Meet Patty Jenkins: The Wonder Woman Behind 'Wonder Woman 1984'
Director talks about life with superheroes — including her mom
En español | In any other year, the Christmas Day release of Wonder Woman 1984 would have fans lining up at movie theaters across the country to get a first look. This year, of course, many box offices remain shuttered (and many moviegoers are reluctant to venture inside those that are open). Which means that this blockbuster is coming direct to your home screen on Dec. 25 (provided you've got an HBO Max subscription). Merry Christmas to us all!
Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman 1984's award-winning director (she also helmed the 2017 original), took a moment out of the holiday swirl to talk with AARP about the fate of movies post-COVID, her own Wonder Woman inspirations, and how she's approaching turning 50 next summer.
On discovering the magic of Wonder Woman
For me it's actually very easy because I was the little kid in the schoolyard who saw Wonder Woman and was super drawn to very specific things: her warmth, kindness, strength and beauty. It was this interesting combination, and yet even though I'm sure everybody thought she was super attractive, she's not sexualized, she's idealized. There was something super important about her being the ideal version of a woman and yourself.
The feminist challenge of Wonder Woman
My mom is super feminist; I grew up surrounded by that conversation. Now, I feel like next-wave feminism is more, “OK, now I'm going to embrace all of the feminine things all at the same time and still be super strong, still a badass.” That was the thing I found the trickiest and most interesting part in making Wonder Woman. I wanted to make a super-satisfying superhero movie but stay true to what fans loved about Wonder Woman, that magical quality of being loving, kind and thoughtful about what's the right thing to do. I'm passionate about those qualities of Wonder Woman.
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The superhero influence of a mother
My mother had us when she was very young and uneducated. Then my father passed away and suddenly she was a poor, single mom with no education. I watched her move us around, take us all over the world, put herself through her bachelor's degree, then her master's degree and then move to D.C., do all of these things. So I've seen it modeled for me, making big moves. She always wanted me to be careful and safe, but there was never any limit to what we could do. And that was very powerful.
What she loves (and doesn't love) about turning 50
If being 50 is what it takes to finally get to this place in the road, then I'm all for it. I was always waiting to get older, so that I could do the things that I wanted to do. That said, as my eyesight gets weaker, it super bums me out that it's not going to get better. You know? That stuff really sucks. It's just the beginning of the things you're just going to lose. But I really do feel like I've never been happier than where I am. It took me all these years of learning to be able to do what I'm doing now. In that regard I'm so happy to be in my 50s.
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The TV queen who was her role model
I was obsessed with The Carol Burnett Show. I watched it every chance I got. I was so fixated on her. I credit her with modeling you could do whatever you want. She was so not bound by gender. She was so free and unvain. She was definitely a major role model for me.
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Back from burnout
Wonder Woman was so many days of work — five years straight of being in full production that I was like, “Ugh, I don't care if I ever direct again. I just need a break.” But now the pandemic has given me this break. I've been habitually thinking of things I'm passionate about and so I've already overloaded my schedule with projects that I want to do.
Jenkins Fast Facts
Age: 49 [turns 50 on July 24, 2021]
Hometown: Victorville, California
Current project: Wonder Woman 1984, HBO Max and in theaters Dec. 25.
Greatest hits: Monster (2003), Wonder Woman (2017)
Comedic timing: She’s also directed episodes of TV’s Arrested Development, Entourage and The Sarah Silverman Program.
Home front: Married to writer-producer Sam Sheridan; one son, Asa, 12.
The post-pandemic future of movies
I believe that people love to go to group activities like the movies and they always will. However, I also feel like in my lifetime, I've seen so many better things slip away for worse things while no one notices. Just like losing a town center, losing big metal washing machines and dryers and toasters. We let those things go and replaced them with things that didn't work. So I worry about theater owners; I've tried to do whatever I could.
I'm not worried theoretically for movies, though. I think that movies are stronger than the industry that makes them, and people's desire to see movies is huge and will go on. I know that good story and film will survive.
I'm just dying to have some fun, go to restaurants or have a party. That's what I feel myself craving. I was working so much I really didn't do anything social for so long. My husband just pointed out that the Roaring Twenties followed the Spanish flu, and I think it's really going to go crazy. People are going to be so social and wild when this is over.
Quarantine's silver lining
You observe all kinds of little detailed things about each other that you've never focused on so much, for better or worse. I think the biggest thing — and not that there haven't been irritating things — but I think how happy I am to be with him. I'm like, “God, I super-like my husband,” and it's so great to get to be with my son this way. There's been so much bad in this pandemic, and the silver lining for me is I don't know what would have stopped time for me to be with my son when he's 12.