This story, reported before COVID-19 began to take hold in the U.S., went to press as profound changes to daily life were being seen across the country. Gal Gadot, like every one of us, has been affected—her children’s school closed, her projects on hold, including the June release of Wonder Woman 1984 (as of now, it has been postponed to August 14). Reached in Los Angeles in mid-March with her family, she was upbeat: “Obviously the circumstances are horrible and frightening, but we’re home and we’re trying to make the best of it—to enjoy the quality time. It’s so surreal. I’ve never been through times like these. But I’m also full of hope for when it will be behind us.”
SPENDING TIME WITH GAL GADOT is an exercise in nonchalance. She is the coolest of customers, so unperturbed that you get a kind of contact high: Anxieties dissipate, defenses drop, tensions drain. Even as she goes about the business of a hectic, two-kid, big-career life—maneuvering her sleek Tesla (toys on the floor, half–eaten sandwich on the seat) through the precincts of show business (Hollywood to Burbank to Beverly Hills and back again)—she manages to make it seem like she’s just meandering on a Sunday afternoon. Indeed, it feels wrong to impose any sort of agenda, anything so uptight as an interview. It’s a hang, really.
Part of this is nature—born that way—but Gadot is fundamentally a creature of her environment. She grew up in Rosh Haayin, a city near Tel Aviv, but lived most of her adult life with her husband among friends and family, just a couple of blocks from the beach. She speaks Hebrew to them, English to most everyone else. Her English is not perfect, but close, her fluency such that you can see the wheels turning as she searches for the right words—and discovers new ones before your eyes. She will sometimes stumble on a phrase or an idiom, question it, then either commit or find the right one.
Which is why spending time with her feels like picking your way through a new world looking at all the pretty flowers. One morning after a workout, still in Capri tights and a loose tank, she’s driving from her gym to a photo shoot at the Montage Beverly Hills. “I will always feel foreign in L.A.,” she tells me, and I nod in agreement, though distracted by the novel experience of gliding noiselessly along the surface streets of Los Angeles in her Tesla. There’s a screen in the middle of the dash the size of a television, which feels like an extension of the windshield that disappears somewhere behind your head, all of which conspires to create the sensation that we’re levitating.“The more successful I get, the more I want to plant my roots in and focus on the important things in life”
“I love this car,” she says. “It’s like driving an iPhone.” Suddenly, a deep, otherworldly sound—boop…boop…boop. She looks at the screen. “Just a second—that’s my mom in Israel, where it’s 8 p.m., and this is literally the only window I have to talk to her.” She touches the screen and speaks in Hebrew—one mother to another. Are you okay? How was yesterday? Don’t work too hard. Take it easy next week! “Okay, Ema,” she says, and they blow kisses to each other. This is what she misses. In many ways, the success of Wonder Woman has stranded Gadot in Los Angeles, a 15-hour flight from home. “You can’t walk anywhere here,” she says, but that is the only complaint she will lodge because complaining is not her style. But she does relate this story, about how she came back from Israel recently and on the endless drive from LAX to her house in the Hollywood Hills, her eight-year-old daughter, Alma, said, “You know what I like about home in Israel? Everything is five minutes away. Five minutes walking to the gelato place, five minutes to the beach, five minutes to our cousins’ house. And all of our neighbors are our friends.” Gadot sighs wistfully. “But there’s always give-and-take. How do you say in English? Eat the cake and leave it whole? Eat the cake and…. There’s something with a cake.”
You can’t have your cake and eat it too, I say.
LIFE IN L.A. before you find your tribe and your rhythm—even (especially) for a newly minted movie star—can be alienating. You live at the top of one of those famous hills with a view of the world—a dream come true—but driving all the way down and back up for a carton of milk can take an hour. Everything must be planned, strategized, and for a spontaneous creature like Gadot, it can be constraining. And then sometimes it’s just surreal. Leaving the gym earlier, Gadot stopped to talk to a woman with long blonde hair who looked like she’d just woken up and was slowly getting her 10 minutes of cardio in before the real workout began. It was the newly slender Adele, whom I didn’t recognize until she let loose with one of those honking laughs. I’d interviewed her several years ago, and once we figured it all out, Gadot and I stood next to her while she pedaled away, talking about the Vogue cover-story treatment.
