NEW YORK — Like many women seeing a female superhero lead a movie for the first time in a decade, Rebecca Hall got emotional watching Wonder Woman in theaters this summer.
"The moment I saw her go into battle, I was just profoundly moved," Hall says. "I found myself saying, 'Why am I moved (by this) more so than any other action film ever?' And I realized it was just a basic question of representation: I had not seen a woman save the world."
That she's now at the center of her own superhero origin story made it all the more gratifying for the British actress, who co-stars with Luke Evans and Bella Heathcote in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (in theaters Friday). The sensuous period drama tells the little-known true story of Wonder Woman creator William Marston (Evans), a psychologist who in the 1920s began a polyamorous relationship with his brilliant academic wife, Elizabeth (Hall), and research assistant, Olive Byrne (Heathcote).
The women's strong personalities and devotion to each other went on to inspire the iconic comic book character, whose core values are love and truth.
Hall, 35, first read about the Marstons in Jill Lepore's The Secret History of Wonder Woman and wanted to option the book, until she learned director Angela Robinson already had written a big-screen version, which she had meticulously researched for nearly a decade. The actress immediately was taken with Robinson's script, which was erotic without being gratuitous and treated their polyamory as a serious relationship between three consenting adults rather than a sexual kink.
Especially in their sex scenes involving bondage and role play, "it was important to me that they don't feel exploitative," Robinson says. "I was more concerned with the emotional leaps they were taking with each other, and that the two women were leading and not following."
Eventually moving in together and starting a family, the Marstons and Byrne determine "how they are going to pay the bills and raise children," Hall says. "I thought that was radical: to write such a conventional love story about such unconventional people."
Hall, too, had a somewhat unconventional upbringing. Her father, director Peter Hall, and mother, opera singer Maria Ewing, fostered her love for the arts from an early age.Growing up in the rural English countryside, she was not exposed to Wonder Woman or other comic books. Instead, she found her female role models in 1930s and '40s films starring Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn.
"I wanted heroines when I was young: strong women I knew like my mother," Hall says. "I couldn't see them anywhere, so I was drawn to that period."
An avid painter, she flirted with the idea of becoming a visual artist but caught the acting bug when she was just 8 years old, when her dad cast her in TV miniseries The Camomile Lawn. But she never put down the brush for good, and to this day she paints or sketches every character she plays to prepare for the role.
"It's more of a practical way of thinking about a character," says Hall, who posts some of her creations on Instagram. "You can look at a picture and learn a lot, but if you actually draw it, you're really studying it and are forced to spend time with that person. It just works on an unconscious level."
She discovered Wonder Woman while researching for Professor Marston: first, reading the original comics, which were controversial in the 1940s for perceived depictions of lesbianism and bondage, before moving to modern iterations of the character.
"Now, I'm quite a big comic book fan," says Hall, who just finished Emil Ferris' graphic novel My Favorite Thing Is Monsters.
The actress entertains the idea of doing another superhero movie, but only if it's a better experience than Iron Man 3. Her character, Maya Hansen, initially was written as the blockbuster's big baddie but was greatly reduced when Marvel Studios decided "that toy won't sell as well if it's female," which director Shane Black later revealed in an interview with Uproxx.
"The whole 'you can't possibly have a female villain because it wouldn't sell dolls' — I think that's past and they're correctly trying to right their wrongs," Hall says, noting Cate Blanchett's upcoming evil role in Thor: Ragnarok. "But I wouldn't want to fall into that accident again of playing a supporting role that was meant to be more interesting and then get sidelined, mostly because I'm a lady.
"If I went into that again, I'd want to be right front and center. I'd love that."