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Since its inception in 2008, Marvel Studios has a proven track record of taking some truly obscure comic-book characters and turning them into household names beloved by millions. Prior to his portrayal by Robert Downey Jr., Tony Stark’s Iron Man was a relatively unknown character outside of Marvel’s already established fandom, and even James Gunn had to remind the legendary Stan Lee that he did, in fact, create The Guardians of the Galaxy’s character Groot.
The next cast of Marvel characters to make the leap onto the big screen are the Eternals, a race of immortal beings first created in 1976 by Jack Kirby after he returned to Marvel after working on DC’s New Gods. With an all-star cast including Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kit Harington, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, and Harish Patel, the task of bringing this latest MCU epic to life has been entrusted to Academy Award-winning director Chloé Zhao.
Supanova was lucky enough to be able to sit down with Zhao, and three of her stars, Gemma Chan and the two Game of Thrones alumni, Richard Madden and Kit Harrington, to learn a little more about Marvel’s latest blockbuster.
An independent filmmaker with only three other films under her belt, at first glance Zhao seems like a strange choice to helm a Marvel film. Yet aside from garnering a swathe of awards, including the much-coveted Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture, the Chinese-born filmmaker who “grew up with manga and wanted to be an animator and [loves] telling stories in a fantastical way” cites “Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter and Star Wars” as some of her favourite films and boasts a deeply impressive knowledge of the MCU’s own complex history.
As Harington recounts, “I was fascinated meeting Chloe. The first time we sat down, and we spoke about the character of Dane and the movie Eternals, here was this brilliant director in her 30s coming in who had done The Rider. And I don’t what I expected, but I didn’t expect someone who knew every little thing about the MCU.”
“She’s completely like, so knowledgeable about it,” he added. “So I suddenly thought, ‘I’m in brilliant hands, she knows the world. She’s done this incredible film, that’s a perfect mix.’”
Richard Madden, who played Harington’s half-brother/cousin Robb Stark on Game of Thrones, also had nothing but praise for Zhao’s work on the film. “Chloe has this kind of beautiful skill,” he said, “at capturing the scope and the scale of this epic story of this huge world that we’re creating with these kind of larger-than-life characters actually.
“And then being able to transfer from that into these very intimate character moments. And I think that’s something that I have not seen before, especially in a Marvel movie, and she and she does it so elegantly.”
While this film marks an MCU debut for both Madden and Harington, as well as Zhao, it is interestingly the second time around for Gemma Chan, who plays Madden’s on-again/off-again love interest Sersi. Having previously played the Kree sniper Minn-Erva in 2019’s Captain Marvel, Chan is amongst a small select few actors to appear in more than one MCU role. However, when she asked if she would like to try her hand at any other Marvel characters, she said: “Gosh I feel like.. this is my second character now so I don’t know if you get three goes.”
“I don’t think so,” Madden laughingly chimed in. “To get two goes, you’re spoiled.”
Central to the film is the romantic connection between Chan and Madden’s two immortal characters, Ikaris and Sersi, whose love persists over thousands of years. However, Chan suggests that the characters’ respective journeys throughout the millennia hiding amongst humanity have had vastly different effects on the two.
“I would say Sersi probably goes from being the Eternal with probably the most doubt and uncertainty and very human,” she explained. “Her arc is that she harnesses her power and becomes more of a superhero by the end. Whereas I feel Ikaris, is maybe it’s the opposite way around…
“He starts off as this very much this hero. And by the end of the film, he’s the most human that you’ve ever seen him, and obviously there’s vulnerability.”
Of course, working on an MCU film naturally brings with it a certain degree of secrecy, something that Harington is very used to and admits that “nine years in Game of Thrones couldn’t have been better schooling for going into the MCU.” The intense secrecy, however, was a bit of a culture shock for Zhao whose previous experience was limited to working on independent films.
Admitting that Harington is “so good at keeping things spoiler-free”, Zhao revealed that she struggles with the confidentiality requirements herself. “Spoilers just come [out of] me like left and right,” she joked. “I thought, ‘What’s the big deal?’ You know.”
Madden also admitted to letting something slip: “I mean, to be honest, I did break it sometimes. I had to call my mum as soon as I got cast and tell her when it was ‘Don’t tell anyone, you can’t even tell your family’.”
We asked Zhao what sets this latest and 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe apart from its predecessors. “We’ve got Celestials!” she beamed. “That’s my bragging right.”
“There are many things which set us apart,” she continued. “But one thing is in the Infinity Saga that everyone’s familiar with, is that you meet each character on their own, and you get to know them, they come together as The Avengers. In this case, you meet them together at the beginning, then you watch them falling apart and you get to know them as individuals towards the end.”
Marvel’s ‘Eternals’ hits cinemas today
Lead Image: Richard Madden and director Chloé Zhao on the set of Marvel Studios’ Eternals. Photo by Sophie Mutevelian