To call Adrianne Palicki a “comic-book fan” would be an understatement. “I have a Supergirl tattoo,” says the 37-year-old Friday Night Lights alum. She fell in love with the Girl of Steel and Wonder Woman at a young age because she idolized her older brother, who wrote comic books. “Anything he did, I wanted to do. Of course, I gravitated toward these beautiful, strong women, wanting to be one eventually as this awkward child.” And she got her wish in 2011 when producer David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, Ally McBeal) cast her as the titular DC Comics heroine in his Wonder Woman pilot.
“It was honestly the scariest thing ever and the best thing ever at the time. Getting to wear that outfit was just a huge dream,” says Palicki, who recalls being nervous when the producers asked her to read with costar Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) during his audition. "I walk in one day and it’s Cary Elwes. And I’m like, 'I can’t read with him. He was Wesley. He was the love of my life at one point!' I was so nervous. Thankfully, he was a shoo-in and we got to work together and I got to hear all of the amazing stories about Princess Bride."
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Developed with Warner Bros. Television, Kelley’s prospective series, which offered a new take on the 70-year-old icon by giving her an Iron Man/Tony Stark-like double identity, received a pilot order from NBC. In the story, the world knows Wonder Woman as both a Los Angeles-based superhero and as her alter ego Diana Themyscira, the leader of a large corporation that merchandises the Wonder Woman brand to fund her vigilante hustle. At the end of the day, though, she returns home to her secret identity, Diana Prince, a meek, bespectacled woman who owns a cat and enjoys romance movies.
“It was fun for me to get to play three different characters ultimately,” says Palicki. “I loved that David E. Kelley is really great at writing really strong women, and I found he did that beautifully in all of the different personas. What they all still had [in common] was this beautiful vulnerability of isolation.”
Despite her confidence in Kelley’s writing, Palicki still felt an immense amount of pressure. “The stans — being one as well — have very strong opinions, and it’s really important, especially in the comic-book community, to win them over. I was very nervous about that—[and] also very beautifully shocked and pleased that people were very supportive of me getting the role, obviously having not seen the show,” she says. “I was lucky enough to have a beautiful writer and my buddy [pilot director] Jeffrey Reiner, who I trust implicitly and is never gonna just settle on a scene if it isn’t perfect. That made me feel much more comfortable. I felt like we were all a team and it wasn’t just me pushing for this.”
Rounding out the cast were Elwes as Diana’s attentive business partner Henry; Tracie Thoms (9-1-1) as her personal assistant Etta Candy; a pre–Wonder Woman 1984 Pedro Pascal as her LAPD liaison (à la Commissioner Gordon to Batman), albeit reluctantly; Justin Bruening (Grey’s Anatomy) as her ex-boyfriend Steve Trevor; and Elizabeth Hurley as Veronica Cale, Diana’s archnemesis who is flooding the streets with a dangerous drug.
“[The cast] made my life easy because the shooting of it was so hard, but the actors were just fantastic,” recalls Reiner, who worked with Palicki on the first three seasons of Friday Night Lights. “I think it was the biggest thing I’ve worked on.”
"[Hurley]'s work ethic is fantastic. What a trouper, because Diana gets to kick her ass in the pilot."
During production, they shut down all of Hollywood Boulevard to film a chase sequence in which Wonder Woman leaps over several cars in pursuit of a drug dealer. “It was one of the most surreal moments of my life,” says Palicki, who worked in a store along the star-studded L.A. strip many years ago. “I can’t believe I was managing a sunglass store there and now am part of the process of closing down Hollywood Boulevard wearing a Wonder Woman costume.”
Unfortunately, Palicki’s dream role was short-lived because NBC passed on the pilot. “It was devastating when it didn’t go. It was so big,” says Palicki. These days she wonders if it was just a matter of it being too early. The pilot was shot the same year Smallville ended its groundbreaking 10-season run, and a full year before The CW let Arrow fly with its green-leathered hero and Marvel’s Avengers cemented the superhero genre’s box office supremacy. “I feel like maybe if it had been [made] one or two more years [later], it would’ve been a shoo-in.”
"It's so great to see this character come to life because it is important for young girls. She changed my life."
But perhaps it’s for the best that it didn’t go through? “I would not have had a life between the stunt rehearsals, being in every scene. It would’ve been worth it, but it probably would’ve aged me massively in three years,” says Palicki. Nevertheless, she’ll always be grateful for this opportunity because it meant working with Elwes, one of her childhood crushes. “If anything, that alone was worth it. That and wearing the costume.”