Life & Culture

Gal Gadot: 'I will tell the world the real Cleopatra story'

The Israeli actress on why she faced off a backlash against her playing the Egyptian queen


Israeli actress Gal Gadot arrives for the world premiere of "Barbie" at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, on July 9, 2023. (Photo by Michael Tran / AFP) (Photo by MICHAEL TRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

I love the sheer chutzpah of Israeli actress Gal Gadot, who just six years ago was contemplating giving up her acting dreams but is now one of the most bankable stars on the planet.

When the face of Wonder Woman announced plans three years ago to make a film about Queen Cleopatra she received a furious backlash — mainly because she was deemed the wrong nationality and, even worse, an Ashkenazi Jew.

A rival Netflix drama documentary project, made by Jada Pinkett Smith with a black Cleopatra was thought to have meant those plans had hit the dust, particularly when her long-running colleague, Wonder Woman filmmaker Patty Jenkins announced she would no longer be directing.

But Gal has just revealed that work continues on making the film. There is a new director in place and plans are afoot to start filming soon.

“If Wonder Woman is the imaginary strong female leader, Cleopatra’s actually the real one,” Gal told Vogue Hong Kong.

“All I ever saw in regards to Cleopatra from the film, was that she was this seductive woman who had an affair with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. But the truth is, there’s so much more to her.

"This woman was so ahead of her time. Egypt and what Egypt was back then, was still futuristic to where we are today.

“I can’t say too much. But to me, I’m so passionate to tell her story and to bring justice to this character and her legacy, and celebrate her and her legacy.

"We have a beautiful script and I cannot wait to share this story with the world and change the narrative of Cleopatra simply being a seductor.”

Her chutzpah is in ignoring her detractors at a time when racial politics could not be more fashionable and divisive.

While Gal has been accused of being too white to play Cleopatra, there was ironically also a huge backlash over the Netflix version with the British mixed-race actor Adele James coming under fire for being too black.

In fact, one Egyptian lawyer has pledged to sue Netflix for $2billion dollars while an Egyptian television channel vowed to create its own show using a light-skinned actress.

Cleopatra was the last Hellenistic ruler of the Macedonian-led Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt and scholars believe she was predominantly of Macedonian Greek ancestry with some possible Persian DNA too.

Gal says that there had been a plan to find a Macedonian actress but they struggled, adding that as an Israeli there is no reason why she shouldn’t play the ruler of a country that her own borders.

But quite what Egyptians and the race activists will think of her pronouncement is, perhaps, another question.

In the meantime, you can see the actor — who recently became the first Israeli to win a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — on Netflix as top spy Rachel Stone in next month’s eagerly anticipated AI thriller Heart of Stone.

Quentin Tarantino may not be Jewish but he lives in Israel, after falling in love and marrying singer Daniella Pick, and created the wonderful Inglourious Basterds.

I was at the opening night of Tarantino Live — a new show in London featuring the best Tarantino music and lines and a must for any aficionado of his films. The entire cast is incredibly talented.

It stars Maeva Feitelson, who has both Jewish and Persian heritage, as Inglourious Basterds’ Jewish heroine Shosanna Dreyfus, and who told me she was thrilled to play a woman who is able to get her revenge on the Nazis.

“When I read the brief for this job, I thought to myself, ‘If I don’t get it, I won’t know what to do with myself because it is so perfect for me,’” said the Paris-born actress whose mother was Jewish.

“They wanted someone French with strong vocals and who had some Jewish or Middle Eastern heritage. It made me think about my family stories; the Jewish side, which left Lithuania because of antisemitism and the Iranian side, which saw my grandfather go into in hiding from the Shah of Iran.”

The show continues at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith until mid-August.

Jews in the news:

Roald Dahl’s antisemitism is well known so how delicious that his most famous work is being reimagined with Jewish actor Timothee Chalamet playing the young Willy Wonka.

I was at a special preview of the trailer (highly unusual to have such a lavish do for a trailer) where we heard from writer and director Paul King. The film is to be a companion one for the 1971 hit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in which, of course, Wonka was played by the Jewish Gene Wilder.

Mazel tov to comedy film legend Mel Brooks, who will be honoured at November’s Governors’ Awards(voted on by the Academy’s Board of Governors) with an honorary Oscar.

The Blazing Saddles and The Producers legend, 97, is one of four special winners. Academy President Janet Yang said: “Mel Brooks lights up our hearts with his humour, and his legacy has made a lasting impact on every facet of entertainment.’

It was a packed opening night for Deli Segal’s fabulous Pickle comedy at the Soho Theatre earlier this week.

The show is a brilliantly observed and wry look at all the nuances, joys and heartbreaks of being a British Jew. I loved it.

Hopefully, there will be more dates for the show, which also sold out at the Park Theatre earlier this year.

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