“[Director] Zack Snyder had come across a picture of me online and asked Warner Bros. to reach out,” Ence, 27, tells PEOPLE. “It took me a little while to accept [the role] because I wasn’t sure it was going to be worth disrupting my career. I was training for the World Finals of the CrossFit Games, but I ended up accepting it. It was a natural thing for me to do Wonder Woman as well after doing Justice League.”
Ence is best known as a competitive CrossFit athlete, but she actually has a background in musical theater and grew up singing and dancing.
“I always thought I would be on Broadway,” she said, but felt she ended up taking a different path because of her physique. “My whole life I’ve been a very muscular girl. I knew all of the dance companies I could never dance for because of the way that I looked.”
RELATED VIDEO: Gal Gadot & Chris Pine on How Female-Powered Wonder Woman ‘Flipped the Script’ on Superhero Movies
Which is why she knew she wanted to be a part of Wonder Woman, portraying the Amazon warrior Penthiselea.
“It couldn’t have been more perfect to be a part of a film where being a powerful, strong woman is not frowned upon,” she says. “It’s super empowering to all ages and sexes. It could not have been a better role for me.”
Because she was already in CrossFit shape, Ence didn’t have to strength train for the film, but she did have to do some stunt training.
“We did stunt practice a couple of days a week,” she says. “I had to know how to use the sword. The swords weren’t light! Luckily for me, I grew up dancing so it was like second nature because it’s like choreography. I also grew up riding horses, and we were training on horseback every day. Riding horses was by far my favorite [part of training].”
Ence says getting to work alongside Gal Gadot and the other strong women in the film was “a fantastic experience.”
FROM COINAGE: 4 Ways to Work Out Without Killing Your Wallet
“The best thing is knowing that I was part of something that will mean a lot and will send a very positive message for boys and girls and men and women for years to come,” says Ence. “I got to play a role that means so much to me as a woman, and as a strong woman. It [shows that] strong is beautiful, strong is powerful, but it’s not just strong in the physical sense — it’s strong in your attitude, it’s strong in your mental game, in your compassion. That’s what I think is portrayed really well by Gal in this movie.”