Press Conference: From The Cosmos To Planet Earth, ‘Eternals’ Is Here To Expand The MCU
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is continuously expanding, but to understand the future we must dive into the past: enter the Eternals. As a part of the MCU’s phase 4, Eternals, directed by Academy Award winner Chloé Zhao, is bringing audiences a look into how the universe began.
To help us understand more about what audiences can expect when viewing Eternals, Chloé Zhao, Kevin Feige, and cast members Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Brian Tyree Henry, Don Lee, Lauren Ridloff, Lia McHugh, Kumail Nanjiani, and Kit Harrington (Barry Keoghan was absent) gave us some insight.
Kevin Feige and Chloé Zhao discussed how Eternals came to be.
Feige: Nate Moore, our producer who is not up here with us, really had that driving vision for what this could be. When Chloé came in and pitched it to us and took sort of 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.
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’ve been here the whole time.
Zhao: Well, 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. But 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. 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. So I think 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 discussed portraying the character Thena and how she created depth and duality within the character.
Jolie: I just wanted to be a part of this family before I even knew very much about who I was going to play. […] One of the special things that Chloé brings to this [movie] 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, [Thena] seems [like the] most fantastic character I’ve ever played, as a superhero, and yet, my children said she was the most like me that they’ve seen. […] It’s hard to talk about her. But her vulnerability and what she’s trying to balance and not being able to be the same woman who is also considered very strong […] I think we often have to present to be fully together, to be strong and yet, I think she holds both, which most people do. And it’s important to see it.
Gemma Chan reflected on playing the reluctant hero, Sersei, and how she approached creating her rendition of the character.
Chan: Sersei 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 and the Earth, and she’s a free spirit.
I love that that was one of the enjoyable things about the film, going on that journey with the character. It’s kind of her coming of age, even though she’s thousands of years old, but she learns to trust herself and to grow into her own power, really. And that was a really interesting thing to explore.
Richard Madden spoke about playing Ikaris, a character plagued by so much internal conflict, and the roles that prepared him to play this character.
Madden: I really loved it. 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 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 he’s constantly wrestling the two.
And that’s what made it really interesting for me to pull out that relationship with all the characters, from Sprite to Sersei, and kind of work out what this relationship is when you’re trying to stick to duty, but your feelings are in the way. It’s this kind of eternal soldier wrestling that.
Salma Hayek, who plays Ajak, reflected on how her dream of playing a superhero came true.
Hayek: It’s a really humbling experience because I dream big. And if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten here at all. I wanted to be a superhero. And I wanted to work with the best directors in the world, have big blockbuster movies, and also movies that are art [and] that are made from a very deep place. You cannot ask for more. And it didn’t happen for me.
And so, you fight for it in your 20s, in your 30s and in your 40s, [then] you go screw them. They don’t get it. I would be a great superhero […] I’m going to go do something else. Let’s have a baby.
It’s very humbling. In the middle of your 50s, a brilliant director gives you the opportunity to do both [big blockbuster movies and also movies that are art that are made from a very deep place]. I was wrong. Everything is possible.
Kumail Nanjiani, who played Kingo, reflected on how he prepared for his Bollywood scenes and how trusting Chloé and Kevin helped with his preparation.
Nanjiani: By far the hardest thing was the dancing. I’m going to put Chloé on the spot. I can’t swear. So, put in a swear word here. Chloé lied to me.
When we first talked about the movie she was like, “There’s a Bollywood dance sequence”. And I was like, “Chloé, I don’t think I can do that”. She’s like, “Okay, we’ll make it a Bollywood action scene”. And as soon as I got to London, she’s like, “It’s a dance sequence”. And I was like, “Get me a dance teacher right away” […] because it’s 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 he’s made so many MCU movies […] and then with Chloé.
From the first time I met her and Nate Moore, one of the producers who’s not here today. Just in meeting her, I was like, oh, she’s not going to let me suck in this thing. So if she wants me to do something, I’m going to do it because I completely trusted her.
Brian Tyree Henry, who plays Phastos, reflects on how playing his character reinstated his faith in humanity.
Henry: [To] piggyback on what Kumail said, it came [down] to trust, and I truly wholeheartedly trusted Chloé. 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 what I love the most about Phastos is that one, he’s an ancestor. All of us [Eternals] are ancestors, technically. So, Phastos predates everything and had to probably go through all these things, which could actually make someone lose faith in humanity.
