By Gabe Friedman
(JTA) — Who are the most famous Israelis in history? Not necessarily the most consequential or “important” — like any number of Nobel Prize winners or behind-the-scenes Middle East peace deal negotiators — but those who are most universally recognizable.
Most lists would likely include a pioneering role model (Golda Meir), a supermodel who once dated Leonardo DiCaprio (Bar Refaeli), its seeming prime-minister-for-life (Benjamin Netanyahu), a politician with crazy hair (David Ben-Gurion), a war hero with a pirate-like eye patch (Moshe Dayan) and a virtuoso violinist (Itzhak Perlman).
But a new name may soon go at the very top of the list: Gal Gadot (pronounced “gahl gah-DOTE”).
The actress and model stars in the upcoming remake of “Wonder Woman,” a film based on the legendary DC Comics series that hit U.S. theaters on June 2.
Starring in the average Hollywood superhero blockbuster instantly makes any actor an international sensation. But this isn’t your average superhero flick. “Wonder Woman,” featuring one of the few iconic female superheroes, carries the kind of symbolic weight that could turn Gadot into a global feminist torch-holder for decades to come – especially since the film grossed an eye-popping $105 million on is opening weekend in the United States, shattering projections and setting a domestic record for a film directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins).
Gadot, 32, has long been a household name in Israel, where she has been a supermodel since winning the Miss Israel pageant at 18 in 2004. Unlike Refaeli, the famed Israeli model she is often compared to, Gadot is known, too, for carrying out her mandatory two years of military service in the Israel Defense Forces. She is married (to Israeli real estate businessman Yaron Versano).
Gadot scored a part as an ex-Mossad agent in the fourth film of “The Fast and the Furious” franchise in 2009 — in part, she has said, because director Justin Lin was impressed with her military experience. Since then she has had a few other small roles in Hollywood films, such as “Date Night” (starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey). Her first appearance as Princess Diana of Themyscira (Wonder Woman’s real name) came in 2016 in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” starring Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill.
Gadot isn’t yet widely known outside of Israel, but her public profile is about to radically change given the film’s success.
Beyond the numbers, “Wonder Woman” bears the weight of the feminist anticipation that has been building steadily around the film for years. The hype only increased when Jenkins took over the project in 2015, making “Wonder Woman” the first female superhero film to be directed by a woman.
It won’t hurt Gadot’s popularity that she seems to be, as the original Wonder Woman character was in the comics, sculpted from clay by a god. On screen, she has a magnetic quality — simultaneously graceful, elegant, tough, athletic and bursting with sex appeal.
It’s hard to say how popular Gadot will become. Other recent female superhero movies have starred actresses who already were well-known – Jennifer Garner in “Elektra,” for example, and Halle Berry in “Catwoman.”
One thing is for sure: Gadot will go down in history as a distinctly Israeli actress. Unlike Natalie Portman, an international superstar and Oscar winner who was born in Israel but left at age 2, Gadot speaks English with an Israeli accent. She talks openly about being from a small Israeli city, Rosh Haayin, and her love of the Israeli character.
“In Israel, people have chutzpah,” she said in a recent cover story in Marie Claire. “People take issue with it, but I’d rather have that than play games. Here, everyone’s like, ‘We love you; you’re so wonderful.’ I prefer to know the truth, not waste time. •