The Adele encounter is a reminder: This is, in point of fact, not a hang with some cool Israeli chick. Gal Gadot is an international superstar. Though it may have seemed like she appeared out of nowhere, fully formed, in the summer of 2017 as the star of Wonder Woman, an instant hit and box-office juggernaut that grossed over $800 million worldwide, Gadot has been making movies for more than a decade, most notably as the character Gisele in four films from the Fast & Furious franchise. And yet her entire career trajectory has been one of almost-didn’t-happen serendipity. At 18, she won the 2004 Miss Israel pageant, competed in Miss Universe that year in Ecuador, and then fulfilled two years of mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces as a combat fitness instructor. While still a soldier, she met Jaron Varsano, a real estate developer 10 years her senior whom she married in 2008. Her military service complete and at loose ends, she enrolled in law school in Tel Aviv and started modeling. One day, a casting director contacted her agent and asked her to audition for the Bond-girl role in Quantum of Solace. She didn’t get the part, but the casting director remembered her, which is how she wound up auditioning for 2009’s Fast & Furious. She got that part because the director, Justin Lin, was taken by the fact that she knew her way around a military weapon.
Riding along in her car, I say that I’d read that just before Wonder Woman came along, Gadot was so unhappy with her career that she was on the verge of quitting and never coming back to Los Angeles. (Doing press for Wonder Woman, she told one reporter, “You go to the audition and you have a callback, then another callback and then a camera setup, and people are telling you your life will change if you get this part. And then you don’t get it. I reached a place where I didn’t want to do that anymore.”) So now you’re an actor living in L.A., I say, how do you feel about it?
“Just . . . inertia.” She laughs. “You know, one of the people I really admire is Charlie Kaufman,” she says of the celebrated screenwriter, director, and novelist. “He rarely gives interviews. But there’s a video of him giving a BAFTA speech a few years ago, and I don’t remember it exactly, but the vibe is, You know, I’m here, but I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m a writer, I guess. But I never refer to myself as a writer, except when I’m filling out my tax forms. But you know, I want you to care about what I do; I just don’t want to care about what you think. And I thought, That’s so interesting! We’re living in a world where everything is by titles: You are a writer; I am an actress. I don’t want to sound too New Age–y . . . but we’re always evolving and changing, and life happens and takes us in different directions. Yes, I am an actress, but at the same time, I have this appetite to do more—bigger, deeper, more interesting.”
Do you think of yourself as an ambitious person?
“Yeah, I’m pretty ambitious.” She pauses. “I’m not elbowy . . . if you say that here. But I’m a big believer in karma, and if it’s mine it’s mine, and if it’s not it’s not. I’m not fighting for things. But when I’m there, when I’m facing the opportunity, I’m completely onboard. I definitely make sure to be prepared, to do the work, to come in 100 percent and go for it.”
That sounds more like conscientiousness than ambition, I say. She thinks for a few seconds as we sit at a red light and then finds another way to explain. “When I was told I got the part in Wonder Woman, I had just landed in New York, and I was at the airport. And the first phone call I made was to Jaron. And we were both super happy and shouting and screaming, and then I told him toward the end of the conversation, ‘After I shoot the movie? I want us to have another baby.’ And then when I got home to L.A. he said, ‘That was such an interesting comment.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘You’re funny because, like, the higher you get, the more. . . .’ If you imagine a kite, right? If it flows really well? My instinct is to tie the string to the ground. It’s hard for me to translate because we were having that conversation in Hebrew. But it’s like the more successful I get, the more I want to plant my roots in and make sure everything is balanced and still focused on the important things in life, which, for me, is family.