And I remember when I was coming to this project that I, Brian, had kind of lost faith in humanity. [I was] just looking at all the things that we’ve been through, [looking at] what the images of Black men were, how we were being portrayed, and how the power was taken from us.
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 his genius was used against him.
And it just really resonated with me. It really resonated a lot with how I felt my place in society was. 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 so what I love the most about Eternals is that Chloé and Nate really just reinstated that power back in me.
Kit Harington spoke about what it was like for him to play, Dane Whitman one of the few characters representing humanity in Eternals.
Harington: He’s a nice guy. I feel, [that in this movie], I’m representing humanity. It’s me, Phastos’s husband, and [their] kid who are representing humanity. And I felt that from the beginning I had to represent something that was worth saving.
And I think, I hope, that Dane comes across as a nice, stand up guy. And one thing I really respect him for is that a man flies out of the sky, shoots lasers out of his eyes, steals his girlfriend, and he’s kind of cool with it.
Chloé Zhao and Kevin Feige spoke on their decision to swap the genders of different Eternals characters.
Zhao: It’s pretty short for me. When I came to the process, at the beginning, I read a treatment that I believe Kevin made and the team at Marvel Studios put together, and those decisions [to swap the genders of different Eternals characters] were made. That’s probably one of the reasons that really drew me to it. I thought it wasn’t, ‘Let’s just swap a bunch of characters’. Each decision was made on purpose.
Feige: Nate was advocating for this [type of] project. You can’t do the history of humanity without the heroes looking like a cross section of humanity and that was really what the goal was.
Nanjiani: I want to say one thing, in the way that Chloé directed all of us. Obviously, the diversity of the cast and the team is something we talk about a lot, but the way she approached it was so interesting. It wasn’t as if to make a point, it’s as if to say this is how things should always have been. It felt extremely natural.
Ridloff: Well, I have to say, first of all, I think the relationship between Makkari and Druig really comes to a surprise for several people here on stage. Within the script, when you first go through it, it wasn’t really something that was so apparent. But Chloé, under her brilliant direction, wanted us to imply that there was a lot more to Druig and Makkari.
I feel like what actually brought them together is that […] they’re both very impatient, they both have a lot of power, and they’re told to hold themselves back. I think that for Druig and Makkari, they’re mischievous, and they also have fun. They have this fabulous planet, and their boss is, you know, told them not to [be mischievous].
Don Lee reflected on his storied acting career and what it was like to be the Eternal Gilgamesh.
Lee: I starred and produced many different films – over 100 films in less than 20 years ago. This [movie] was [on[ the biggest scale I’ve ever been in. One day I got into the set, nothing was there. And then a few weeks later, I went to the set and they made this forest. And I was like, “is this the right place?”. I thought I went the wrong way.
I was so impressed [by the] great, diverse cast from all over the world. I was so interested in global content and this could entertain more people in the world. So, I was so happy about it and I have always been a big fan of Marvel and Kevin, and then I was a big fan of Chloe, too.
Then everybody was so nice and our crew was so nice, too. And thanks to Angie. We worked together a lot because we’re looking out for each other. These two warriors [are] always looking out for each other. And then I’ve been in this industry for a while […] this was the first time I met her and we didn’t have enough time to rehearse. So we had to just shoot right away, but it was so comfortable. It was like we were old friends, [who] finally got to work together. So, I was so happy.
And the action scenes […] I’ve done so many action scenes. But this is a little bit different because I didn’t have a physical opponent, because I have to use my imagination. I was always asking, “So, his head is about here or here?” It was really fun. Every day, every moment of this production was memorable for me.
McHugh: Well, in my real life, I’ve always looked younger than I actually am. People always assume that I’m younger than I am. So, I really relate it to Sprite in that way.
There’s a lot of layers to Sprite in every scene. She goes through a lot of emotions, but she expresses them in a sort of sassy, temperamental way, like an old lady, but [she] also has the wonderment of a child. I don’t know if I can say this or not, [she] wants to be part of this world, but can’t. So, she deals with a lot of emotional stuff that the [other] Eternals don’t really deal with, being in the body of a child
Zhao: Well, I just want to add, I didn’t do much. She kept checking in with me and would say, “Well, in this part of the script, you think she…”. And I was like, “Oh yea, she is right”. And I was distracted. But for her age, [turns to McHugh] I’m glad you noticed that. Her character isn’t always saying how she feels. It’s in these subtle things.
She is always on point. [Lia] comes in with her homework.