Gal Gadot is no stranger to the action genre. Best known for playing Wonder Woman in two DC movies (and maybe an upcoming threequel, depending on which conflicting report you read), she’s also starred in multiple entries in the Fast and Furious franchise and portrayed a career criminal alongside Dwayne Johnson in Red Notice. Now, in Netflix’s Heart of Stone, she’s Rachel Stone, MI6 tech whiz by day, and agent for the mysterious Charter… also by day.
So, what makes this role different from the other strings in Gadot’s bow? For her, it’s that the character feels “real”. “The whole story is much more grounded, gritty, raw, real, and that’s the biggest difference,” she explains to GamesRadar+ over Zoom, in a conversation that took place before the ongoing actors’ strike.
Helming Heart of Stone is director Tom Harper. Now, a stunt-filled espionage thriller may look like a divergence from his previous projects, which include rags-to-riches music drama Wild Rose, period adventure flick The Aeronauts, and an adaptation of War and Peace for the BBC, but Harper argues that this isn’t the case. “It’s actually not that much different from when I’m attracted to any project or any script, really. Although it’s a big entertainment spectacle, it’s actually the character and the story at the heart of it. That’s really the thing that appealed to me.”
The filmmaker emphasizes to us that he’s always wanted to tell a story on a bigger scale. “I love action movies. So, an opportunity came up to tell an original story, and there’s not many original stories in this genre, it’s quite a rare thing. And then it had a great female character at the center of it, and that was something I hadn’t really seen that much of before. The story got its claws into me and got under my skin.”
That story’s focal point, of course, is Rachel. While juggling her double life, the Charter suddenly comes under siege from a mysterious young hacker – Keya, played by Bollywood star Alia Bhatt, taking on her first Hollywood role.
Gadot has been involved with the movie since its inception, helping build Rachel from day one – with authenticity always being a priority. “We started the script from scratch, so we made sure the building blocks of the character came through a female perspective,” she explains. “It wasn’t a gender-switch type of script that was written for a man and then we just made him a woman. Everything about Rachel Stone has Rachel Stone in it. It’s all about her perspective, her point of view. That’s what makes her so authentic.”
Both Rachel and Keya have complex motivations for their actions and are forced to make difficult decisions, with Gadot saying that emotional weight was a “big objective” when she started to develop the movie. “Coming into it, we knew we were going to have an action-packed film, we knew we were going to have a few huge set pieces,” she says. “And it was so important for me to make sure that we bring the heart, the weight, the emotion, and the drama to the characters. Once you have both these elements, it can only do good for the movie.”
Bhatt agrees. “The action definitely gives you that scale, that thrill, [on the] edge of your seat,” she tells us. “But all of that falls flat if the foundation of the emotion is not strong, and that is always driven by characters, their purpose, their motivations, and their layers. So, it was beautifully written into the script itself.”
Gadot is full of praise for Bhatt. “She was amazing,” she tells us. “She was incredible, she was so layered and sophisticated, and she brought wit and humor to the character so it’s not just flat and dry. She brought the character to life and it was delightful to watch.”
While his co-stars were out globetrotting between location shoots in Portugal, Iceland, and Senegal, jumping out of planes and racing down cobbled streets in car chases, Matthias Schweighöfer, who plays ‘man in the chair’ Jack of Hearts, stays… well, in his chair, at the Charter’s HQ. “They need me in this film to give it a bit of quietness. I look pretty cool in my tiny office,” Schweighöfer laughs. “We always talked about this, Tom and me, because there’s so much going on that [you need to] come back to the headquarters, and especially to the place with this crazy computer.”
But what, exactly, is this “crazy computer”? That would be the Heart, the Charter’s secret weapon. It’s a powerful AI, all-seeing and all-knowing, that makes sure their agents never fail – it uses its powers of surveillance to calculate the odds of every scenario, so the Charter always wins. This comes at a cost, though – an ethical one. “What lies at the heart of the movie is not just honest ethical considerations, but the wider implications of our increasing dependence on technology,” Harper ponders.
“How do we navigate that? How do we use it as the great resource that it can be and, at the same time, do so responsibly and retain our humanity, our conscience, and our moral center within that? That’s exactly what the movie is about.”
“It was crazy because our CGI supervisor, we talked one day about what happens when AI becomes bigger and bigger and bigger,” Schweighöfer adds. “We were talking about this and, one year later, it’s really there. So, what I love about our film is that it’s a topic now and it’s great. It came at the right time.”
Heart of Stone is out in limited cinemas and on Netflix on August 11. For more on the movie, check out our interview with Gadot and Bhatt’s co-star Jamie Dornan and our guide to the Heart of Stone ending explained. And, for more viewing inspiration, check out our guide to the rest of the year’s most highly anticipated movie release dates.