BFI London Film Festival: Interview with Angela Robinson

Here is some more from the fantastic BFI London Film Festival this year. I got the chance to meet and speak Angela Robinson who helmed the fantastic Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.

Angela spoke about how the film took four years to complete, her views on Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman movie, and whether her film sits in the DCEU or not.

The film tells the story of the creator of the iconic DC Comics character and how his relationship with his wife and his lover brought to life the sex icon we know and love today.

Could you tell me a bit about the story of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women?

It is about the man who created Wonder Woman who lead and extraordinary life and the two women in his life who inspired him to create the character of Wonder Woman. It’s an incredible story. There’s this love story at the heart of who Wonder Woman is and who she would become. Doctor Marston was a psychologist who worked with his wife Elizabeth Marston and together they were investigating and inventing the lie detector test. Then they met one of their students, Olive Burn, and the three of them formed a relationship and they all fell in love together and they lived together for many years and had kids together and through it all they ended up inspiring the Wonder Woman character so I was kind of blown away by the whole story. It was such a contemporary story. I was like these people are so ahead of their time and they are still ahead of their time even now.

The character of Wonder Woman is quite influential being a strong woman back in 1941, did that inspire you to make the movie?

100% she has these amazing routes and she is the only superhero who is created to stop war. Like a lot of superheroes are created for vengeance or to police things or to do other things. But she was really created by psychologists. Marston had all these documents with ideas about human behaviour and feminism and sexuality and he put them all into the Wonder Woman comic books and really wanted to save the world with his ideas and he had this notion that boys and men were inherently violent and anarchist and women are inherently loving and caring and the path to peace on the planet is if women ruled the world but he didn’t think that men would give up their power voluntarily so he wanted to figure out a way to make it exciting and pleasurable for men to love and respect their powerful women and he created Wonder Woman to this purpose to help bring peace to the planet.

In the film Marston uses a pseudonym while publishing the comics but it was his wife’s idea. Why didn’t she pen the stories?

He wanted to create a superhero and Elizabeth said well why don’t you make her a woman? I actually don’t know why she didn’t take it on. I think what part of the movie explores is a lot about their relationship but also their roles that men and women play and Elizabeth was also a psychologist and was one of three women who graduated in 1918 and she was a very accomplished woman but it was an uneven playing field so Dr Marston was allowed to do a lot more things with his career than ultimately Elizabeth was able to do or Olive Burn so the movie explores the injustice of that.

The film explores the S&M/bondage themes behind the iconic character, did you know about his desires before setting out making the film?

I’ve always been a Wonder Woman fan and after I directed my first feature a friend of mine gave me a book on the history of Wonder Woman and there was a chapter in there which talked about the Marston’s and the creation of the lie detector test and that Marston had put all this bondage imagery into the early Wonder Woman comic books and at the time a lot of fans and family groups and watchdog groups really objected so part of the movie talks about the backlash of the Wonder Woman comic and comic books were this huge phenomenon they were like apps or something. They weren’t here and then they were and they had a lot of violence and racism in there and parents objected but it is a little known chapter of American history. I think it was actually a little more metaphorical. Ultimately he had theories on mental behaviour and he had a theory called DISC Theory and it was about you being in your happiest state when you submit to something. But it could be in any context it could be a general to a solider or a husband and wife. He said people are miserable when they have to comply when they have to do something they don’t have to do. So he used this bondage imagery as a metaphor for his theories but one of the things the film talks about is was it just his kinks or was he trying to insert his psychological theories so the film wrestles with that question.

You’ve got a great cast in the film including Luke Evans, how was it working with them?

They are amazing. They were so incredible and such a delight to work with and we didn’t have a lot of time to shoot the movie. We had about 25 days to shoot the whole thing which is not a lot. They came together and a lot of people had incredible chemistry in the movie. It’s really really wonderful to watch. The process was like me watching them fall in love with each other but they never met before doing the film. They had one table read and then they just kind of dived in but they were incredible to work with.

The film comes out at the perfect time following in the steps of the Patty Jenkins’ successful movie, was that your intention when you set out?

I’ve been working on this movie for about eight years so it took about four years to write during nights and weekends between jobs and another four years to be made so it’s kind of just a coincidental convergence that it’s coming out exactly on the heels of this huge phenomenon of the success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman movie. But back last October when we were shooting it I didn’t even know if we would have distribution. I didn’t even know if anyone would see the film. So that part is a happy coincidence.

Why did it take you four years to write the script?

It took a lot of time to absorb all the information all of Marston’s theories and a lot of it had to do with figuring out the history of psychology and figuring out how the evolution of the lie detector test and how it worked in the times they are and the publishing world in the 1940s. And a lot of it was trying to figure out the context the characters were living in.

What did you think of the Wonder Woman film?

I loved it. I loved it so much. Patty Jenkins just did an incredible job. It was this really emotional thing watching it and I thought it was just me but I’ve talked to a lot of other people and they were like ‘I cried all the way through Wonder Woman’ and it was just extraordinary.

Is your film in the DCEU now?

I would definitely love to helm a big Hollywood Wonder Woman film. I think it’s a really interesting compliment to the whole DC universe and I actually just showed the film to Zack Snyder and Debbie Snyder who loved it and they had an incredible response to the film and Debbie was really moved by it and they are both supporting it. I was really really excited. We also showed the film toe Gloria Steinem who gave us a quote and that kind of blew me away because she is one of my heroes.


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