GG: I think at the beginning of my career it was, “Get a job as an actress.” I got that in Israel; then it was, “Get a job as an actress in America.” Then, “Get a meaningful role.” Now it is to tell stories that are meaningful for me, but also to develop our own thing. I want our production company [Pilot Wave] to be solid, and to use that to control my career destiny as far as I can.
LB: Can I assume Pilot Wave doesn’t refer to Wonder Woman waving from the jet?
GG: It comes from quantum physics. It’s a theory that everything in reality is guided by this little “pilot wave” that shows particles exactly where to go; it leads things and opens the way for everything to happen just as it should.
LB: When did you first feel like you had power “in the room”?
GG: After the success of Wonder Woman. I could not believe that happened to me. When I was told that I was going to have my own solo movie, I was like, “Holy shit. They’re going to find out I’m not a real actress.” You know the imposter syndrome? I was just like, “Fake it until you make it.” Then I was blessed to work with an amazing partner, [director] Patty Jenkins. We were literally arm to arm, shoulder to shoulder. We did it together. After we proved to the studio that we could bring people to the theaters and make it work, something really shifted.
LB: With the pay disparity in Hollywood, did other actresses come to you after that success and go, “Shit. Finally. I’ve been over here making one-tenth of Jack’s money”?
GG: Yes, multiple actresses reached out. There was a big sense of camaraderie. People love to portray women as if we cat fight and we’re jealous, but there was so much love and support, and like, “Yes! Finally!” I got that from amazing women around the world — big actresses too. I thought, “Oh my god, I can’t believe she just thanked me.” It was interesting timing, because as the movie was coming out, the #MeToo movement really started to take off. It was as if the stars had aligned.
LB: So Wonder Woman 3 is happening, right?
GG: We’re developing the script right now. We’ll probably start in a year and a half or so.
LB: How does it feel to have your life mapped out?
GG: I love it. If there’s one thing I don’t like about this business, it’s that usually you don’t know when or where the next project will be. Once you’re a mother and you have kids, you need to plan and figure out your life.
LB: You have three daughters [Alma, 10; Maya, 4; and Daniella, 8 months]. How protective are you?
GG: They’re the only thing I make sure to keep as private as possible. I want them to be naive and safe and protected. I share a lot — I believe that if I went through experiences that people can relate to or learn from, great. But as far as my family goes, I’m very protective.
LB: What does the word “badass” mean to you?
GG: Strong, confident, sexy, smart.
LB: Who would you say is badass?
GG: Patty Jenkins, Halle Berry, Kari Skogland, and, of course, Chloé Zhao. All of them are filmmakers.
LB: Kari is directing your Cleopatra film. I assume it will be different from the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton version, but how do you see it?
GG: I can’t reveal a lot, but I can tell you that we’re going to celebrate the Cleopatra story. We’re going to show not just how sexy and appealing she was, but how strategic and smart, and how much impact she had and still has on the world we’re living in today. I’ve watched all the Cleopatra movies throughout history, but I feel like we’re telling the story the world needs to hear now.
LB: How do you personally avoid snakes in your life?
GG: You try to choose the right people.
LB: Have you always had a good bullshit detector?
GG: I think so. As a kid, my mom told me, “Don’t be friends with her.” You have the senses for it.
LB: What’s the most badass thing you’ve ever done?
GG: Shooting a movie while being pregnant, or when you have a baby. When you’re on set, you’re like a kite. You can fly so high and try to catch the air. Then you go back home to do your main shift as being a mother. It’s not about me, it’s, “OK, now I need to bathe Maya, feed Alma, put Daniella to bed.” That is the badass thing I do: the juggling between my family life and my acting career.
LB: One of the girls is screaming and you’re like, “Christ, I was a kite earlier today.”
GG: It’s true. I was shooting a scene in London on a gimbal of an airplane, and I was stuck there. Alma had a show at school that I couldn’t go to, and I spoke to her afterward and asked, “How was it?” She was crying, asking me why I wasn’t there. Then I started to cry, but I was trying not to show Alma that I was crying.
