CS Visits the London Set of Wonder Woman 1984!
It has been two years nearly to the day since ComingSoon.net was invited by Warner Bros. Pictures to fly to London to visit the set of the hotly anticipated sequel Wonder Woman 1984. We arrived at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden in Hertfordshire (Southeast England) on August 13, 2018. Many giant productions have lensed on the former British airfield/Rolls Royce factory, including GoldenEye, The Phantom Menace, all eight Harry Potter films and 2017’s original Wonder Woman. Now director Patty Jenkins as well as stars Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are back, and we could not be more excited about what we were about to see unfolding on these hallowed studio grounds.
On the walls in the holding room at Leavesden are dozens of pieces of production art and set photos from the Washington D.C. shoot completed earlier, all under the production name “Magic Hour.” We see glimpses of distinctively 80’s hairstyles and outfits worn by extras, with big hair, mohawks, chunky cell phones, breakdancers and all the accoutrements of that era. Photos show Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) running through the DC Metro, Georgetown, and streets littered with war protestors. This will mark Gadot’s fourth time playing the role after 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2017’s Wonder Woman and Justice League.
And then there’s Steve Trevor, once again played by Chris Pine despite the characters untimely demise during World War I in the previous film. Now in the 80’s he’s sporting a fanny pack. We also see Steve and Diana walking along the water on the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial. So what brings about this miraculous return of Diana’s long lost love?
“Patty told me this idea halfway into the first film, she was kicking it around,” Pine told us between takes. “But once Patty lands on an idea, it seems like it’s fully formed and she knows everything about it.”
“What I wanted this movie to be about was pretty clear fairly early,” Jenkins confirms. “She happens to have this lasso of truth, and truth ends up figuring in very large. It all started coming together then, and knowing we wanted Cheetah. I think we even talked about wanting Cheetah to show up in the beginning of the last movie cause we were going to plant her in the first one. So it was forming up for a long time.”
“The relationship that Patty and I have is very creative and productive,” Gadot agrees. “We were riffing about the story of this one time on the set of ‘Wonder Woman,’ we were fantasizing about the next one if the first one would have succeeded. Patty is engaging with all of us, and we all have a lot of say about our character. Of course, the big broad vision is Patty’s, but there’s a lot of liberties and we do what we believe is right for the character.”
Where this story takes the character in the year 1984 is she is working at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. in cultural anthropology when two major characters enter her life: Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) and Max Lord (Pedro Pascal, who previously appeared in a 2011 pilot for a failed Wonder Woman TV show). Lord is a fraudulent entrepreneur, President of a company called Black Gold who hits the public with infomercials exclaiming, “You can have it all, all you have to do is want it!” In the time of “me” and “more” that message hits loud and clear, especially to the mousy/nerdy Barbara Minerva, who buys into Lord’s schemes in order to feel more confident and powerful. Eventually this thirst for power causes her to transform into the vicious, savage creature known to comic fans as Cheetah. There is a hitch, though: What happens when everyone gets exactly what they want at the exact same time?
Jenkins’ thematic goal this time around is to use the mid-eighties as a metaphor for the time we’re living in now. The inspiration for Lord came from figures like Donald Trump and John DeLorean, as well as Michael Douglas’ iconic “greed is good” stock market shark from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. Is there something more to Lord and the power he seems to hold?
“You’ll be able to find aspects of [Max Lord] in the lore, in the canon of Wonder Woman, but we definitely modified him to be the character that he actually is in the film,” says producer Charles Roven, who has worked on eight DC Comics films prior to this one. “This is the third film that I’ve worked on with Pedro. I love working with him. Patty had worked with him. He did something episodic with her on ‘The Killing.’ When we talked about who we wanted to play this character, the head of Black Gold Collective, we both said that he would be amazing. I was doing a film with him called ‘Triple Frontier’ where he played a totally different character. You’ve never seen him like this, I can assure you.”
For some reason during the set visit the filmmakers did not want to disclose the name “Maxwell Lord” despite the obvious parallels to the comics character created in 1987, who had also appeared on shows like Smallville and Supergirl. In the comics he was a powerful businessman with the ability to telepathically influence people’s minds, and it was suggested on set that the Trump comparisons may or may not be a red herring. Of course, the identity of the character was confirmed for us without anyone saying so, as a piece of art depicting the Egyptian Military hanging in the costume department had a visible sign reading “Max Lord’s Private Army.”
“He’s a great character,” Jenkins says of Lord. “He’s a part of the times, and that’s what was so fun about him to me. What is the epitome of the 80’s but also very symbolic to our times right now? Somebody who’s everything about that era and what we believed in then that has resulted in who we are now. The fun thing about being in the 80’s is that you get to enjoy being in another period again. That was the height of everything that we’re now paying the price for. We thought for sure it could go on forever and there was going to be no price and you could have exponential growth and it could keep going, and all of this excess. In that way we’re talking about then and we’re also talking about right now. We’re talking about what we’re dealing with right now because that struggle is very much alive in our own psyche.”
