The Eternals are here! This coming Friday, sees the release of Marvel Studios’ Eternals! And while the film has been drawing mixed reviews so far, I’m happy to report I personally enjoyed and admired it. It is a gutsy, daring movie anchored by bold direction from Chloé Zhao and beautiful, rich themes.
To commemorate the release of the film, The Nerds of Color was invited to bear witness to the virtual press conference for the film. In attendance were maestro Zhao, along with lord and master, Kevin Feige, and cast members, Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Kit Harrington, Lauren Ridloff, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, and Don Lee! Here’s what everyone had to say about joining the making of the movie and becoming the newest members of the MCU:
The first question was for MCU grandmaster, Feige, who was asked about the strength of the representation in the film, and the fact that, after 26 films in the MCU, this will be the first time many people will be able to see themselves on screen as superheroes.
“Absolutely. That was the whole idea. Nate Moore, our producer, who’s not with us here, really had that driving vision for what this could be. And when Chloé came in, and pitched it to us, and took these very general ideas that we had, and obviously the Jack Kirby spectacular source material, it felt like a very new, special step for us.”
He was then asked about why Eternals and why now.
“It was in a post-Infinity Saga world, we wanted to make a bold new step. And say ‘You don’t know everything about the universe yet.’ And that there are these 10 spectacular heroes who you haven’t met who have been here the whole time.”
The next question was for Zhao, who was asked about her first meeting with Feige.
“It started with me showing him a macro photo of sand, and then quoting a poem from William Blake… In that poem, Blake was trying to convey that you can see the endless beauty and meanings of the cosmos within the smallest things you can find on Earth… So the vision of the film was really to set out the capture of that scale. Something as large as the creation of the sun, and as intimate as whispers of lovers. So I think going on location and doing this immersive shoot, and having the support and understanding of this amazing cast, was how we got here today.”
Jolie was then asked the next question. She was asked how playing Thena compared to her diverse filmography of strong, feirce fighters.
“I was attracted to this project for many reasons. I’m a fan of the MCU. I was a big fan of Chloé’s. And then when they first talked to me about the story, it was the cast. The idea of what this family would be. And I just wanted to be a part of this family before I knew very much about who I was going to play. But as I learned about Thena, and that’s one of the special things Chloé brings to this, is that 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 true lives — something within ourselves that we weren’t even aware of — and let it live and grow within the film. And so she seems the most fantastic I’ve ever played in a superhero, and my children said it was the most like me they’ve ever seen. So it’s hard to talk about her [without spoilers]. But her vulnerability and what she’s trying to balance — that being able to be in the same woman who is also considered very strong, I think we often have to present to be fully together to be fully strong – and yet I think she holds both which most people do, and it’s important to see it.”
Chan was the next cast member to be asked the question. In Sersi, Chan has been able to transcend a barrier that hasn’t been crossed yet in the MCU; she is the first female Asian woman to lead a Marvel Studios film. She was asked about Sersi’s initial reluctance to be a hero and eventual growth to becoming the lead of the team, as the film progresses.
“Sersi is a superhero, but her powers are not 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. She’s a free spirit. And I love that. That’s one of the enjoyable things about the film was going on that journey with the character. It’s kind of a coming-of-age… she learns to trust herself and grow into her own power. And that was a really interesting thing to explore.”
Game of Thrones alumnist, Madden, was asked about what it was like to portray a character that’s going through a lot of internal conflicts in the film.
“I really loved it! I’m used to playing lovers often. 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. But Ikaris is the opposite of that. He’s kind of trying to bury that love because it gets in the way of his duty. And he’s constantly wrestling the two. And that’s what made it really interesting for me to play out that relationship with all the characters from Sprite to Sersi, and kind of what this relationship does when you’re trying to stick to duty and your feelings get in the way. It’s this kind of eternal soldier wrestling that.”
Legendary actress, Hayek was asked about what it was like to represent Latinos as an immortal superhero and leadership figure, like Ajak, in the film.