THE NEXT MORNING, I meet Gadot at her daughter Maya’s school. As I am looking for a parking spot on a side street, I spot Gadot on foot and roll down the window. “Perfect timing!” she says. Even among the stylish L.A. mommies and daddies, she cuts a glamorous figure in her skintight jeans, camel coat, and enormous sunglasses. The elementary school is in one of those midcentury institutional buildings common to L.A.—it’s hard to tell where the outside ends and the inside begins. We find ourselves in a covered, open-air parking structure, with a series of couches and a coffee station that seems to be a spot for nannies and parents to congregate while dropping off the kids. Gadot is here to read to Maya’s class of three-year-olds and, with the help of Maya’s sister, Alma, decorate cupcakes. “Sheesh, what a morning!” she says as she grabs a coffee and we sit on one of the couches. “I left the book I’m supposed to read at the house, so Jaron is bringing it.”
Lest you think that those scenes in Big Little Lies of California elementary school drop-off culture veer toward parody, I’m here to tell you just the opposite: They’re closer to documentary footage. Heading inside to Maya’s Butterfly classroom, we pass through an open-air hallway with jungle gyms and play areas that look like art installations. In the classroom, there are a dozen kids and a startlingly exuberant teacher wearing a Frozen T-shirt, a blue sequined jacket, bright-pink sneakers, and a mouse-ears headband, who never breaks character, even while speaking with the adults. At one point, a mom and dad in high-strung-showrunner casual arrive late with their son. The mother gets into a conversation with Gadot about the terrifying possibility of same-day birthday parties. “His birthday is actually on the 22nd,” she says. “We’re doing it on that afternoon. But our times don’t conflict so I think we’ll have good Butterfly turnout.”
It’s saying something that Gadot—soldier/model/movie star from Tel Aviv—is the most regular-seeming person in the room. When she pulls off her jacket and sits down to read her book to the kids, I notice for the first time that her hair is in a tangled ponytail and that her sapphire-blue cashmere sweater looks like it got pulled out of the hamper just before she ran out the door this morning. The teacher herds the children into formation, and everyone sits on the floor, including Gadot. The book she has chosen is about kindness, and as she starts to read—fully committed, acting out every part—the kids, to a one, slip into that contented, enchanted, glazed stupor, hanging on every word. Too young to understand who she is—other than Maya’s mom—they nevertheless succumb to the magic of transference that great movie stars inspire. A thing to behold!
Adults from all walks of life have been falling under Gal Gadot’s spell for years. Kristen Wiig, Gadot’s costar in Wonder Woman 1984, met her at the Governors Ball in Los Angeles a couple of years ago. “She walks into a room and you’re like, ‘Um, is that person real?’ But she’s such a weirdo in the best way. And so kind, such a loyal, beautiful friend. I mean, the text and voice messages she sends make me laugh so hard. They’re the highlight of my day.”
Patty Jenkins, who directed both Wonder Woman movies, tells me that men, women, and children approach her with what they think is their little secret: I am in love with Gal. “So charmed by her,” she says. “Smitten from a distance. And I constantly say to all of them, ‘Here’s the shocking thing: It only gets stronger when you get to know her.’ You forget completely that she’s a movie star.”
One afternoon, I got on the phone with two of Gal’s best friends in Tel Aviv: Yael Goldman, model and TV host, mother of three, and Meital Weinberg Adar, who has two kids and owns a creative branding agency. “I was modeling and she was modeling,” says Yael, “and she had just done the first Fast & Furious. I was standing in the street; she stopped her car and beeped and said, ‘Hey, Yael! Give me your number!’ Actually, she just hit on me. That’s the truth.”
“She hit on me, too!” say Meital. “That’s her thing. I’m her girlfriend,” and they both laugh. “When I met her,” she continues, “I was still trying to be a grown-up—I’m so sophisticated, blah, blah, blah. All my barriers up. And Gal just came in and melted it all away. Normally you grow up and slowly realize that you just have to be good and nice and comfortable with people and the whole world opens up to you, but it takes time to learn that. But somehow Gal just has it inside her. She’s very pure and clear with her intentions. She loves you without waiting for a sign that you love her.”Young girls are starstruck by Gadot. “Wonder Woman had an effect on them,” she says. “It meant something to them”
As we are zooming around Los Angeles in Gadot’s Hovercraft, she gets a call—this one from her husband, Jaron. She answers with the common Israeli term of endearment that has no English translation but sounds like Mommy. They speak to each other warmly in Hebrew about their schedules, and afterward I ask how the two of them met.
