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PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN

The Fulcrum
The realization of writer/director Robinson's vision of Professor Marston & The Wonder Women rested squarely on the shoulders of its three protagonists, the eponymous Professor, his wife Elizabeth and their lover Olive Byrne. According to Robinson, the chemistry between the three principals was vital to relaying both the literal story and the symbolic story of how Wonder Woman grew out of Marston's theories on women and psychology.

Producer Terry Leonard mentions that Robinson fought hard to cast the ideal actors in these roles. "She could have made it easier on herself by attaching one or two big box office names. But she was right. The story called for actors who would embody the characters and not be overshadowed by their movie star personae. Her script was made for the actors she chose. They became these parts and I can't imagine anyone else in them."

Adds producer Amy Redford: "It was important to find actors who were compelling and charismatic and could handle all the difficult places these characters had to go. I'm still pinching myself at the dream cast Angela assembled."

The titular character was particularly risky. In the wrong hands, Marston could come across as insensitive and exploitative. The choice of Luke Evans, an actor who is as comfortable in period epics like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Beauty and the Beast as in contemporary action and drama like The Fate of the Furious or The Girl on the Train, struck the perfect balance.

"I was looking for someone with a strong masculine energy, but also with the specificity and intelligence required to play Marston," says Robinson. "A younger Russell Crowe or Harrison Ford, which is surprisingly hard to find. For that reason, I was passionate about Luke, who I'd been tracking since Dracula Untold; and fortunately, he became available."

Observes producer Redford, "As an actor, Luke is inherently empathetic and understands human emotion on the level that this character requires. He immediately sunk his teeth into the role and never let go."

"Luke is a real star," says producer Leonard. "He completely delivers on this story of a man driven by passion and love and the storytelling talents he had inside of him. Luke brings that all out in a powerful way."

What fascinated Evans about the project is how the three main intertwined characters managed to survive at a time when their relationship was not accepted or understood. "They sacrificed a lot to be with each other," Evans observes.

Marston's feelings for Elizabeth and Olive expanded his world view, Evans believes. "There was a lot of love there. And though at times, their problems tore them apart, he fought for that love and pulled them back together. Marston was one of the country's first vocal male feminists. He believed women were more loving and nurturing and if they were running the world it would be a better place. And I think this all grew out of living with two women and watching the love they had for each other and for their family."

Marston himself hailed from an upper-class historical Boston family. He was a scholar and researcher whose invention, the lie detector test, as well as the character of Wonder Woman were influenced by his DISC theory, says Evans. "He believed that all human interaction was broken down into four emotional categories, dominance, inducement, submission and compliance, and he stood by it his whole life."

In studying those theories, Evans discovered "how much fun it was to dig deeper into the mind and life of someone who actually existed on this planet and left his mark in two extraordinary ways. It wasn't difficult to slip under the skin of a man who lived his life to the fullest. He was extremely intelligent and loved his wife and Olive immensely. He had an enthusiasm for living and for discovery. He was also brave, unafraid to reach out and grasp at the unknown."

For the witty and brilliant Elizabeth Marston, Robinson zeroed in on actress Rebecca Hall who has shown her range in films as varied as Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Town and The Prestige. "When Rebecca said she was interested in the role, I danced a little jig," laughs Robinson. "She's intelligent, sexy, bold and charismatic. And we were totally of the same mind about the character."

Robinson and Hall discussed some of the brilliant women they knew whose lives didn't turn out the way they wanted mainly due to lack of opportunity. "And for both of us, Elizabeth Marston was a perfect example of that struggle," says Robinson.

The beauty of an actress like Hall, according to Redford, "is her ability to communicate about twenty-five different things on camera in an efficient way and in a concentrated amount of time. She has an instinct of where a scene needs to go and what the tone should be, not only for herself but for the other actors. She understood that Elizabeth was a character we had to fall in love with, because in the film she's fighting an uphill battle, and women in that position can sometimes come off as shrill in the eyes of the public. She accomplished that by bringing heart, humor and sensuality to the character."