“It’s a humbling experience because I dream big. I dream big. And if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have gotten here at all. And 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 big place with great directors. you couldn’t ask for more. And it didn’t happen that much for me. And so you fight in your 20s, 30s, and 40s. And you end up going, ‘Aw screw them! They don’t get it! They missed out! I would have been great! Screw them, I’m going to do something else and have a baby,” she joked. “And you give up. So it’s really humbling when, in the middle of your 50s, a great director gives you the opportunity to do both. To do something that comes from a deep place, that is also a big blockbuster. I was wrong. Everything is possible. And it’s such a humbling sensation. And when you think about it, you know. In your 50s, Mexican. And I’m short with big boobs. It’s not the normal superhero… I’m in my 50s and they let me do my action [scenes]. They were not afraid of the insurance; that grandma was going to break in the middle of it. It’s just beautiful. Yesterday when I came out, I nearly cried because I saw this Latino family — a mother with three little girls — all dressed like Ajak. And I wanted to cry. It was all so moving that they can see themselves in this thing. Thank you to Marvel and Chloé a lot.”
Nanjiani was then asked about his Bollywood scene in the film and whether it was harder to do than the action scenes.
“By far the hardest thing to do was the dancing. I don’t want to put Chloé on the spot… but Chloé lied to me! When we first talked about the movie she was like ‘There’s a Bollywood dance seqence.’ And I went ‘Chloé I don’t think I can do that.’ And she goes, ‘Ok. We’ll make it a Bollywood action scene.’ And as soon as we got to London she’s like, ‘It’s a dance sequence.’ And I said, ‘Get me a dance teacher now then!’ And Malika, who did the choreography, was wonderful. She worked for months and months with me to do that because it was so outside my comfort zone. But really, ultimately, for me, all that came down to trust. It really did. On a macro level trusting Kevin because done so many MCU movies, and they’re all great. I mean what a great run! And Chloé — the first time we met, I met her and Nate Moore… and usually for something like this, there would be a moment of excitement, and then fear, but just in meeting her, I was like ‘Oh. She’s not going to let me suck at this thing. So if she wants me to do something I’m going to do it.’ Because I completely trusted her. She had this whole movie, this whole universe, in her head. I didn’t understand it until I watched the movie. But I did enough to trust her. So for me it was like, ‘This doesn’t feel like something I would do, but if Chloé thinks I can do it, let’s do it!”
Nanjiani went on to talk about Kingo’s “finger guns.”
“Finger guns! I was like, ‘how do I shoot this?’ And she went, ‘You do that [motion of a finger gun]’. And I was like ‘Chloé that’s so goofy!’ And she was like ‘No it’s going to look awesome!’ And it looked awesome!”
The moderator next asked Brian Tyree Henry, who plays Phastos, about the conversations he had with Zhao, regarding his character’s growth from a place of dispair to hope.
“It was amazing. It piggy backs off what Kumail said about trust. I wholeheartedly trusted Chloé. What attracted me to this part were all the images of Black men out there and how we are portrayed. And what I loved the most about Phastos, was that, for one, he’s an ancestor. All of us are ancestors technically. So Phastos predates everything, and probably had to go through all these things, which could make someone lose faith in humanity very quickly. And I remember when I was coming to this project, that I, Brian, had kind of lost faith in humanity just looking at all the things we’ve been through. And just what the images of Black men were, and how we were being portrayed, and how the power was taken from us. The lack of power or feeling powerful. And what I liked the most about Phastos is that through all of that, him being an 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 his genius was used against him. It just resonated with me. It resonated a lot with how I felt about where my place in society was. How you know, we can be kings and queens, and at the same time they’ll take our soul and take our superpowers from us like that.
And so what I love the most about Eternals is how Chloé and Nate really reinstate that power back in me again. I remember the first time they were like, ‘So we want you to be a superhero.’ And I was like, ‘Cool how much weight do I have to lose?’ And Chloé was like, ‘What are you talking about? We want you exactly as you are.’ And to be a Black man, to have someone look at you and say ‘we want you exactly how you are,’ is unlike everything I have ever felt. So it just triggered me to being an 11-year old kid watching these super powered movies, and superhero movies, and not ever seeing anyone like me reflected. And how I would take these posters and put them in my locker, hoping someday there would be somebody representing me and the way that I am. And I truly believe that moment started when I sat down with Chloé. It’s unlike any feeling I’ve ever experienced. And to work with this beautiful palette of people, then make a family — because this is what families look like. This is what they are. And if not it’s what it should be. And I think that’s what Eternals brings to the surface. This is a family. This is who we are. This is what we look like… I think that is the one thing that I hope everybody takes away from this movie. That the heart of humanity is still worth saving. And we can still bind, and mend, and do everything we need to love. And that’s what Chloé showed.”
Former King of the North candidate, Harrington was asked how his mortal character is able to deal with all the supernatural insanity that goes on within the MCU.