“In the desert at this chakra/yoga retreat type of party. And he was too cool for school. Like, we were in the same group of friends, but I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. And something happened kind of from the first moment we started talking. When we got home, I was like, ‘Is this too early to call you? I want to have a date.’ Then we go out, and by the second date he told me, ‘I’m going to marry you. I’m going to wait for two years, but we’re going to get married.’ I was like, ‘Fine.’ ”
Jaron remembers it in a bit more detail. “We were in a very unique laboratory—a desert retreat in the south of Israel. And both she and I were at a stage in our lives where we were thinking about what is love and what is a relationship. We started talking at 10 p.m., and we kissed at sunrise, and we held hands on the drive back to Tel Aviv. At that moment, we were just glued together. It was beautiful.”
Gadot says she always knew she wanted to be a young mother—and where she goes, so goes the family. Alma is also enrolled at a school in London because Gadot has shot three films there in as many years, including Death on the Nile, which is due to come out later this year. The director, Kenneth Branagh, says, “I get the sense that she feels very secure in her family life: She knows what they are, who they are, and that they are with her. And I think that lets her be adventurous in her work and also at ease in her work. She’s a serious person, so she knows the world is a tricky and challenging place from time to time, but there is this ongoing sense of fun about her, and it seems to come out of the wellspring of family. She is determined to smell the roses along the way, and it makes her an exceptionally sort of effortlessly positive energy to be around.”
AFTER THE VISIT TO her daughter’s school, Gadot drives us to the San Vicente Bungalows, Hollywood’s newest members-only clubhouse. There are a lot of silly rules here, including a ban on camera phones, which requires an elaborate ritual of temporary confiscation of nonmember phones so that they may be covered in cute little stickers, which are meant to disable the camera and microphone.
Luckily, the place is like a dream, achingly romantic, with flowers and climbing vines and green-and-white striped umbrellas. Indeed, it looks like the kind of spot you might find along the beach in Tel Aviv. “You see?” she says when we sit down. “It’s like we’re having a date. And it’s Valentine!”
I had heard from a friend that Gadot, her husband, and his brother, Guy, owned the chicest hotel in Tel Aviv and that they recently sold it to the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. Yes, says Gadot. “When I met Jaron, he and Guy were living in the first house that was built in Tel Aviv. It’s a huge beautiful mansion with, like, painted floors and archways and high, high ceilings, but it was in a shitty state.” It became the Varsano Hotel. “Literally a 30-second walk from where Jaron and I were living,” she says. “We were going to the hotel all the time. It was…fun.”
Three years ago, Jaron sold his entire real estate portfolio, including the hotel, and he and Gadot moved to L.A. when she was five months pregnant with Maya. Jaron was now the one at loose ends, and Gal said to him, “You’re a developer. Develop movies.” And then one night they had dinner with Annette Bening, who encouraged them both. “You two think and talk so beautifully about making movies,” she said. “Go and find amazing projects.” Now they are partners in an ambitious production company, Pilot Wave, with 14 of those projects in various stages of development.
Most intriguing (and first up) is a series based on the book Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film, about a star from a more glamorous era that this place throws back to, with its Tommy Dorsey soundtrack and starchy table service. Lamarr was born in Austria and had a brief career in Czechoslovakia before fleeing to Paris and then London, where she was discovered by Louis B. Mayer, who gave her a movie contract in Hollywood. Gadot, whose mother’s family is Czech and Polish, her father’s Austrian, Russian, and German, would seem to be just about the perfect person to play Lamarr.
