Out Friday is “Eternals,” a project representing a big swing in a new direction for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film features some majorly powerful characters, introducing (and reintroducing) a lot of new actors to the universe.
Prior to the films release, the cast and creative team spoke on Zoom about the inspiration for the film, and the impact of the diverse casting and characters. Present for the conversation was Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, writer-director Chloe Zhao, Angelina Jolie (Thena), Gemma Chan (Sersi), Lauren Ridloff (Makkari), Brian Tyree Henry (Phastos), Salma Hayek (Ajak), Kit Harington (Dane Whitman), Lia McHugh (Sprite), and Don Lee (Gilgamesh).
To begin the conversation, Chloe Zhao discussed how her concept for “Eternals” was pitched and brought to life.
Zhao: It started with me showing him a macro photo of sand. And then quoting a poem from William Blake. I still was allowed to stay in the room, so it was really nice. In that poem, Blake was trying to convey that you can see the endless beauty and the meanings of the cosmos within the smallest things you can find on earth. So the vision of the film was to set up, to capture that scale. Something as large as the creation of the sun and as intimate as whispers of lovers. Going on location and doing this kind of immersive shoot and having the supportive understanding of this amazing cast was kind of how we got here today.
Angelina Jolie and Richard Madden both discussed what drew them to the film and how their characters differed from past roles.
Jolie: I was attracted to this project for many reasons. I am a fan of [the] MCU, a big fan of Chloe’s, and then when they first talked to me about the story, really, it was the cast. It was the idea of what this family would be. And I just wanted to be a part of this family before I even knew very much about who I was gonna play. As I learned about Thena, and that’s one of the special things that Chloe brings to this, is she’s known for bringing reality to a film. To somebody’s true self. So a lot of us were cast to bring out something from our own lives, something within ourselves, that maybe we weren’t even aware of. And then let it live and let it grow within the film. So, she is maybe the most fantastic I’ve ever played in a superhero. And yet, my children said she thought it was the most like me.
Madden: I’m kind of used to playing lovers often. And to play someone who’s such a soldier, but is completely driven by love, all his decisions are driven by love, and it’s actually him that’s wrestling with that, I’m used to characters who are very focused on their love, and that comes out. And with Ikaris, it’s the opposite of that. He’s kind of trying to bury that love because it gets in the way of his duty and is constantly wrestling the two. And that’;s kinda what made it really interesting for me to pull out that relationship with all the characters from Sprite to Sersi, and kind of work out what this relationship is when you’re trying to stick to duty, but your feelings get in the way. It’s this kind of eternal soldier wrestling that.
Finally, Salma Hayek, Gemma Chan and Bryan Tyree Henry all discussed impact of the film not only featuring a tremendously diverse main cast, but also representing diverse views of what heroism and power means for different people.
Hayek: I dream big. And if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten here at all. But in my big dreams, I wanted to be a superhero. And I wanted to work with the best directors in the world, and have big blockbuster movies, and also movies that are art, that are made from a very deep place with great directors. You cannot ask for more. And it didn’t happen for me. Didn’t happen that much for me. And so, you fight for it in your 20s, in your 30s, and in your 40s, you go, “Oh, screw them, they don’t get it” … Because now, you know. It’s very humbling when in the middle of your 50s, a brilliant director gives you the opportunity to do both. To do something that comes from a deep place. That it’s also a big blockbuster. I was wrong. Everything is possible.
Chan: Sersi is a superhero, but her powers are not kind of the most obvious or the flashiest. She’s not the best fighter, but what she does have is empathy, and a real affinity for humankind and the earth. And she’s a free spirit. I loved that. That was one of the enjoyable things about the film, was going on that journey with that character from kind of her coming-of-age, even though she’s probably thousands of years old. But she learns to trust herself and to grow into her own power, really. That was a really interesting thing to explore.
Tyree Henry: The thing that really attracted me to this part was that I just think about all the images of black men out there and how we are portrayed…. And just what the images of black men were and how we were being portrayed and how the power was taken from us. Like, the lack of power or feeling powerful. And what I really love the most about Phastos is that through all of that, him being eternal, him never being able to die, he still chose love. He still decided to have a family even though he may have to watch them perish. He still tried to find a way to bring heart and love to everything he did, even though, you know, his genius was used against him. And it just really resonated with me. It really resonated a lot with how I felt, how my place in society was, how, you know, we can be kings and queens, and at the same time, they’ll take our pedestal and take our superpowers from us like that… And to be, again, to be a black man, to have someone look at you and say, “We want you exactly the way you are,” is unlike anything that I’ve ever felt.”