Eternals is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s 26th release, so it’s impressive just how many milestones the film marks for its powerhouse studio. It’s Marvel’s most diverse ensemble by a long shot, with its team of Earth-protecting immortals being lead by a Latina woman (Salma Hayek) and costarring five other people of color in its core cast (Gemma Chan, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff and Don Lee).
Ridloff (The Walking Dead) plays Makkari, Marvel’s first deaf superhero, while Henry (Atlanta) is Phastos, the MCU’s first hero in a same-sex marriage.
“I'll give that credit to Marvel because when I arrived, the treatment that they had worked out was filled with these changes [to comic book source material] and firsts that you're talking about,” director and co-writer Chloé Zhao tells Yahoo Entertainment during a virtual press day for the film (watch above). "And that really was also a big part of what drew me to it. My job is to make sure these moments aren't just onscreen for the sake of being onscreen, but still felt very emotional and human.” (Zhao, we should mention, is the first Oscar-winning director to helm an MCU movie after her big win earlier this year for Nomadland.)
“It makes us stronger, diversity makes you stronger,” says Angelina Jolie, who makes her superhero debut as the emotionally tortured Thena. (And while Jolie says she’d been offered a comic book role in the past, she wouldn’t say which.) “So I love our Eternals family. We are strong because of the diversity.”
Hayek says she was moved to tears at the film’s Hollywood premiere when she saw a Latina mother and her three daughters all dressed as her character Ajak. “What it took for me not to cry,” she says. “I was like, ‘Think of the fake eyelashes and the mascara. Hold it together, you have a lot of interviews to do.'”
Ridloff, who is deaf, looks at the significance of her glass ceiling-shattering role as Makkari, who communicates with her cohorts through sign language in the film, in personal terms. “I hope that this means that my two boys, who are also deaf, are going to see that there are no more glass ceilings,” she says about being an example for her sons.
Chan, meanwhile, becomes the first actor to play two different major MCU characters in two different films after her stint as the ill-fated Kree sniper Minn-erva in 2019’s Captain Marvel.
“[I was] quite surprised, especially ’cause that was only a couple of years ago,” she says. “So I was really not expecting to be back and certainly not so soon. But I was very honored to be asked back and to be in this film, which feels very different with this incredible cast.”
Beyond its multicultural cast, Eternals is also drawing early praise for its heroes' colorful and stylish super-suits. And while most Marvel actors are quick to gripe about their unwieldy wears, this cast says they had it mostly easy. Mostly.
“I think we had an easier time than others in the MCU,” says Jolie. “We were definitely able to move and jump around, and that was important for us.”
“I mean it’s super-comfortable when you’re standing still and not moving at all,” says Lia McHugh, who plays Sprite. “When it comes to sitting down, it sort of cuts off your circulation. So what I would do is I would just like lay flat on the ground when I wanted to take a break… It wasn’t terrible, it just sucked if you had to go to the bathroom.”
“It was tight, I’m not gonna lie,” says Ridloff. “[I had to ask] for a zipper, so I could answer nature’s call when I needed to.”
Hayek was fine with her fits, until it came to shooting one additional scene in the months following the COVID-19 lockdown that had most people — movie stars including — packing on some extra pounds.
“After COVID we had to do one small reshoot,” she says. “And we’re talking after [lockdowns], where you ate for a long time and didn’t exercise. That was me, anyway. I couldn’t get in! I couldn’t get [into my costume] anymore because it’s not really stretchy. So that was not fun. You do not want to go into those costumes if it does not fit like a glove.”
Eternals opens Friday.
Watch the trailer:
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Jimmie Rhee