So it won’t be long now before Gal Gadot gets sprung, at long last, from the constraints and the limited range of car-chase franchises and comic-book tentpoles. But first, Wonder Woman 1984, which I see about a half hour of, under supervision at the Warner Bros. lot. Other than to tell you that it is an all-encompassing and visually stunning (and quite loud) experience, I will admit I have absolutely no idea what it’s about, except to say that it’s set in 1984 (the year before Gadot was born), has an exhilarating New Wave soundtrack, and features an oleaginous guy who may remind you of Donald Trump in his much more harmless ’80s salad days. Neither Jenkins nor Gadot would reveal a single plot point. “No one really knows that much about the movie,” says Wiig, “which is crazy in this day and age. It’s amazing that nothing’s leaked. Everything you get from Warner Bros. is sort of encrypted, like, your computer will explode if you open this.”
Part of the reason for the top-level security clearance on the project is that the Wonder Woman effect has been enormous—especially for Jenkins and Gadot.“It completely changed my life,” says Gadot. “Somehow it came out at a point in time where people were really craving it. It made an impact. And Patty and I were very lucky, I would say, that the movie was received the way it was and that it came out in the era it did, and I think we just, without even knowing consciously, ticked a lot of the right boxes. Because it was in our DNA—we didn’t have to think about it too much. We were two women who cared about something, and that wound up in the DNA of the movie.”
“I miss great, grand, blockbuster films that have all of the things that you go to the movie theaters for,” says Jenkins. “Like humor and drama and romance . . . but also weight and significance of narrative. So it’s that. I was aiming to make something big and grand but very detailed and thorough. But I also think Wonder Woman stands for something pretty incredible in the world, so I won’t say anything about the plot, but she is a god who believes in the betterment of mankind. She’s not just defeating bad guys—and that has a lot of resonance with the times we’re living in right now.”
As Gadot and I are finishing our egg sandwiches, the place begins to fill up with the lunch crowd, and I start looking around to see if there is anyone of note. We get to talking about the fine line between admiring someone from afar and being starstruck. Oddly enough we agree that we would both be nervously excited if Barbra Streisand walked in. You must get a lot of young girls who go a little Wonder Woman gaga over you, I say.
“Yeah, it happens a lot,” she says. “Pretty much constantly. My friends ask me, ‘Don’t you get tired of it? That’s your time and space and privacy. You’re not the character.’ ” It is true: At the moment, Wonder Woman is more famous than the actress who plays her. And young girls, at least for now, are starstruck not because they have met Gadot but because they have bumped into Diana Prince, the Amazonian-Olympic demigoddess. “They care,” says Gadot. “It had an effect on them; it meant something to them. And just because of that, I care for them, and I want to hear what they have to say. Often it’s about a profound effect that it’s had on their life. Usually it’s that it triggered them to make a change, to do something they would never do, to be courageous.”
A MONTH LATER, on an afternoon in mid-March, Gadot calls me to talk about the new reality we’re living in. Practically everyone is at home; Gadot’s upcoming Netflix movie, Red Notice, which she had been filming in L.A. with Ryan Reynolds and Dwayne Johnson, has been put on hiatus. Her parents in Israel have canceled their long-planned Passover visit, which was also meant to be a celebration of their 60th birthdays. “Yes, of course I miss my family,” she tells me, “but the biggest priority for all of us is to stay home, not get it, and not give it to other people. With all the sadness and all the big . . . missing that I feel, that’s the only thing we can do right now.”
Maya, her three-year-old, doesn’t understand what’s happening. “As far as she’s concerned, she’s on a vacation from preschool.” Her older daughter, Alma, is more aware. “But we talk about it in a PG way,” Gadot says. “We try to avoid watching the news when they’re around. So right now that’s the situation. We’re trying to enjoy the quality time that we have. The girls are not worried. They feel safe. I think the girls are going to grow up being able to tell their kids that they lived through the corona times. But we’re really trying to…how do you call it? Um…there’s a saying. Let me see if I can get it…Um…It’s like…something in disguise?” She pauses for a moment, and just as I’m about to prompt her, she finds the right words on her own: “Blessing in disguise.”