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Annette Kellerman Chats Up The Director of PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN


A few weeks ago at Fantastic Fest, I enjoyed an engaging chat with Angela Robinson, wrtier/director of the new film PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN. If you'd like to hear about my take on the fascinating love story, check out my review here. We talked about the real story behind the Marston's relationship with Olive Byrne, how the women in his life influenced his creation of the Wonder Woman comic, and the impeccable timing of the biopic she's been working on for the better part of a decade. I hope you enjoy our talk!
Annette Kellerman: Hi Angela. So nice to meet you! Thanks for talking with me today about PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN.

Angela Robinson: You're actually the only woman I've talked to.

Kellerman: What?! Really?

Robinson: I just did press all day today, and yes.

Kellerman: That's a little ironic.

Robinson: I know, right? (laughing)

Kellerman: Glad to be repping the lady press up in here! I was at the screening last night, and I just fell in love with your movie. How long have you been working on this project?

Robinson: Actively, about eight years. A long time. It took about four years of nights and weekends in between TV jobs to write the script, and then about four years to get it financed.

Kellerman: Can you talk about the impeccable timing with this other Wonder Woman movie that I've heard a few things about?

Robinson: (laughing) It's actually really funny to me because people are complimenting me on my incredible foresight to have imagined that the long-in-development WONDER WOMAN film would happen in 2017 and that my also long-in-development movie about Wonder Woman's origin story would also fall in the same year. But it's a pure weird kind of twist of history.

Kellerman: It's kind of kismet in a way.

Robinson: Yeah. We didn't even know if we'd have distribution. We shot it a year ago. It's interesting to me because it was not a foregone conclusion a year ago that WONDER WOMAN would be a hit. When we were making the movie there was a lot of naysaying,'s not gonna work and blah, blah, blah. Now it's the worldwide phenomenon that we all know! Which I'm truly psyched about.

Kellerman: I'm sure you're totally psyched, but then you're also like, hey I've been working on this story for eight years! It's not some bandwagon that you just jumped on.

Robinson: I do think that there is a kind of convergence. The Wonder Woman, she hasn't existed on film in 75 years, so starting about four years ago I feel like there has been a gathering steam of interest of Wonder Woman and the Marstons. I'm being a little facetious to say it's out of the blue. But I feel that my film is part of a lot of different things.

Kellerman: There was doc at SXSW several years ago about the origins of Wonder Woman.

Robinson: Yeah, WONDER WOMEN.

Kellerman: That was the first time that I had ever heard about the Marston's and their crazy story. And I hang out with all the nerds!

Robinson: I know! (laughs)

Kellerman: Admittedly, I am not as into comic book culture as most of my cohorts- though I do gather a lot by osmosis- and I guess this story had been sort of suppressed over the years. Can you talk about how you did your research when a lot of the information wasn't exactly readily available?

Robinson: When I started, there wasn't that much. I read a book on the history of Wonder Woman that a friend gave me, because she knew I was a big fan of Wonder Woman. I stumbled upon a chapter on the Marstons. It had all the key information, and I was like, what?! They invented the lie detector test?! He lived with two women and they all had a family together?! Like, what?! And there were bondage themes and a controversy erupted?!

Kellerman: Not to mention that there were family members who were Suffragettes and early feminist leaders.

Robinson: Yeah! There was the whole Margaret Sanger connection too. It was just...I couldn't believe it. So I kind of believed that everybody didn't know about it either. His letters are at the Smithsonian. There is stuff, you just had to look for it. I had to do my own detective work. Then there was this explosion of stuff about four years ago. The Jill Lepore book. Grant Morrison wrote about the Marstons in his Supergods book. There was suddenly all this corroboration for what I had already been looking for.

Kellerman: As a writer and director, you could have chosen to portray the story in a more salacious tone, but you instead chose to focus on the love story between the characters, which I really appreciate. Can you talk about some of the choices that you made as a director as far as still showing some of the sexy stuff but still focusing on the beautiful, yet unconventional love story.

Robinson: For me it was really important tonally to tell an organic love story. I didn't want to "other-ize" their experience at all. I feel that any sort of kink hasn't had a good history of representation on film. The first thing I did was to be very clear dramatically that there's a dialect between fantasy and reality in the movie, so the sex scenes were about them discovering their fantasy and diiscovering freedom to be the fullest expressions of themselves through the scene. I wasn't that concerned about what actual- what people were doing to each other when sex was happening. It was more about the emotional tightrope, do you know what I mean?

