Spoiler alert! The following post contains light spoilers for the new movie “Wonder Woman 1984.”
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – In the top level of an old mall turned into a vibrant 1980s shopping center for “Wonder Woman 1984,” Kristen Wiig has poured herself into a lacy, form-fitting black dress accessorized with some seriously high heels. She’s light years from the drab discount-store couture she wore as Target Lady on “Saturday Night Live.”
“You look amazing,” an employee tells Wiig’s character, Barbara Minerva, who’s doing some shopping for a gala event and checking herself out. “Do you think it’s too tight?” Wiig asks, leading her helper to confirm that “it’s just right.”
“Wow,” a self-impressed Barbara tells the woman. “I’ll take it.”
‘Wonder Woman 1984’: How the superhero sequel took over an empty mall to create a rad ’80s experience
The sequence in “1984” (in theaters now and streaming on HBO Max) is a small but key evolution for Wonder Woman’s newest archnemesis, the Cheetah. Barbara, a mousy geologist who befriends our heroine Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), makes a fateful wish on a mystical rock to be powerful and more confident like her new Smithsonian co-worker, and the resulting transformation changes her fashion, physicality and ferocity.
“She was so surprised that she looked like that, but she was also kind of unaware. And she just looks totally different than she did 10 minutes before in the movie,” Wiig says now, two years after that filming day. “That’s kind of her biggest jump, except of course for the very end.”
The dowdy clothes and glasses Barbara dons at the start of director Patty Jenkins’ “1984” ultimately give way to a cheetah-print leather look she wears while tossing around Wonder Woman in the White House and later going full primal as the animalistic Cheetah in the film’s action-packed climax. (Her final form is computer-generated, with Wiig doing her scenes in a motion-capture suit.)
Getting to be a comic-book supervillainess is a definite departure from Wiig’s comedic efforts, from “SNL” to movies such as “Bridesmaids” and “Ghostbusters.” Even as the long-anticipated “Wonder Woman” sequel arrives, Wiig, 47, seems to have a hard time believing she’s actually in the film.
“Honestly, when Patty talked to me about it, I was like, ‘Do you have the right Kristen? Are you talking to the right person?’ ” Wiig says with a laugh. “I was obviously pleasantly surprised that she thought about me for this character. I love superhero movies and I do watch them like, ‘Wow, I wish I could be in one of these.’ And the fact that it happened, I’m still in total shock.”
Instead of casting for Cheetah, Jenkins wanted to find the right Barbara and that’s how she landed on Wiig.
“She’s just a perfect fit for this fun-to-be-with girlfriend that you love and is funny and is interesting in that space, but then who has the inner fortitude and the acting chops to get to the end part,” Jenkins says. “She is a genius. I just believed she would have no problem getting there.”
To throw down properly with Gadot, Wiig did stunt training for the entire eight months of filming plus two months before, “so I was actually physically getting stronger as the movie was being shot,” Wiig says. “I was feeling different as Barbara was feeling different, which was kind of a cool thing that I wasn’t expecting.”
Barbara/Cheetah is a physical character, but Wiig had to bring depth to her, too: Both she and Wonder Woman make fateful wishes – for Diana, it’s bringing back her lost love (Chris Pine), who died during World War I (see: the first “Wonder Woman”) – that take as well as give, and Wiig’s character is loathe to give up her new power, even as it’s having an adverse effect on her humanity.
“The fact that Diana and Barbara go two different ways with it is really where you see their differences,” Wiig says. “In the beginning, they’re almost similar in the way they’re living their life and they’re so sort of separated from people and lonely and feel like no one understands them. They’re sort of on this journey together, and that’s really the point toward the end where they choose to do different things with what they’re given.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘Wonder Woman 1984’: How Kristen Wiig transformed into villain Cheetah