Everett Collection
Alexis L. Loinaz
March 27, 2016 11:00 AM

Time to lasso in some golden truths.

When it comes to legendary female superheroes, few can touch the mammoth iconography – or slip into the badass bustier – of Wonder Woman. And when it comes to actresses who’ve taken on the character, well, only one person really comes to mind, doesn’t it?

Lynda Carter.

From 1975 to 1979, Carter played the Amazon princess in the landmark TV series, instantly becoming the quintessential embodiment of the golden-lasso-flinging heroine. Although other incarnations have since come and gone – including several comic-book reboots, animated series and an ill-fated TV pilot – Carter has, in large part, remained the most recognizable face of Wonder Woman for four decades.

Now, after a frustrating Hollywood dry spell, Wonder Woman has returned to the spotlight with a pivotal appearance in the superhero throwdown Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as well a highly anticipated stand-alone movie starring Gal Gadot.

Carter, for one, is thrilled to see her beloved alter ego back in the pop consciousness.

“I think it’s great. I’m very hopeful for her to reemerge – I’ve tried to keep her alive a long time,” Carter tells PEOPLE of the legendary heroine, who is being played by Gal Gadot in this new wave of films. “I think it’s time. It’s cool, it’s very cool. It just adds to the charm and the legend.”

Not to mention the ongoing clamor for the character, who was created by psychologist William Moulton Marston and made her debut in 1941 in All-Star Comics No. 8.

“That’s really it: It’s the affection that I like,” Carter, now 64, muses. “That is, to me, I would say, the best part. I hear the best stories about people when they were young, or their daughters. And it’s a way that people connect.”

“She was accessible,” the actress adds of Wonder Woman. “People either wanted to be her, or be her best friend. She lives in us. There’s a part of her that is the secret self, the unrecognized self that we all have.”

The show’s success, however, wasn’t a guarantee: Carter recalls how industry players were wary of audience reaction to the character, and warned her to be ready for a backlash.

“Even when I first got Wonder Woman, I was told by the powers that be, ‘Oh boy, you’re gonna have a lot of women hating you.’ And I went, ‘Huh? What? Why?’ ‘Oh, because you’re sexy and you’re running around …’ ”

“But I said, ‘That’s not who Wonder Woman is.’ And so I really went about making it a priority, that women want to be her or be her best friend,” she says.

Lynda Carter
Karl Simone

Behind the Hero

That was four decades ago. Nowadays, Carter has carved out a serene, joyful family life in Washington, D.C., where she lives with her husband of 32 years, businessman Robert Altman (“Steve Trevor has nothing on him,” she quips, name-checking Wonder Woman’s famous love interest), and where she raised their two children – son James, 28, a D.C.-based lawyer, and daughter Jessica, 25, who is in her second year of law school.

Carter’s also been an active champion of many advocacy causes close to her heart. She’s a vocal proponent for human rights, equality, health and wellness, working with organizations like the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Father Martin’s Ashley Treatment Center, United Cerebral Palsy, as well as initiatives for Alzheimer’s research – her mother succumbed to the disease in 2013 – and lung cancer research. In the aftermath of 9/11, Carter was a fervent volunteer at the Pentagon’s Family Assistance Center, and she has served as grand marshal at Pride parades from Phoenix to D.C.

Taking Center Stage

Carter also uses her formidable voice to indulge another passion: singing.

An accomplished singer, songwriter and recording artist, Carter has been staging sold-out musical shows for years, performing annually at the Catalina Jazz Club in Los Angeles and going on tour with her band. In fact, she’s getting ready to hit the road again with a string of shows lined up at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater in D.C. on April 2, the Franklin Theatre in Nashville on April 9, and the Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City on April 22 and 23.

A first look at the forthcoming Wonder Woman movie, starring (from left) Loven Kongsli, Gal Gadot, Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright
Clay Enos/DC Comics

“A lot of them are covers, but they’re covers that I’ve sort of reimagined,” she explains of her music. “It’s everyone from Jason Mraz to The Black Keys to Billie Holiday to Patsy Cline. It usually starts with having a song just pique my interest, and I look up that lyric and see if the lyric has a story I want to tell.” (Ever the versatile chanteuse, Carter’s even written music for video games: Several of her tracks appear in the game Fallout 4, in which she stars as well.)

Mementos and Memories

Still, despite her many new projects, Carter will always look back fondly at the one big break that started it all 40 years ago – superhero costume and all.

In fact, the star cops to having kept a few Wonder Woman mementos for herself, including two versions of the costume. (“I have to get one mounted and preserved in a better way than it’s being preserved right now,” she says. “They’re pretty fragile now at this point.”)

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman
ABC Photo Archives/Getty

She lets out a warm, bellowing laugh at the notion of even trying on the costume again, but does reveal that back in the day, that famous bustier was quite easy to wear.

“It was comfortable,” she says. “I was tiny, too. They’re not made for a person that is of normal size. Not at 5-foot-10-inches. You have to be teeny-tiny-teeny-tiny, which I was. That was a long time ago, you know? Two children later …” she adds with playful charm, her voice trailing off.

In case you’re wondering, nope, she never got dizzy doing those perfect presto-change-o spins (“Some dance lessons” helped, she cracks). And as for that famous invisible jet? “We only used it a few times. Back then, there was a green screen, but there was really nothing too magical about it. Invisible jet? Well, I guess it’s lost now. No one can find it,” she deadpans. “It’s gone.”

And although she admits she hasn’t watched the recent crop of superhero movies, Carter – who is still hoping to move forward with a planned appearance on TV’s Supergirl series – says, “I’ll go to see Batman v Superman.”

Which bring us to the ultimate test of superhero mettle: Is she Team Batman or Superman?

“I don’t know!” she says with faux anguish, drawing out that last word so comically that her answer more closely resembles a resigned plea. “You know … I don’t know.”

Then, an illumination.

“I was a Wonder Woman fan, I bought the Wonder Woman comic books,” she declares with a firm conviction and grace worthy of the beloved Amazon princess she brought to life. “I’m squarely, fairly with Wonder Woman. That’s where I am.”

No need for a truth-spurring golden lasso to wrangle that out.

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