William Moulton Marston put himself in a position many men wouldn’t dare place themselves: between two smart, powerful and sexually adventurous women.
But Marston — the Harvard-trained psychologist whose research led to the invention of the lie detector, and who created the most popular female superhero of all time, Wonder Woman — was no ordinary man.
That’s the opinion of Luke Evans, the 38-year-old Welsh-born actor who plays Marston in the erotically charged biographical drama “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” which opens nationwide Friday.
“He was an outright feminist from the outset,” Evans said in a phone interview this week. “He believed that if women ruled the world or were in positions of power, there would be much less war, crime and violence. He believed they were inherent and nurturing, as opposed to men, who were anarchistic and violent.”
The movie, written and directed by Angela Robinson, shows Marston and his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), in 1928, trying to perfect their lie detector, while Marston also taught his theories about men and women and their need for dominance and submission. When the Marstons hire a beautiful student, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), she soon becomes indispensable — and the third member of a polyamorous romance in which all three delve into bondage and sadomasochism.
“He loved these women, and they loved him equally,” Evans said. “He wanted them to feel empowered. It then segues very clearly into the creation of Wonder Woman, coming from his imagination, and what he felt about women.”
Evans said he doesn’t believe Marston “felt his masculinity was being subdued or suppressed because of his ability to allow these women to have a voice and be strong [in that era]. … He didn’t care. His masculinity and ego was not massaged by feeling like the man of the house, or being the better sex.”
Likewise, Evans said his ego wasn’t threatened by sharing the screen with Hall and Heathcote.
“It was a delight to play against these actresses, who got their characters so perfectly done,” Evans said. “I’ve watched both their careers for many years.”
Marston is a contrast to the violent sexists Evans has portrayed in his previous two movies. In last year’s “The Girl on the Train,” Evans played Scott, the rough and frustrated husband of the missing Megan (Haley Bennett). And earlier this year, in the live-action remake of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” he played the poster child for “toxic masculinity,” the beefy but vain hunter Gaston.
“It’s very interesting to play those three characters, who are extremely different kinds of men, and how they relate to women,” Evans said. “In a way, it was like doing a full spectrum of masculinity. Finishing it with Marston was quite an interesting bit of therapy.”
“Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” with its commentary on masculinity and femininity, lands at a crucial moment in pop culture, when Hollywood has been forced to examine the dynamics of male power because of the accusations of sexual misconduct against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
“The first thing we have to do right now is to talk about it,” Evans said to a question about sexism in Hollywood (not about Weinstein in particular). “It seems the press and the media have picked up on the fact that there’s been a deafening silence in Hollywood about what’s happened. Right now, people need to talk about it and express their feelings. No one should get away with what happened. Misuse of power in any industry is wrong. If we start talking about it, things might change. It’s when people are scared to talk about those things, or feel threatened or that they shouldn’t, that people get away with things they shouldn’t.”
And if Hollywood needs a role model in improving its view of women, it can look to the audiences. The two highest-grossing movies this year have been female-driven: “Beauty and the Beast,” in which Evans co-starred, and “Wonder Woman” — to which “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” is a thought-provoking companion piece.
Evans says his new movie “is a wonderful, and unique, example of feminism — coming from a man who lived in the 1930s and ’40s, when feminism from a male perspective was just unheard of. … It’s a wonderful thing for anybody to get to see this film, and see the story of these people who were very proud of who they were, and also believed in equality.”