After reading Jill Lepore's 2014 article in the New Yorker about the genesis of Wonder Woman, Hall had herself flirted with the idea of making a movie about Marston. "Until that time, my understanding of Wonder Woman had been that she was a token female superhero, who had been sexualized, objectified. After reading Jill's article, I realized that actually, she'd been written as feminist propaganda, a tool to convince young boys that it was acceptable for women to be powerful. When I explored getting the rights, I learned that Angela had been working on this story for several years before Jill's article was written. Six months later, I heard they were looking for someone to play Elizabeth, and I immediately phoned Angela."

Hall's attraction to Robinson's depiction of Elizabeth was immediate. Her screen career to date has included playing both introverted and extroverted characters and Elizabeth Marston is definitely the latter. "I was drawn to Elizabeth because she was so charming, but also infuriating, loud, outspoken and dominant. It was very appealing playing someone who had so much power within the social dynamic."

"Elizabeth is definitely the more dominant partner in the marriage, more open minded," she continues. "When her husband develops a crush on one of his students, her gut response is to say she isn't jealous, though she is. But she becomes progressively interested in Olive herself, until she decides that the best way to deal with the situation is to suggest that they all have a relationship, which is a very complex truth to represent on film. Still, Olive and Elizabeth maintained a relationship for more than thirty years after Marston's death, so they must have had strong feelings for one another."

Yet, despite her outward bravado, Hall contends that Elizabeth was engaged in an inner struggle with herself and society at large. "She fought a deep-rooted puritanism and fear of being what she actually was, which today we would call someone on the queer spectrum," Hall says. "She's fluid in her sexuality and, in a way, the film is her journey to accepting that and submitting to it on some level."

Olive Byrne, the third member of this unorthodox triangle, was a character that required an actress who could balance youthful innocence with sexual curiosity and daring, since it is she who declares her intentions to both Marston and his wife. All those attributes were found in actress Bella Heathcote, who recently co-starred in the erotic hit Fifty Shades Darker, and before that, The Neon Demon and Tim Burton's Dark Shadows.

The role of Olive Byrne, says Robinson, was perhaps the most difficult to cast and she auditioned numerous actresses before meeting with Heathcote. "It's a deceptive part because Olive had to demonstrate different aspects of femininity as the film progressed: innocence, sexuality and maternity."

"I was blown away by Bella," Robinson reports. "Like the character of Olive, she had a surprising depth and a very pure way of conveying emotional honesty."

According to Redford, Heathcote committed to the role with dedication and a refreshing lack of vanity. "She had a huge arc to play in this movie in a story that spans decades," says Redford. "Bella managed to be strong and yet did it with grace, two elements that shouldn't be seen as mutually exclusive but, sadly, sometimes are."

"When Angela told me the Marston family story, I was shocked," Heathcote says. "When I told friends what it was about, they thought it was fiction."

In preparing for the role and discussing it with Robinson, Heathcote came to realize that in many ways she had the easiest part to play. "Olive's arc is right there in Angela's script," she said. "The other two characters sometimes play games, but Olive is always honest. She wears her heart on her sleeve. There's a lot of me in her, an openness and vulnerability."

Heathcote describes the three-way relationship as a tripod in that it needed all three legs to work in order to survive. "Olive and Bill try to manage Elizabeth's feelings, and Bill and Elizabeth make Olive feel safe. And both women love Bill despite his eccentricities, or perhaps because of them."

In addition to being a three-way love story, and a record of the man who invented the lie detector test and Wonder Woman, Heathcote sees the film as "a coming of age tale. All three characters grow so much over the course of the narrative, especially Olive. At the beginning, she is just a student, very unsure of herself. But over the course of the narrative, she figures out who she is and becomes comfortable with her sexuality. Her sense of self becomes more concrete."

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