Bella Heathcote: Polyamory, Suffragettes and Wonder Women

September 22, 2017
With her latest turn in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, the Australian actress continues to get noticed in the US.  


“We just need to be more accepting of love and about what love is. If you look at the origins of Wonder Woman, she is a strong female character, not a sex icon,” says Bella Heathcote doing press duties for her latest role.

 With the massive success of Wonder Woman, 2017 has shaped up to be monumental for superhero fans worldwide. The intrigue around superheroes continues with a look at the man behind the comic book and the women who inspired him, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.

Based on a true story, Angela Robinson’s film highlights the issues of feminism and explores the polyamorous relationship between psychologist and comic book writer William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and his mistress, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). This is the untold and controversial origin story that die hard comic book fans will savour.

Bella Heathcote solidified her acting career in Neigbours before heading to the US and landing supporting roles in Dark Shadows, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Neon Demon, The Man in the High Castle and Fifty Shades Darker. Now based in Los Angeles, Heathcote has landed the role as Olive Byrne, one of the women who inspired the quintessential superhero of our time.

How much research did you get to do for this role, did she leave any diaries?

I started doing a lot of research, but her portrayal in the script is actually a lot different to the real-life counterpart. After a time, I came to the conclusion that I was just playing a fictional character, because the conditions were the same. I was reading the Jill Lepore book and [Olive] was a lot more comfortable with her mother and her Aunt’s background, and was actually getting the pill for students at the University. She was really sporty, quite masculine, went through a stage where she dressed like a boy. I guess at that age she was more comfortable than how she was portrayed in this film.

How much did you know before the role?

I had no idea about the backstory of Wonder Woman and how it came about, it wasn’t until I read the script. I was talking to Angela and she was saying that she picked up this coffee table magazine and read an article about the origins of Wonder Woman, and in the final paragraph it mentioned, ‘oh by the way they were in a polyamory relationship’. It was all news to me coming into it.

How did you approach the creation of this character?

I just read the script and talked to Angela a lot about who Olive was. I think Angela wanted Olive and Elizabeth to feel very different. I know you probably do it a lot with most characters, but I saw a lot of myself in her. There’s something about her, she’s completely open and completely vulnerable, and there is a sort of bravery within that, just to be able to own your feelings. Breaking down the script and synopsis, and seeing how I would react in that situation is how I approached it.

What were your thoughts on the role?

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of strong roles out there for me at the moment, so I was extremely grateful to be offered this. I was talking with Angela and was getting really sad about the film coming to an end. It’s a great role, because we watch Olive grow up during the film. We start out with her being really unsure about herself and then she grows into a really confident woman who fights for what she wants. It’s difficult to find a character arc like that. The relationship between the three characters is really interesting and fun to explore.

What was it like working with the other two?

Luke is fantastic because he takes his work really seriously. He is really great to watch because he immerses himself, then a leaf or a tree will distract him and you realise there is something really childlike about him. Rebecca, who I have such a lady crush on, has this incredible knack. Both of them are able to come out of a take and then go straight back in with ease, whereas I try and hold onto that character for as long as possible. I love watching Rebecca because she does something different in each scene. The scene where she doesn’t have dialogue is really interesting too, because you can see this inner life happening within her.

Did you three do any chemistry testing before the film?

No, we didn’t actually, we just did a rehearsal. It was amazing how quickly we went into the dynamic of the roles, and I felt immediately at ease with both of them. There was a lot of messing about, the nature of the material gets really heavy, but there’s a lot of sexual aspects that relieved that.

Polyamorous relationships like this in the modern day aren’t very common, so back then it was even more shocking.

There was actually someone working on the crew that was in a polyamorous relationship so we were pushing them for information. Back in the day it was illegal, and today it’s still considered quite scandalous. Olive’s connection within the relationship, in my mind, is more drawn towards Elizabeth. I feel that somehow they managed to negotiate it so that the romantic alliances worked. I’m really fascinated by the idea, because I always thought someone would feel left out. This relationship worked for them.

Can you talk more about the relationship?

“It’s interesting because I think the relationship is like a tripod. There’s a lot of mediating that goes on throughout the film. Marston tends to do a lot of mediating between Olive and Elizabeth. There’s always someone who is trying to keep the romance alive. Olive’s role in the relationship is to be the homemaker, raising the children whilst the other two work, but she’s also trying to keep Marston and Elizabeth interested. There’s definitely the sexual aspect of the relationship, but I think they all compliment each other with their intellect and dispositions.

 The film deals with suffragettes and feminism; do you think that women are there yet?

No, we are not all the way there yet. I mean it’s a lot better than what it was back then. For me, these issues really only make an impact on my work and not my personal life. Great female roles in the industry are few and far apart, so that’s the only impact it makes on me.

With a film dealing with such strong female characters, how do you see it being directed by a woman?

I can’t imagine this film being directed by anyone other than Angela. She is a strong female, so she was a great figure to have on set. She knows these women, and they are really important to her. She made work feel fun, gave instructions that made sense, and directed sex scenes that made them feel normal. When I watch a sex scene in a film, you can see two actors clamping their jaw and just trying to get through it, and the sex scene ends and their character picks up again.

Did you know much about the comics?

I’ve looked at the comics, and they are wild. It’s not surprising why he was put before a tribunal because they are overtly sexual. Not necessarily sexual, but there are bondage elements, gay undertones, but they are also great, they are directly related to female empowerment.

How do you choose your characters?

It’s all about what appeals to me at that time. I try and do things differently each time; I don’t have any typical method of approaching it. If I don’t like the script but I see something in the character that I think will be fun, then I’ll do it anyway.

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women is in limited release from November 9, 2017. Watch the trailer here.

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