When Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot was developing the film Heart of Stone (now on Netflix), she endeavored to not simply "gender swap" male characters we've seen in other action/spy thriller films, but rather craft a story where the female perspective is at the forefront from the start.
"We wanted her to be a woman, all the way, to tell the story from a female perspective, point of view," Gadot told Yahoo Canada in an interview conducted in June (before the SAG-AFTRA strike).
"Men have some other strengths that women don't have, but women [have] different strengths that men don't have. So we want to really celebrate those strengths. I think her heart, the fact that she's very instinctive, the fact that she listens to her gut, is something that to me is very feminine, and we played off of it for sure."
Director Tom Harper also identified that what appealed to him about the film was that it was an original movie, which he stated is something that doesn't happen very often in a genre filled with franchises that have been around for years, and largely don't have women as lead characters.
"It's not just about one character saving the world and I think that's what often you see in some of the other films in the genre," he said. "This is this about a character who realizes that in order to save the world, she has to work as a team."
"Yes she's the person at the centre there, but it's only by trusting each other, by trusting other humans, that we're able to defeat the challenges that we meet, and I think that's a really interesting message."
'Right and wrong is so subjective and it's all about perspective'
Gadot leads us through the story as Rachel Stone, who we initially meet with a group of other MI6 agents, which includes Jamie Dornan. Things get more complex when it's revealed that Stone is a double agent. She's working for a peacekeeping organization, The Charter, and is tasked to ensure that the incredibly dangerous asset, The Heart, doesn't end up in the wrong hands.
"If you own The Heart, you own the world," the valuable asset is described in the film.
A woman Stone comes up against is Alia Bhatt's character Keya Dhawan, who on the surface initially seems like a villain, but as more of the character's backstory is exposed, we realize her circumstances are more complicated.
Bhatt stressed that she's an actor who very much believes in "the power of that backstory."
"I think it's just important for an actor to just map that backstory out for yourself, 'OK maybe I started here, maybe I went there, maybe these are the things that I like, I don't like,'" Bhatt told Yahoo Canada in June. "I truly believe I can sit here and I can speak on behalf of Keya."
"When she's doing what she's doing, to me it's not wrong, because she's doing it for her reason. ... It just talks about how, actually, right and wrong is so subjective and it's all about perspective. That's something that I love about this film. Having a woman lead, a character like Rachel Stone, it just also shows that she's not afraid to open herself up to all sorts of conversations, even if it's something that she's told not to do."
'We only want to watch the action if we care about the characters within it'
As Gadot explained, the intention from the beginning stages of making Heart of Stone was to lean into the emotions of the characters, in addition to creating impressive action sequences.
"I knew that it was going to be action-packed and one of the things that I was locked on and focused on was the characters, their journey, their connections, the drama," Gadot said. "I feel like ... we can enhance the action if there's drama and strong plots, and vice-versa."
Harper echoed Gadot's comments and stressed the importance of balancing the action with a story that makes the audience invested in its characters.
"I loved working on such a large scale with so much action and set pieces, and that was all fantastic and enjoyable, but it's sort of meaningless unless you care about the story and the characters," Harper said. "Really, at the centre of the film is those characters and those relationships they have, and that's why we want to watch the action."
"We only want to watch the action if we care about the characters within it."
For actor Matthias Schweighöfer, whose character has the codename the Jack of Hearts and is very much the keeper of all the data in Heart of Stone, he also identified that this action/thriller is still very much about "heart."
"Tom said it to me, it wasn't about just action, action, action. Actually it was about the heart and humanity, and the characters," Schweighöfer said. "In every rehearsal, in every shot, [Tom was looking for] characters, characters, story, story, story."
"It was such a fantastic time and a fantastic experience."
Interviews were conducted prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike.