What’s the main difference between a paper merchant’s in Slough and the Greek island home of Wonder Woman and the Amazons? The food.
“Hollywood films have a massive craft food service backstage, with all sorts of things,” says Lucy Davis. “At home, you tend to get a tin of Rovers biscuits at 4 o’clock.”
Davis is best known as The Office’s Dawn, but since 2004 she’s lived in Hollywood, and is about to make her blockbuster film debut in Wonder Woman (in cinemas from Thursday 1 June), as WW’s best friend Etta Candy. Comic-book fans know that Wonder Woman was moulded from clay by her mother. Etta Candy is more likely to have been carved out of fudge.
“I hadn’t heard of Etta, but loved Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman as a kid,” Davis says. “Every night for about a year, I would twirl around my bed. It was a routine, I was positive it would turn me into her.”
As Etta Candy in Wonder Woman
Davis, 44, grew up among show business gods. Her father Jasper Carrott (real name Robert Norman Davis) was a comedy mega-star, and she credits her comedy career to another British TV legend. “It was David Renwick, creator of One Foot in the Grave,” she explains. “He told me that I was funny. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but it was the first time I went, ‘Comedy? Me?’”
Then came The Office in 2001, and after that the move to America. Despite her co-stars Ricky Gervais, Martin Freeman and Mackenzie Crook making the jump across the Atlantic, she doesn’t hear much from them. So, no meetings to discuss any reunions?
If I ever saw any of them I’d be delighted,” she says. “We had a blast doing it but we all naturally fell apart, went our separate ways.”
The intervening years have seen her work with a new pantheon of talent, including Aaron Sorkin and Matthew Perry on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The sitcom Better Things, created by Pamela Adlon and Louis CK, is filming its second series – “I play a paranoid, insecure, drug-addled cougar. I love it.”
Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, Lucy Davis as Etta and Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman
Now as Etta, she’s rubbing shoulders with superheroes. It’s set during the First World War (rather than the Second World War of the comic), and Etta is a woman of Bakelite words: moxie, gumption, pluck. “She was probably a big part of women getting the vote,” Davis argues.
Fans have clamoured for a modern female superhero movie for years now. “The time is right for a female superhero directed by this amazing female director (Patty Jenkins),” Davis agrees. “We’ve just had the world’s biggest women’s march, you know?”
Wonder Woman reflects her creator, psychologist William Moulton Marston, who invented the first lie detector (hence WW’s “truth telling” lasso). Yet Etta might be his most forward-looking creation, the first “body positive” superhero.
While Diana Prince teetered around in heels and a star-spangled swimsuit, Etta leapt into battle with the catchphrase, “For the love of chocolate!” She loved herself, candy and fighting, in that order.
“Etta is extremely not ‘body conscious’,” Davis explains. “It wouldn’t even enter her head that there was a ‘right or wrong’ way for your body to be.”
Not everyone has such a joyful attitude to their figure, and food can be as strong as any super villain, as Davis knows all too well. Back in 2012 she said in an interview: “I’d diet for five days, then binge eat a week’s worth of food in one.” Bulimia left her with burst blood vessels in her eyes but “the feeling I was finally in control and safe. I was unprepared for the high that came with it.”
“I’ve had to journey a lot of my life with the eating stuff,” she now explains. “I initially decided to speak about my anorexia and bulimia, partly out of a selfish motivation. I felt I had been scrutinised for my weight and thought ‘at least judge and criticise me on the facts’. There was a freedom with that. Now it’s out there and I just get on with life. I’m at peace with things.”
It’s a struggle familiar to many, including this writer, and her attitude is impressive. For outsiders, it’s a baffling compulsion, but bingeing and starvation can feel like an odd superpower: the self-control to reshape yourself over and over again like clay. Yes, it’s painful and can leave your body looking like the big top collapsed at the circus, but it’s wonderful, too.
“I understand others’ lack of understanding,” Davis says. “In a way it’s great, because it means they haven’t gone through it.”
As Dawn in The Office
Davis joined Overeaters Anonymous to find help, and I’m not the first to thank her for speaking out. “When you are open about your things, people feel more able to talk to you,” she says. “I think that’s a nice thing, because people get help and don’t feel so isolated.
“I surprised myself at how far I’ve been able to come, by truly being OK with who I am. Etta mirrored me in my journey a little bit. Obviously, the point of Etta is she’s much bigger than Wonder Woman, so that meant I didn’t ever think ‘hold your stomach in’. I felt a huge amount of freedom playing her. I just… was.”
Wonder Woman and her proportions have always been controversial in the debate over body image. A cross-promotion between the film and ThinkThin diet bars recently sparked outrage. Yet Davis believes in fighting the right battles.
“I’m OK with it. If you want it, go and have it, and if you don’t, don’t – people want different things and that’s OK. We’re always trying to say things are right or wrong, bad or good. If we just chilled out, maybe things wouldn’t be so hard.”
It remains to be seen whether Wonder Woman can be the 21st century hero everyone wants her to be. But with Etta Candy in tow, here’s hoping we can all have our cake and bloody well eat it, too.