For the past six years, “Entertainment Weekly” has sponsored the “Women Who Kick Ass” panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, featuring an assortment of tough women from popular films and television shows. This year’s panel, held on Saturday afternoon in front of 6500 people in the massive Hall H, may have been the best combination yet.
Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth from “Game of Thrones,” and Captain Phasma in this fall’s Star Wars:The Force Awakens) joined Hayley Atwell (“Agent Carter”), Jenna Coleman (“Doctor Who”), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman in next year’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”) and the iconic Kathy Bates (“American Horror Story,” “Misery”) for a fun discussion moderated by “Entertainment Weekly” Senior Writer Sara Vilkomerson.
Gadot revealed that when she auditioned for Wonder Woman, she wasn’t aware of what part she was auditioning for. “I went back to Israel [her native country] and Zack Snyder called me and said they needed to see me for a camera test. He asked me if I knew what I was testing for. I said no. He asked if we have Wonder Woman in Israel. My jaw dropped.
“Three days after I got cast for the movie, they flew me to Michigan,” Gadot continued. “I got put into this room full of images of me as Wonder Woman. It blew my mind. We went into another room and that is where I saw the costume for the first time and I tried it on. It was like an out-of-body experience. I think it really represents the Wonder Woman of today and I’m very grateful to be the one to bring her to life.”
“I’m inspired by Wonder Woman,” said Gadot, noting that “Batman v Superman” director Zack Snyder is a master and has structured the whole idea of a modern-era Wonder Woman. She said she and Snyder had multiple discussions and did extensive research before filming began. “I feel very privileged to have done all this research with Zack and I can’t wait for you guys to see what we’ve made for you. There’s so much more yet to come.”
Atwell said she draws upon Bette Davis for inspiration in bringing Agent Peggy Carter to life in both the Marvel Cinematic Universe with “Captain America: The First Avenger” and on TV in ABC’s “Agent Carter,” which will debut its second season next January.
Atwell said the television series allows her to explore her character more deeply. While “Captain America” showed Peggy as capable and strong, she didn’t think that was enough. “I wanted to show her vulnerabilities and the psychological and emotional costs of grieving over Steve [Rogers]. Just because they’re tough doesn’t mean that they don’t find life unbelievably difficult and hard,” said Atwell. “I wanted to show a side of Peggy that really struggled and has moments of isolation and self-doubt because I think that’s something that everyone on the planet can relate to. That makes her so much more human and appealing to an audience.”
Atwell also commented on the “shipper” fans of the show who are pushing for a relationship between Carter and her waitress friend Angie (Lyndsy Fonseca). “I think it is fantastic not just because of the joy it would bring, but because it is rare on television to see women is a scene together not talking about men. Women who are genuinely loving, caring, and supporting one another and are not in competition with each other or being catty,” she said. “The fans took the relationship between the two into their hearts — and now they just want them to kiss.”
Coleman, who said running in high heels and hanging upside down in scenes are her biggest challenges, said it was fun developing her character Clara on “Doctor Who.” While Clara started off as a mysterious character, she became fully-realized over time. “The first season was so much fun because I got to play three different versions of the same character,” said Coleman, noting that the contrast between exploring Clara’s day-to-day life and the epic space and time storylines makes her job interesting.
She also didn’t write off the idea of a female Doctor at some point. “I think it’s absolutely possible. There’s no reason why not. Peter Capaldi is doing an absolutely fantastic job now though, so there’s not currently a vacancy. It also depends on the person and what direction the show is going to take,” Coleman said.
Christie said she was influenced by Sigourney Weaver in “Alien,” admiring that she showed strength and power, but not by forsaking her femininity. “She was a good, old-fashioned ass-kicker.”
The small screen’s Brienne of Tarth explained that she is inspired by her “Game of Thrones” character because of how she never gives up and is always trying to redeem herself. “We all have loved her because she is dedicated to an overriding sense of moral good,” Christie said.
Speaking about her fight with The Hound (Rory McCann), Christie said it was probably her most challenging scene on the HBO series. “We spent months training for it, three to four days a week, six to eight hours a day, trying to build up the strength for that fight. You learn the fight as if it’s a dance, but then the story that you’re telling during the fight infuses it with something else,” said Christie. “We were always aware there was a story that was happening during the fight.”
Of course, things became even more challenging when it came time to actually shoot the fateful scene. The choreography was practiced in a stunt tent in Belfast on a flat surface. “When we got to the location, I was running backward sword-fighting up a hill,” said Christie. “It was freak weather conditions in Iceland and was boiling hot.”
There was a point in the fight where Brienne has to punch The Hound somewhere “intimate.” “We rehearsed it so we knew where that punch went. We did it so it was fake and no one got hurt. Just before the take, Rory McCann says ‘Do it for real,’ and what you see in the fight is a genuine connection of fist and undercarriage,” she said as the audience laughed.
Bates also talked about her hardest scene to shoot, the classic fight with James Caan in “Misery.” “The toughest part was getting my head slammed into the floor,” said Bates.
The “American Horror Story” alum then revealed that she recently read the first scripts for “American Horror Story: Hotel,” the latest installment of the FX anthology series that premieres in October. “I know I’m running the hotel,” Bates said of her character. “I know I say it every season, but I don’t know how our writers do it. It’s a completely different way of telling a story. There are wonderful characters. Everybody is going to be knocked out of their seats when they see it.”
Bates then went on to mention that many film actors and actresses are going to television now because the writing’s so good. “Dustin Hoffman recently said that television has surpassed film.”
Coleman added that television is great because “it’s nice to have more than 90 minutes or two hours to spend with a character. You get to have 12 hours or more to tell a story.”
Atwell agreed with the sentiment. “It feels like we’re in a new golden age of television. Film actors, writers, and directors are all coming over. There is no longer a stigma attached. You can do both. You get more opportunity to explore characters on television over a longer period of time.”
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