“He’s a nice guy,” Harrington joked. “I feel as if I’m representing humanity. It’s me and Phastos’s husband and kid who are representing humanity. I felt that from the beginning, I had to represent something that was worth saving maybe. And I think, I hope, that Dane comes across as a nice stand-up guy. And the one thing I respect him for is that a man flies out of a sky, who shoots laser beams out of his eyes, and steals his girlfriend, and he’s kind of cool with it. So that’s Dane. It was an odd movie for me, because I come in at the start. In some ways intro the movie. And the move goes its own direction with these wonderful people and this wonderful cast. So I felt separate from it. But the advantage of it is that they do have a glimpse of humans at the start. And you get a glimpse of who it is these guys are really trying to save.”
He was asked if it was fun competing against Madden one more time, as they did in Game of Thrones.
“We’re [in it] so little together. That’s the funny thing… Me and Richard have been friends for a long time now. But look at the amount of screen time we’ve had [together]. It’s very, very little. I just want more!”
Walking Dead star Ridloff will be making her MCU debut as Makkari in the film, and will be portraying Marvel Studios’ first deaf on-screen superhero. She was asked about how her character bonds with Druig, portrayed by Barry Keoghan, who was not present at the conference, through their shared proclivity towards impatience.
“I think the relationship between Makkari and Druig really comes to a surprise for actually several people here on stage. Because within the script, when you first go through it. It wasn’t something that was so apparent. But Chloé under her brilliant direction implied there was a lot more to Druig and Makkari. And I feel like what actually brought them together is that, as you said, they’re both very impatient and they both have a lot of power. They’re very powerful individuals and they’re told to hold back. To hold themselves back. And Druig and Makkari are mischievous, and they also have fun on this fabulous planet, even if their boss tells them not to.”
Zhao then chimed in, “Can I just also add, Lauren, I don’t know if you remember, but when you first met Barry, the two of you just started to riff. You started to improvise… There were sparks everywhere. And I thought initially this was not intentional… we saw that and thought ‘Maybe we should play into it.'”
Korean superstar, Don Lee, of Train to Busan fame is playing Gilgamesh; the muscle of the Eternals! He was asked what it felt like stepping on the set of a movie that would be seen globally.
“I starred and produced many films — over 100 films in less than 20 years. This was the biggest scale I’ve ever been in… One day I got to the set. Nothing was there. And a few weeks later I went to the set and they made this forest. I thought, ‘Is this the right place?’ I thought I went the wrong way. And this was crazy. I was so impressed. All great diverse cast from all over the world. I was so interested in global content. Just entertaining more people in the world. I was so happy about it. I have always been a big fan of Marvel and Kevin. And a big fan of Chloé too. Everyone was so nice. Our crew was nice too. And thanks to Angie, we worked together and looked out for each other a lot. And I’ve been in this industry a while, but this was the first time I met her. And we didn’t have time to rehearse. We had to shoot right away. But it was so comfortable. Like I told you earlier, it was like we were old friends who finally worked together. I was so happy… The action scenes — I’ve done so many action scenes and action sequences… I’ve gotten many injuries and surgeries, and I’m still doing powerlifting… I’m always ready for another action film. But this is like a little bit different because I don’t have a physical opponent. I had to use my imagination… I had to ask [Chloé where the Deviants heads were]… Every day, and every moment of this production was memorable for me.”
The final question was for McHugh, the youngest member of the cast, playing Sprite. She was asked if she could related to the idea of being a fully grown character that permanently looks like a child, and about the characters’ tendency to internalize her feelings throughout the film.
“Well in my real life, I’ve always looked younger than I actually am. And people always assumed I’m younger than I am, so I really related to Sprite in that way… There’s a lot of layers to Sprite. In every scene she goes through a lot of emotions, and she expresses them in sort of a sassy, temperamental sort of way… Chloé said I should watch Maggie Smith movies, and be like an older lady, but with the wonderment of a child. She wants to be part of this world, but she can’t. She deals with a lot of emotional stuff the other Eternals don’t realy deal with, since she’s in the body of a child.”
With that, the press conference ended. Given how big the cast of this film is, there just simply was not enough time to get more than one question from each of the cast. But they still gave us one heck of a discussion, and I’m super grateful for it. It’s safe to say, under the leadership of Chloé, the MCU has crafted its most ambitious film to date, with the best representation on film for the franchise!
Eternals hits theaters this Friday, November 5! Go see it on the biggest screen possible! And don’t forget to support Gold House and CAPE’s #OneOpen Initiative for the film this weekend!