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‘Professor Marston’ reveals what wasn’t in ‘Wonder Woman’

Writer-director Angela Robinson on the set of “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.”Claire Folger/Annapurna Pictures

Wonder Woman’s timing couldn’t have been much better for Angela Robinson.

The writer-director-producer — whose resume includes “The L Word, “True Blood,” and “How to Get Away With Murder” — had been working on a small movie about the origin of Wonder Woman for the better part of a decade. As soon as Patty Jenkins’s action movie starring Gal Gadot became the summer’s big hit, Robinson knew that audiences would be interested in where the superhero came from.

“People are like, ‘Did you plan it this way?,’ and I definitely didn’t,” Robinson said of the timing of the two films. “Wonder Woman,” which was released in June, has made more than $800 million at the global box office. Robinson’s movie — “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” — will be released Friday. “I’ve been trying to get my movie made for years.”


Robinson’s take on the story is about Harvard psychologist William Moulton Marston, who in the 1920s invented an early version of the lie detector test, and, years later, created Wonder Woman. The character was based on two women in Marston’s life: his wife, Elizabeth Marston, and their partner, Olive Byrne. Luke Evans, of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Girl on the Train,” plays Marston. Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote costar as Elizabeth Marston and Byrne.

The film follows the trio as they fall in love, become ostracized for their polyamory, and deal with the criticisms of Marston’s comic book character and her scenes of bondage.

Before Robinson, a Brown University grad, brought her movie to the Toronto International Film Festival last month, she spoke with the Globe about how she found the story, and what it was like to film in Massachusetts — where the real Marstons lived — last fall.

Q. How long have you known about the Marstons?


A. My whole life I’ve just been a huge Wonder Woman fan. A friend of mine gave me this Wonder Woman book [by Les Daniels] and I stumbled upon a chapter about the Marstons, and how they formed a family together . . . and I literally couldn’t believe it. This was probably like a decade ago. I was just blown away, and it always stuck with me. Then a different friend encouraged me to write a movie about it, so I set about the process.

Q. Did you know there was a big-budget Wonder Woman film in the works when you were writing your screenplay?

A. I kind of started writing the movie out of a frustration that a Wonder Woman [movie had been in development] but not made. I was like, “There have been so many incarnations of Batman over the years . . . why hasn’t Wonder Woman existed on the big screen?” I’d been trying to get financing for my film over many years, and it would come together and then fall apart. Then I saw Wonder Woman [Gadot] appear in “Batman v Superman.” I looked at that movie and I was like, “Oh, the ‘Wonder Woman’ movie is gonna be huge.” I saw some different pollings that said, like, 60 percent of the people who went to see “Batman v Superman” went for Wonder Woman, and I started kind of banging the drum to try to get [my] film made.

Q. The world seems to want Wonder Woman now. Even before the big movie, there was the book by Jill Lepore (“The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” 2014).


A. There was the Jill Lepore book. Grant Morrison did a graphic novel called “Earth One,” reincorporating Marston’s themes. A bunch of people kind of found their way to this exploration of the Marstons, and that was kind of exciting.

Q. You filmed around Boston in 2016 — not far from where the Marstons lived.

A. I was so excited because . . . it never happens that you’re able to shoot it in the city where it actually took place. We were going to be there at the exact time the leaves were going to change, and I was just like, “This never lines up perfectly.” Then we get to Boston and there’s the longest Indian summer. The leaves weren’t changing, and I was like, “I can’t believe I’m sitting here in October and November and it’s still 90 degrees.”

Q. How did Luke Evans become your Professor Marston?

A. I was obsessed with Luke Evans. I’d been tracking his career for a really long time, and I thought he was just an incredible actor first and foremost. He had this really sexy, masculine energy that I thought was really important for Marston, but he also had the sensitivity and intelligence to play him.

Q. What about the wonder women?

A. I had been the hugest fan of Rebecca Hall, and she had actually considered adapting [the story] herself. She had done a lot of research. Then she learned that I had a script, and that I was making a project, too. I flew to New York to meet her, and we had a mind meld about the character. . . . It was actually very difficult to cast the role of Olive. It seems simple, the part, but it’s not. Bella just sent me a tape of herself doing the scene, and it showed up in my inbox, and I watched it and I was just totally blown away.


Q. You write Marston as this incredible man, especially when it comes to women. But his history with feminism is complicated. At one point in this film, a character basically says, “Does Wonder Woman have to wear a bikini?”

A. The character of William Moulton Marston was so compelling to me because I think he’s full of contradictions. He had these incredible, feminist ideas, and then he had ideas [that were] seemingly contradictory. It was kind of a soup of ideas about women and feminism — and bondage and pop culture. I ultimately came to love both the character I portrayed and the man that I researched because — he gave us Wonder Woman.

Interview was edited and condensed. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at