Kellerman: Yeah. For sure.
Robinson: I always say that it's sexier, instead of what people are doing it's what people are thinking. I was crazy-obsessed with the notion of rendering consent in every exchange. I call it playing all the notes. Every decision they made, they'd think about it, and then they'd decide and ask if that's okay. They were always asking permission. Like, are you alright? Is this okay? Do you want to do this?
Kellerman: Do you think that's how it really was, or do you think that's more commentary on today's issues?
Robinson: I don't know, because honestly no one of the planet knows how it really was! Everyone is gone. So I made the choice. I do really, from all my research, feel that both Elizabeth and Olive were incredibly bold and had a ton of agency and were really sex positive.
Kellerman: They weren't being manipulated.
Robinson: They weren't being manipulated. As a film maker I wasn't interested in telling that story. I feel like there is plenty of representation of that out there. But I also didn't think it was true to who they were and it was really important to me to represent their desire also. There's a line in the film where Brant says to Marston, "I get you. You're fairly obvious, but what's going on with you?" Which is kind of how I felt as a filmmaker. I totally get why Marston wants this, but whats going on with the two women?
Kellerman: Switching subjects a bit...there are a lot of moving parts in a story like this, and then on top of that you have to deal with doing a period piece. It also spans a couple different eras. Can you talk about the challenges that go along with doing a period peice? It's such a beautiful historical phase style-wise.
Robinson: I love it! It was very challenging. We shot the movie in 25 days with not that much money. That being said, I had an incredible cinematographer, Bryce Fortner. And Donna Maloney who did the costumes, and Carl Sprague the production designer. Jeff Werner did the editing. They usually work on projects much bigger than this one, but everybody kind of fell in love with the script and the project and they just brought their A game. It's hard because you have to find locations, every prop, everything.
Kellerman: Everything has to be authentic.
Robinson: The lie detector didn't work. We couldn't find one, and I was like, it's the most major prop in the whole thing! They couldn't get one in the early version that we needed. They tried to make one, and it didn't work on the day we needed it. A friend of mine is a visual effects supervisor, and I called him literally from set and asked him if he could CG the lie detector.
Kellerman: Is it really?!
Robinson: Yeah, the lie detector is actually CG.
Kellerman: I would've never known!
Robinson: That's a funny thing about doing a period piece.
Kellerman: Speaking of the lie detector. Here's a couple who are pioneering this technology in lie detecting and they are essentially living a sort of lie to a certain extent.
Robinson: Even in the initial thumbnail reading of their story, the wonderful irony that these people that literally invented the lie detector test to root out deception had this very elaborate lie governing their lives. I was really intrigued by the notion of secret identities and that parallel and the lasso of truth being the lie detector test.
Kellerman: It's the perfect leap to the lasso of truth!
Robinson: I do feel like superhero myths are about being this fantastical self and being free and having all this power that you don't have being just a lowly human. So, I feel like those themes really resonated.
Kellerman: Can you talk about the casting a bit? I love Rebecca Hall and I couldn't help but notice that with this role as well as her role in VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA, she is kind of a hero as far as unorthodox love stories. (big laughs) I don't know if that is something you thought about when casting her...
Robinson: No, I did. I totally fell in love with her in VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA. That was my first time where she really entered my consciousness. I love that film because it does, in its own weird way, have a really fun threesome. But I think she's, bar none, one of the most incredible actors working today. She'd actually considered adapting the Marston story herself, so she'd done a lot of thinking about it. But when I met her, I was like, she is Elizabeth. She's that smart. We talked a lot. I said that Elizabeth reminds me of ton of brilliant women I know who aren't able to realize their full potential because it's a "man's world." Literally, like in quotes. like in WONDER WOMAN. For whatever reason. We really connected with this idea that we gotta give a toast to all the brilliant women that have been hidden from history.
Kellerman: Absolutely. And then Bella takes on the more ingenue-type role as Olive, but has way more going on under the surface. Kind of taking on the theme of not reading a book by its cover. Can you talk about casting her and what she lent as far as those themes go?
Robinson: Yes. I think that Bella is a revelation in the movie. I think that she is such a purely honest actor that you're literally capturing this pure emotion. I met a lot of people for the role. She sent me tape of herself doing the part and I was sold and set about trying to do all the stuff I needed to do to get her in the film. Because it's a deceptive role. Olive is the soul of the movie, and she's also the backbone. She's the strongest character actually. She's the one who drives the story forward.
Kellerman: She's the muse so to speak.
Robinson: Yeah, but I feel like the connotation of the muse is that she's "airy fairy", but she's the most substantive character. She always knows what she wants. She always goes about getting it. She's not afraid. I was really inspired by TRADING PLACES and DANGEROUS LIAISONS in weird way because they are about these two characters who are caught up in their own ideas and were a little arogant and full of themselves. They have all these ideas about this girl, who she is and what she's supposed to be, and by the end of the movie they are basically on their knees to her saying we don't know anything.
Kellerman: It's really complex, and you did a great job delving into these real life characters and showing that there was a lot more going on than just scandalous escapades.
Robinson: Thanks.
Kellerman: Well, shoot! They're giving me the signal to wrap this up, so I just want to thank you again for meeting with me today and talking all about PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN.
Robinson: I enjoyed it. Thanks again.
What a great conversation about not only the origin story of one of the world's greatest super hero stories, but the complexity of living a secret life that pushed the boundaries of cultural tradition. I'm so glad I got to pick Robinson's brain about her film, and I hope you enjoyed our chat as well. PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN open in theaters on October 13th.
Until next time...
Rebecca Elliott
aka Annette Kellerman
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