When we arrive for main unit soundstage filming Jenkins is shooting a sequence in a White House hallway where Max Lord is walking with an entourage of secret service men. Suddenly he feels the lasso of truth around him, then he turns to reveal Diana Prince and Steve Trevor. The security detail starts firing on Wonder Woman (in full costume), who dodges all the bullets. Meanwhile the very mortal Steve Trevor runs across the hallway with a metal serving tray as a shield. In the first pass there is no lasso, just tracking marks on Max’s clothes. In the next take they put an actual glowing lasso around him, with Diana blocking bullets with her bracelets. Next Trevor is seen in close-up standing behind Diana. Still holding the metal tray, he guides himself and Diana to temporary safety in a side hallway.
When the guns fire they don’t make any more noise than a little click, but sparks do fly off of Steve’s tray. We’re told that a lot of this particular hallway set has been made breakaway, so the action is just getting started. During one take Chris Pine enters the scene snapping his fingers, then he and Gal Gadot start dancing. Patty Jenkins is audibly laughing, clearly having an amazing time making Wonder Woman 1984.
And then there’s the other antagonist of the film, Cheetah. While Kristen Wiig was not present for our set visit, we did get a little flavor of what she would be like via photos and descriptions. Barbara is kind of a geek (smart and good at her job), and Diana invests in a friendship with her. When the character becomes more aggressive, her look becomes very influenced by Daryl Hannah’s Pris in Blade Runner. She will be very formidable when she finally does fight Diana, and they will, as Charles Roven describes, “throw down hard.”
“We felt very strongly about the fact that Kristen was going to be able to do the Barbara Minerva that we meet, this person who’s not very visible even though she wants to be because she’s a geek,” says Roven. “She could give that character both the humor and the warmth that Diana sees in her. It’s so funny because there are things about her that Diana admires. We knew that Kristen would be great at that, but we did have to do what we call a chemistry read to make sure that, as she was progressing into the Cheetah character, she can have that toughness, that aggression that we’re going to believe when she gets nasty. Boy, she could get nasty.”
“There have been many physical manifestations of Cheetah,” explained Jenkins. “But the core has always been the same, which is someone who wishes they could be like these other superheroes and gods, and that is emotion run amuck. That’s already a little dangerous because what are they wishing for? Not necessarily to save the world. So I think that all stays very much in tune with the core. And what it looks like… it’s gotta be its own new chapter of badass, you know? It’s more influenced by horror than a silly hero. It’s not that silly.”
“She starts off as a happy girl, go to the gym, go to work, not terribly fashionable, a little bit normal and ordinary,” explains costume designer Lindy Hemming. “She goes from being innocent/nice and ends up becoming more and more punky. Her influences as she goes along drive her to become tougher and harder.”
Barbara’s costuming includes a track suit, gym wear, leather jackets and punk-ish black trousers, a look partly inspired by Grace Jones. Pedro’s suits were designed to not quite fit him. There will also be a scene that parallels the Selfridges scene from the first Wonder Woman, but this time with Steve Trevor searching for what to wear in the 80’s.
“That was definitely one of the highlights comedically in the first one, you know, straight man/funny man,” says Pine. “And in this it’s flipped. I think you see in Steve less the jaded realist that’s seen the worst sides of humanity. There’s a playfulness and a boyishness to him. There’s an earnestness to this wide-eyed, glorious taking in of this role that he could never imagine, which for a man is interesting to play, I think, because heroes are meant to be furrow-browed and that whole thing, and that’s not Steve’s deal in this at all.”
“I think Steve and Diana have a really special dynamic that really wasn’t fully explored in the previous movie, because we just met and we just built a relationship,” explains Gadot. “And now we have an opportunity to continue from where we stopped last, after my character carried the big loss of him all those years, so having someone that you love so much after so many years, and to be with him again is just great.”
“Yeah, the first one was about falling in love,” adds Pine. “When you have that wonderful ‘will they, won’t they,’ and so much about their personalities don’t fit, but they do, goddamnit, and we want them to, that kind of thing. The consummation has already happened, so now it’s an exploration of that missing and that longing and knowing what it is, so there’s the strength of that bond.”
“And also doing it from an adult place, rather than being a young woman who falls in love,” Gadot says. “She’s much, much more mature. You could say she’s very old. It’s a different relationship. I think it’s even more intimate this time.”
One way in which we were able to get an intimate glimpse into the life Diana is leading was touring her apartment set. Her apartment is classic, big and bendy, curved, full of artifacts. Charlie’s framed black & white wedding photo from the 1920’s, with Etta, Chief, Samir and Diana in attendance. There’s also a framed news clipping of Steve’s death. There are books on art and different countries like Calcutta, Brazil, etc, showing that she is very much a woman of the world. She also has a secret control room, Diana’s own version of the Batcave. It’s a small room with a desk and four monitors.
Near the sets being constructed for Diana’s Apartment, Barbara’s apartment and the Oval Office, there is a news cast being shot by a small second unit in front of green screens. A female news anchor says the President has imposed martial law for the first time since Pearl Harbor, and that there are scenes of chaos as protestors riot near the Watergate building. Perhaps Wonder Woman 1984 really isn’t that far from the reality we are in now?
Wonder Woman 1984 is set to open in the U.S. on October 2, 2020.