Eternals: director and actors talk new Marvel film

Chloé Zhao, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Kit Harington and Gemma Chan on inclusion, fun and redefining a genre

The new Marvel Studios superhero movie, Eternals, closed the 16th edition of Rome Film Festival on October 24, 2021. The presence of director Chloé Zhao and actors Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Kit Harington and Gemma Chan was announced a few days before, creating so much anticipation among fans and professionals. 

Eternals is meant to start a new saga in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, more mythological, from a narrative point of view, and more inclusive for what concerns the heroes who are part of the group. Set after the events of Avengers: Endgame, the film is the story of a supergroup of heroes, an immortal alien race created by the Celestials, who have secretly lived on earth for over 7000 years. After the return of half the population on the planet, humans are threatened by new evil creatures: the Deviants. The Eternals must go back to earth to save them from extinction. 

Eternals will be released in Europe on November 3, 2021 and in the UK and the U.S. on November 5, 2021.

We met the cast during a crowded press conference to talk the film, which is redefining a genre.

Chloé, which was your vision in making this new Marvel film?

Chloé Zhao (C.Z.): «Before I came into the process, there was a brilliant treatment that Marvel Studios had already done. I think when Jack Kirby created these characters, the Eternals, he chose to step outside the mainstream and popular narrative, at the time, and created a group of heroes that existed on the peripheral: this allowed him to take a step back, look at a bigger universe and question what other stories haven’t told and look at the world from a different perspective. This is an opportunity for us and for the MCU after the Infinity Saga*.»

[*ending with Spiderman: Far From Home]

‘Eternals’ photocall: Angelina Jolie. October 25, 2021. Credits/ Silvia Gerbino

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is new to most of you, with an exception for Gemma: how does this experience feel like?

Gemma Chan (G.C.): «I feel so lucky to be back for the second time in this incredible films and I’m happy to play a completely different character.»

Kit Harington (K.H.): «It’s my first time in the Marvel cinematic universe: it’s an amazing long-running series, so it was incredibile to be invited in and I didn’t expect it.»

Angelina Jolie (A.J.): «Yes, it’s wonderful to be a part of it and I feel very lucky to come into this one: I love the story but, above all, I love the diversity and inclusion in this cast. I hope it becomes a “new normal” and I’m happy that people will see these characters.»

Angelina, you play Thena, a character described as “damaged”: can you tell us something about her?

A.J.: «We all have damage: I’m very blessed with many things in my life, but I also carry damage. Thena is suffering with her mental health, as it was written, but the way Chloe works is to pull more out of you that is authentic to you, because that’s how she directs. So we spent a lot of time talking about what my particular PTSD and damage actually is and we brought it into this film. Something special, for me, is to be able to show that people that struggle with their mental health can also be extremely powerful and strong. I hope that helps, especially young people.»

‘Eternals’ photocall: Richard Madden. October 25, 2021. Credits/ Silvia Gerbino

Kit and Richard: years after Game of Thrones, how does it feel to work together again on such a different project?

R.M.: «We were just saying, before we came in, that we do something together every 10 years, so we keep checking with each other. It’s really nice, we show up for the scenes we have together, then we go to dinner so we’re reminded we’re working on the same thing, but we’re hanging out as friends. I love Kit since the first time we met and we don’t get a lot of time together in this film. Maybe, in ten years, we’ll do something else.»

K.H.: «We’re on the screen together for ten minutes or less, but if you add our friendship times… it’s in the years. It’s interesting working with a friend, with ten years apart, when something you did together became so seminal, then you go off and do your things and then you come back… it’s just a joy. The British acting community is small: me, Gemma and Richard we all know each other. There was a thrill about being in Camden Town where we used to go out, in the morning, doing something entirely different.»

‘Eternals’ photocall: Kit Harington. October 25, 2021. Credits/ Silvia Gerbino

Chloé, you come from socially involved films and Marvel is a totally different world, that often some of your colleagues criticize. What do you think about it?

C.H.: «I remember the western genre and the Revisionist Period: it was scary, but also exciting. I think that we’re dancing at the edge of a “Revisionist Period” for the superhero genre and that’s a desire from the studio, but also from the audiences: when a certain type of storytelling goes on for a while it’s natural to challenge the form, like the definition of morality, what does it mean to be a hero and how it looks like. I came into Marvel when that treatment already existed, but I think that to challenge their own genre is what really mean to them.»

Talking about diversity, this is maybe the most inclusive cast in Marvel history. Also, it seems that every character is part of a family, with a specific role, but the same space as the others: they’re all perfectly written protagonists. 

G.C.: «Absolutely. I feel this is an incredible and interesting ensemble of actors and characters. I Think every one in this film gets the chance to shine and it’s really an ensemble, like… a very big dysfunctional family. Everyone had their own little dynamic going on and I love that each character gets their moment with one another as well. »

K.H.: «I came onto this film quite late, but when I saw the cast list it instantly picked my attention because it looked like no other cast I’ve seen in Marvel movies: I like working in an ensemble, I like ensemble pieces, I was part of one for 9 years. I think there’s strength in the equal weight given to all the different themes, relationships and characters. It’s wonderful to watch.»

R.M.: «I think it’s balanced beautifully and it has so much to do with the story, where you get to see the characters complementing each other, especially in their fighting skills: every one has got a place and is part of a team and that’s something great to be a part of.»


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