Chloe Zhao for the sequel to “Eternals”, including sex scene and criticism of the superhero movie

Eternal it may be a superhero movie with inexplicable powers, but indeed humanity is at the center of the story. Not only because the fate of the human race is in their hands, but also because these beings themselves are quite human. They get into small arguments, fall in love, are selfish, long for a relationship. When they cry, they do not shed a stoic tear; they weep. They party, flirt and have sex.

Chloe Zhao’s Marvel epic, now in theaters, features the first sex scene in Marvel’s cinematic universe from Iron Man in 2008 (and the first in history with nudity, albeit from the shoulders up). But unlike Tony Stark’s dirty one-night stand with a reporter who highlighted his image as a playboy at the time, it’s an intimate moment between Sercy (Gemma Chan) and Icaris (Richard Madden), two equals and colleagues from the Eternal who have been in love for thousands of years. They sleep together in a secret canyon at sunset, lying on the sand. Over the years, critics have pointed to the asexuality of the MCU. (Are avengers really above sexual desire? Should they be?) According to Zhao, even Chan and Madden have noted that sex and nudity are rare in the genre.

“You don’t usually see superheroes do things like that,” the director told via LA’s Zoom. And that’s one of the most fundamental things we do as human beings. So to see this, [and] remove that stigma, I think it’s a really, really powerful thing. ”

Despite the grandeur of Eternal story, Zhao made it a little more grounded, a little more real, whether through photos of a place around the world, instead of relying on CGI settings, shows visible physical combat in battle or involves sexual tension so palpable that you will blush on its place . (Someone had to warn me about Druig and Makkari!) Maybe past Marvel movies have been so devoid of these things that finally seeing them feels refreshing. Perhaps we should expect these details from the storyteller, the Oscar winner, who made the heartbreaking Nomadland or the modern western The rider. While the reviews are Eternal he was mixed, one thing is for sure: Chloe Zhao’s imprint is on this film.

Here the director discusses this “poetic” sex scene, the possibility of one Eternal sequel and her response to the film’s critique of superheroes.

I think what impressed me the most Eternal was the display of human emotions by these superhuman characters. What were some of the guidelines you gave the actors to let humanity shine in their performances?

I think for me casting is about 60 percent of the work done and that’s how I used to work in my films. I worked with my cast quite similar to the way I worked with professional actors in my previous films: We’ll put on a sandbox … and then we’ll ask them to go and do their thing, then come back and show me who is this hero. And my job is to correct what works and what doesn’t, and make sure I write in the script and make sure we get the coverage so that these things they offer and surprise us [with] can enter the movie. That’s why I copied every day. We had new pages every morning.

Don Lee as Gilgamesh and Angelina Jolie as Tena Eternal.

© Marvel Studios 2021. All rights reserved.

When it came to cultivating the chemistry between the characters – especially Angelina Jolie and Don Lee, Lauren Ridloff and Barry Kiohan, and Gemma Chan and Richard Madden – were there moments or connecting exercises that helped you maintain that relationship on screen?

Not so much because I’m not really a rehearsal director, but I’d like to have one – I’d like to do more. I didn’t really have time, but again, the casting is so much. I always try to see if I choose someone, is there anyone in his life that I can bring? That’s how I throw Nomadland. So for Cersey, for example, we searched, we auditioned so many women, and we couldn’t make a decision. And after we chose Richard, he said, “Oh, did you read my girlfriend, Gemma Chan?” Wow, they’ve been friends for so long. These are Cercy and Icaris. I just think so. So we brought Gemma to read it alone, and also with Richard. Immediately we all say, “Wow, this is our Cercy.” I love this way of working. And Angie and Don, they just have so much respect for each other. They are big stars. They have so much respect for each other in real life and it shines. And Lauren and Barry, these two characters shouldn’t have had this flirtation. And I met them, they both sat down immediately, [and] began to have this tease. And I said, “We have to put this in the movie.”

That was something you added after seeing how they interacted.

Oh yeah. I will say that Brian and Salma brought so much personality to their characters. They are just concepts on the page and brought special personalities. And then Kumail, I mean, what else can I say? [Laughs.] He made Kingo. And his relationship with Leah – for example, when we say “cut”, Leah will make fun of Kumail, making it difficult – is exactly what Sprite does to Kingo.


Lauren Ridloff as McCarthy and Barry Kiohan as Druig.

© Marvel Studios 2021. All rights reserved.

You said before that at the center of this is an epic romance, and that’s really true. I want to hear a little more about what it was like to work with Gemma and Richard. I like that their friendship informs their screen chemistry.

