‘PROFESSOR MARSTON’ uncovers true story that spawned Wonder Woman

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

Writer-director Angela Robinson (producer of TRUE BLOOD and HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER) discovered the story behind Wonder Woman’s creation when she was given a character history book by a friend. She read it and was floored by the story and how the character’s creator also was the same person who invented the lie detector test, which brings on a whole new meaning to Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth.

This relatively unknown story led Robinson to turn it into a big screen adaptation, titled PROFESSOR MARSTON & THE WONDER WOMEN.

The film stars Luke Evans (Gaston in the live-action rendition of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) as the titular Professor Marston, and it centers on how his relationship with his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall of THE BFG) and their lover Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote of FIFTY SHADES OF DARKER) serve to inspire the creation of a female superhero in a time when strong female characters were nonexistent. It explores the philosophy of being in love with more than one person at the same time and touches on concepts of dominance and submission.

We spoke with Robinson at Fantastic Fest in Austin, last month to discuss the unconventional love affair that birthed the iconic character and how the filmmaker brought herself into the story.

Preston Barta: Obviously you want to honor the true story, but [I] imagine as a filmmaker you bring elements of yourself to it. I’m curious to know how much of yourself you brought to Professor Marston’s story?

Writer-director Angela Robinson at 2017 Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas on Sunday, September 24, 2017. (Photo by Jack Plunkett)

Angela Robinson: “A lot. I mean, I think whenever you’re writing anything, you can’t help but find pieces of yourself in it. You literally see it through your eyes and you use your own well of emotion and experience to align with the characters to try to tell their story. So I feel like there was a ton in my personal experience, which is why I wanted to tell the story so much. I really related to them and I thought that they lived this incredibly brave life, and especially a lot of Elizabeth’s struggles and the kind of glass ceiling she confronted and trying to make it in a man’s world, literally.

I was really taken by Marston’s theories. It was kind of an investigation, and I thought about it in my own life and it was really kind of a learning process. But I also feel like our world is careening out of control, and I really feel like as I got deeper and deeper into Marston’s ideas, he really wanted to save the world with his ideas, in a very literal sense. He thought psychology and its marriage with pop culture, could change hearts and minds and could stop war in a very literal fashion, which I believe, too. Creating empathy for people and trying to make the world a better place through pop culture, is something I actively really believe in. It’s funny, because I think from the outside, Hollywood is considered a progressive place, and I suppose it is. But I do feel that it’s still an institution. There’s a ton of institutional sexism and racism, and I feel like Hollywood also has a long way to go.

What’s interesting to me is sometimes that I feel if you’re in a kind of so-called progressive community, you can kind of rest of your laurels. I actually feel like what’s kind of coming to light a lot is that there’s in a cultural discussion. There’s all sorts of unconscious bias, and just because you’re a democrat or on the left instead of the right, I feel like there’s still a lot of barriers.”

During the post-screening question-and-answer session at Fantastic Fest, you mentioned you have a young son. How did that affect the making of the film and balancing all the different perspectives?

“That’s interesting. It took eight years from start to finish to bring this project to the screen, and I became a parent during that time. So it actually really affected the second half of the movie. My wife and I have been together for 20 years in this long-term relationship and are raising a kid. We’re also parenting with our friend, who was the sperm donor, too, who’s our son’s dad. So there’s this kind of ‘untraditional format’ to our parenting.

It was important to me to not have the antagonists in the movie be wrong necessarily, because I find myself on both sides of the issue all the time. Like the next-door neighbor that the three of them encounter when they all decide to live together with their children, when she’s like, ‘I don’t want my kids being exposed to… your worldview,’ I understand that impulse. I didn’t want anyone to be a cartoon character. I wanted all the characters to come from an understandable place. In some ways, they’re right. Is it reckless? I wanted to voice both sides. In the film, you’re definitely on the side of the Marston’s, but I wanted to give a really rigorous debate in the film, because I feel like all the characters.

Part of it was very visceral, where I just wanted you to be on the ride with the Marston’s and experience, and the movie takes this super hairpin turn there, but I feel like that’s how life is. I especially like that you’re having a great time or doing whatever you’re doing. It could be whatever, but then all of a sudden it just goes south in a second, and I feel like in my life there’s been experiences like that. I can remember in college walking down the street with my girlfriend and then a car would drive by and throw a bottle at us or something. It was just this thing where you are just in your own world and then all of a sudden you’re just smacked into reality, so I wanted it to kind of emotionally feel like this kind of hilarity and then the next minute, you’re getting beat up. They have this deep love for each other and the world keeps smacking them being like, ‘No, that’s not okay.’”

Thanks to Robinson, PROFESSOR MARSTON & THE WONDER WOMEN is not your average A-to-Z biopic. It’s a truly wonderful tribute not only to one of the most celebrated characters around, and this year’s favorite cinematic superhero, but to all the imaginations out there that create passionate and personal works of fiction.

PROFESSOR MARSTON & THE WONDER WOMEN opens Friday nationwide.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.