Move over, James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hunt — there’s a new spy making her action film debut, and she’s ready to save the world in a new way. Gal Gadot stars in Netflix’s upcoming thriller Heart of Stone, and director Tom Harper tells EW he hopes that it’s only the beginning of a new, female-led action franchise.
“There were a couple of things that immediately jumped out at me, the first was that it was an original movie in a genre that is full of great franchises, but things that have been around for a long time — the Mission: Impossibles or the Bonds or the Bournes,” Harper says. “I love those films, but they’ve all been around for decades, so working on something that was an addition to that genre but an original piece of material felt really exciting and was a real opportunity. And I also just loved the fact that it had a female protagonist at the heart of it.” Pun not intended.
Heart of Stone centers on elite agent, Rachel Stone (Gadot), who harbors a secret even bigger than her career with the MI6: She’s the only woman who stands between an ultra-mysterious, powerful, global, peace-keeping organization the Charter, and the loss of its most valuable — and dangerous — asset, the Heart.
Constructing a new action franchise around a female agent was something Harper thought was long overdue, which is why he (along with screenwriters Greg Rucka and Allison Schroeder) felt a responsibility to craft the mission specifically around her.
“That’s something that we’ve seen very rarely in that genre,” he adds. “The thing that Gal and [producers at] Skydance spoke about a lot was they wanted Rachel to be a character that wasn’t just a female actress playing a sort of male character, but a woman at the heart of it who was responding differently. Often in spy action thrillers, you have a central character who it falls upon to save the world, and the world rests on their shoulders alone and they have to defeat everybody else and come out on top. That’s in part true of Heart of Stone, but also very much the center of it is that she needs to rely on the relationships and the trust that she builds up with other characters. It’s a team effort, and that struck a chord in me.”
Playing into Rachel’s humanity and desire to lean on her team is something that permeates throughout the entire film. “Even the strongest amongst us still need to work as a team to overcome the odds, and it’s not just about being by herself,” Harper says. That’s why he hopes to see Heart of Stone continue into future films. “There’s plenty that I’d like to explore more with Rachel in that regard. There’s plenty of rich territory with Rachel, with the Heart, with the Charter. Ultimately we have to see how well it does and see how people like it, but I’m excited about it.”
Harper is also eager for audiences to see Gadot show off a new side of her skill set as an action star in this film. “She’s obviously worked in the more heightened films, be that Wonder Woman, or Fast & Furious, or even Red Notice to a degree,” he says. “She and I really wanted to make this a more grounded character that is very much rooted to this world so that she was relatable, that she was human, that she bleeds. She has emotions, she finds things difficult. It’s not straightforward. The relationships were real and there was always a sort of emotional reality all the way through.”
That also translated to the action scenes, which seamlessly blend cutting-edge technology with practical stunts, that were filmed on location in Italy, Iceland, Morocco, England, and Portugal.
“We do some extreme things within the movie, but we’ve tried to keep it as close to reality as possible while still maintaining that elevated action feel,” Harper says. “What I really love about films like this when it works is that, yes, you have the thrills and spills and action, but it can also just be two actors in a room going at each other, head to toe. That’s something that works here — you see that from Gal, and she does that really beautifully.”
Heart of Stone also stars Jamie Dornan, Alia Bhatt (making her U.S. film debut), Sophie Okonedo, Matthias Schweighöfer, Jing Lusi, and Paul Ready. The film debuts Aug. 11 on Netflix.