The two have known each other for so long and it’s great to know that when they conceived this romance, they both achieved their goal. They do not always tell the rest of the family where they are going. Sometimes they disappear. They are lovers of the family. They have their own canyon and no one else knew there was space. So in order for Gemma and Richard to share a life that we don’t always know what it is, the camera doesn’t lie. It is there and they feel safe with each other. And besides, Cercy and Icaris are not just lovers; they are kindred spirits. Cercy is in love with someone else these days, but that doesn’t mean her love for Icaris has stopped. So their friendship is actually just as important as romantic chemistry.

I like that you mentioned the scenes in the canyon. I thought it was really interesting to include an intimate scene in which we have two older characters in a sexual relationship, which is quite rare. Why was it important for you to keep it, and did you encounter resistance when it came to including it in the film?

Well, those elements were in the treatment I read and included in the script [that] everyone at Marvel and Disney had read. We tell a love story that would determine the fate of a planet. So, to show that they love each other not only emotionally, intellectually, but also physically most tenderly, lovingly and indulgently, was very important. And we are very lucky; I talked to Gemma and Richard about it because it’s very rare in a movie like this and they were excited. They were like, “Wow, we need to humanize this aspect.”


Richard Madden (Icaris) and Gemma Chan (Cercy) were eager to “humanize” their characters with a scene of intimacy.

© Marvel Studios 2021. All rights reserved.

Did you work with an intimacy coordinator or because the scene was shorter…

[Shakes her head] Since we were shooting it in the last light of day, I mean, there was a double. It was like a claim. This is the real magic hour. It is blue hour. This is in less than 25 minutes. I think because it’s so meek and it’s really just about two people being with each other, it’s not like that. It’s more poetic, let’s put it this way.

Humanity is really at the heart of this story. Although we work with superheroes, he explores what it means to love humanity and fight for people you don’t even know against destruction. Why do you think we need this message right now?

I have many opinions of my own, and strong ones. And I try to make movies that don’t carry that. I’ve tried to make movies where there’s a lot of room for someone like you and the person next to you to take away what you need. But having said that, there’s one aspect of the film that excites me that I may not have seen from the beginning: the idea of ​​leading with love. Love in leadership. And I think Ajak chose Cercy for a reason. It may not have the same strength or power. But she has one of the hardest things to do in the world, which is to have compassion for all beings. Not only the people who agree with her, but also the people who have offended her. She forgives them and offers love. In doing so, she is able to bring down the most powerful creature ever because she has made him feel love.

The way the film ends has a bit of an open end at the end. Somehow you prepare it for the sequel. Is this something you are interested in, or are you already making plans?

You know, I was very encouraged to make a good solo film and nothing more. With this specific movie, let’s put everything on the table and see what happens. I don’t think I’ve ever said that in public, but there was a point in the script, [when] it was a very nice ending. It was wrapped. Like, the world is saved, happy-happy, but Kevin wasn’t happy about that. Deep down, I wasn’t either. And he really challenged me. That was actually his idea. He made me think: There are consequences for our actions, even the heroic ones. So maybe such a big decision, the third act, something so big has happened, there must be consequences. It can’t just be like, “Oh, we saved people, so nothing we do should ever be a problem.” That overcomes all the complexity we’ve tried to achieve with this film. So yes, this end was born of that.


Richard Madden on set with Chloe Zhao during filming Eternal.

Sophie Mutevelian / © Marvel Studios 2021

Sometimes there is a stigma against superhero movies. As a man who directed indie, won an Oscar and has now directed a Marvel film, how do you react to that kind of criticism?

I have the feeling that I can always understand where these criticisms come from, because I have played in both worlds. But at the same time, in my experience, if we think about it, these two worlds have never been so separated. As distribution patterns have changed and things have changed, we have been divided for many logistical reasons. And just like any kind of division that we think exists, it’s not really that much. What I learned from my experience immersed in both worlds is that there is a real curiosity about the other side. And from this curiosity there is a level of fear of the unknown. I find the real desire from Marvel Studios to learn and hear what I can offer from the movies I’ve made … I had the same feeling about them. And as a result, it was a very beautiful collaboration.

I really, really hope that more of this collaboration will happen, because I believe that cinema is for everyone. Marvel Studios has not only made a major contribution to the maintenance of living theaters, [but also] tell honest stories to people all over the world, from all walks of life. In independent films, we tend to emphasize truly human stories. To combine this together I think is so powerful and important for the future of cinema. So I hope more and more connections happen.

This interview has been slightly edited and shortened for clarity.

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