The meteoric rise of Gal Gadot

How ‘Wonder Woman’ has pushed Bar Refaeli off the Israeli pedestal

May 20, 2017 21:37
Gal Gadot wonder

Gal Gadot stars as the fierce Amazon warrior princess out to save the world in ‘Wonder Woman'. (photo credit: COURTESY OF SHALMOR PR)

For close to a decade, the most visible and famous Israeli was none other than supermodel Bar Refaeli.

But with the upcoming release of Wonder Woman, Refaeli is being ousted from her throne by the one and only Gal Gadot.

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The stunning model and movie star is not exactly a newcomer to Hollywood – she’s been appearing in hit movies since 2009. But with the release in just a couple weeks of Wonder Woman, the blockbuster Warner Bros. movie with Gadot in the leading role, her star is about to catapult into the stratosphere. After all, it’s not every day one is featured on a series of massive billboards in New York’s Times Square.

This isn’t even Gadot’s first film playing Wonder Woman, the DC Comics superhero and warrior princess. She first played the role in the 2016 film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice – which, while it got mostly negative reviews, grossed more than $870 million.

E! News called Gadot’s performance “the bright spot in an otherwise dim movie-going experience.”

But on June 2, when Gadot hits the silver screen with a headlining role in a summer blockbuster, she’ll reach levels of fame even she could never have imagined. And then she’ll play Wonder Woman yet again in Justice League, which is set to be released in November.

Gadot, 32, a native of Rosh Ha’ayin, rose to prominence in Israel after winning the Miss Israel competition in 2004. She went on to represent Israel at the Miss Universe pageant that year. While she placed out of the top 15, Gadot built a successful modeling career in Israel, while also managing to serve two years in the IDF.

“In Israel serving is part of being an Israeli,” she told Glamour in 2016. “You’ve got to give back to the state. You give two or three years, and it’s not about you. You give your freedom away. You learn discipline and respect.”

Gadot reportedly wanted to be a lawyer, and began her studies at IDC. But hey, Israel has a real glut of lawyers, and significantly less international movie stars. In 2007, Gadot became part of a national conversation when she was one of the four female IDF soldiers featured in a racy photo shoot in the US magazine Maxim.

But things moved to new level in 2009, when Gadot starred in the fourth installment of the popular Fast and the Furious franchise, as Gisele Yashar, a liaison for a drug trafficker (who happens to be Israeli). It was a small role, but it cemented Gadot in the franchise, and she went on to appear in Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6.

While Refaeli often gained attention with her high-profile romances (most prominently with Hollywood heartthrob Leonardo Dicaprio), Gadot has been married to businessman Yaron Varsano since 2008. The pair have two daughters, Alma, almost six, and Maya, just two months old.

In the Glamour magazine interview, Gadot said “The Jewish guilt I feel about being a working mom is the hardest thing.”

RATHER THAN a slow burn, Gadot has seen an almost meteoric rise to Hollywood royalty. The Israeli model had fairly few film credentials to her name when she was cast in the iconic role of Wonder Woman. It was a considerable gamble to place Gadot in one of the most highly anticipated and hyped films of the summer (Wonder Woman has never had her own feature film).

But most of the backlash to her casting had nothing to do with her inexperience or her origin; rather, fans of the comic series “blogged and commented [their feelings] till their fingers bled,” wrote Glamour magazine. “The loudest conversation of all was about how Gadot would, literally, fill out the suit. In short, many thought she was too skinny.”

But since then fans have really come around to Gadot in the role, especially after she packed on 17 pounds of muscle and stole the show in Batman v. Superman. E! News called her “the brightest spot in the franchise, and the aspect that is going to breathe life into the Batman world for the rest of the year.”

And under the intense media scrunity that comes with a smash hit, does Gadot shy away from or embrace her Jewish and Israeli heritage? The answer is mixed.

The superstar certainly never tries to hide her background, but lately she has done less to draw attention to it. While Gadot is active on social media, she has shown a decreasing desire to showcase her Israeli roots.

Clearly parsing anyone’s Instagram account with Talmudic intensity can be silly, but it is also clear to see how Gadot has scaled back on public declarations of her heritage over time.

While in 2015 the superstar posted about Purim, Remembrance Day, Yom Kippur, Hanukka and even a shot of her voting in Israel’s elections, she’s been much quieter since then. Last year, Gadot didn’t mark any Jewish holidays with an online post, but she did show some Israeli pride. During the Summer Olympics in August, Gadot celebrated both medal wins of Israeli judokas Yarden Gerbi and Or Sasson. She also posted photos of herself with both former president Shimon Peres (on the day he died) and current President Rivlin Reuven Rivlin.

Then, just last month, on the day Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, Gadot posted an old photograph of her grandfather.

“Grandpa... I miss you, hero,” she wrote. “You left us 3 years ago but your legacy is living with us forever. My grandfather was born in 1928 in a small village named Muncaks in Czechoslovakia. His ENTIRE family was brutally vanished in WW2. Just because someone had decided they were born into the wrong religion and race... Light should always beat darkness as love should always beat hatred. Today we remember and never forget.”

Unlike years past, Gadot didn’t use the words Holocaust, Jewish, Israel or Yom Hashoah in her post. There’s no implicit criticism in her word choice – Gadot is not the US president, and she is free to post whatever she wants, whenever. It is also easy to understand her reluctance, when the comments on most previous Israel-related postings inevitably spiraled into nasty shouting matches. But it is interesting to note her careful word choice and effort toward universal appeal – especially in light of past years.

But, as they say, while you can take the Israeli out of Israel... it doesn’t seem like Gadot will be changing anytime soon.

In a recent magazine interview with Marie Claire, when she graced the cover of its June 2017 issue, Gadot admitted to needing an adjustment to life in Los Angeles.

“When I first came to Los Angeles, I couldn’t read people,” she said. “In Israel, people have chutzpah. People take issue with it, but I’d rather have that than play games. I prefer to know the truth, not waste time.”

And a reporter for Glamour said when she met with the actress in London last year, she did two of the most Israeli things I can imagine: “Not many starlets offer to give you a lift back to your hotel or start scheming to set you up on a date.”

It looks like Gadot is here to stay, and will provide girls around the globe with a role model with a lot of star power and more than a hint of sabra sass.

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