LB: Hold on. Were you crying in the Invisible Jet?
GG: Aha, everyone could see me. There was a camera in front of me, one on my side, and one from Chris [Pine]’s side. There’s no privacy whatsoever.
LB: That’s what I attempt to do with the magazine. It’s like, “Yeah, here are these ladies and they have money and nice dresses, but the pressure on them and the violation of their privacy is bigger.” Don’t envy anyone.
GG: The bigger the success, the bigger the price.
LB: What does money mean to you?
GG: It’s important for me. I always cared about being independent and working. I started working when I was 12, babysitting and doing camps for little ones.
LB: A lot of women still shy away from talking about money.
GG: Sometimes it’s not about the money, but more about what the money symbolizes. I’m a pleaser, and when I was little, I used to double-book playdates because I felt bad saying no. My mom told me, “When you say no, people respect you more.” I have a fight within me — the pleaser and the girl who wants to be assertive. So, with money, it’s not always about the sum, but if my fellows left and right are making this and I’m bringing the same value, I would love to be equal. I don’t like the word “respect,” because it has ego elements, but people take you more seriously when you treat yourself seriously.
LB: It means equity. It means freedom. This is a blunt question: How vain are you?
GG: With fashion? I’m awful. At work they put makeup on me, but I don’t like to wear makeup day-to-day. I hate fittings. If you ever speak to Elizabeth [Stewart, Gadot’s stylist], ask her how much she enjoys our time together. I’m like, “Things to do, places to go. Let’s find the best dress that I love, and done.” I was a model, so I can do the on-and-off thing quickly. I’m not really vain, because I don’t spend a lot of time indulging myself with those type of things. However, I am a sucker for spa and body treatments. I love those.
GG: It was my first carpet since I had Daniella. I was like, “I want to feel like I’m back in the game, because I’ve been pregnant for almost a year. I want to feel like a woman.” By the way, I was working out, getting ready for it. I was watching what I was eating and all of that.
LB: Three children ain’t nothing.
GG: Yes, but I started young. I was 25 when I was pregnant with Alma. I always wanted to be a young mother. Yeah, three kids. No joke, woman. God bless them, but it’s so much work.
LB: Did you feel good through your third pregnancy and after?
GG: I love giving birth. I would do it once a week if I could. It’s so magical. And I always take epidurals, to be fair, so it’s not so painful. Just the moment you feel like you’re creating life, it’s incredible. But the pregnancies are hard for me — I feel sick and have migraines. I’m not in my element.
LB: You’ve been married 13 years. I know your husband, Jaron, is now producing with you. What insurance is it to have someone who’s been there since the before times?
GG: It’s huge. We’ve grown together. I know he’s not with me because I’m a “movie star.” He’s with me because he loves me. The connection was there from the beginning before everything, so it always felt very real and very good. I’m super grateful that I got to meet him when I was 20. I was a baby.
LB: Were you in combat training?
GG: I was still in the army, yes. He met me in uniform. [laughs] He loved it. I still had one year left in my service.
LB: What do you think he’s proudest of you for?
GG: That I stayed the same. I maybe evolved, but I didn’t change. [Jaron walks into the room.]
GG: [to Jaron] Come say hi to Laura.
Jaron Varsano: Hi, Laura from InStyle.
LB: I was just asking, in what ways are you proud of Gal?
JV: That’s easy. In the roller-coaster life that we’re living, she manages to keep a very balanced family life and work, and everything is just smooth. That’s a very impressive thing, to juggle everything at the same time and stay normal.
GG: I said he’d probably say I didn’t change; I might have evolved, but I never changed. The “normal” kind of gives that.
LB: Ten points for Jaron!
Lead Image: Courrèges dress. Tiffany & Co. earrings and watch. By Far boots. Ring, her own.
Photography by Giampaolo Sgura/CBA. Styling by Elizabeth Stewart/The Wall Group. Hair by Teddy Charles/The Wall Group; Sabrina Bedrani/The Wall Group. Manicure by Shigeko Taylor/Star Touch Agency.
For more stories like this, pick up the February 2022 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Jan. 14th.