Disney News had the incredible opportunity to visit the set of Marvel Studios’ Eternals in London on the last official day of filming — day 82 of 82 — as the production, complete with epic locations, costumes, props, and characters, began to wrap up. On that trip, members of the press toured the set, sat in on presentations from key members of the creative team, and interviewed members of the cast and crew, including actors Salma Hayek and Lia McHugh and producer Nate Moore. The wait is almost over to see the final product — the film lands in only theaters on November 5, and it’s sure to launch a whole new chapter for Marvel Studios.
Directed by Chloé Zhao, Marvel Studios’ Eternals follows a group of heroes from beyond the stars who have protected the Earth since the dawn of time. When monstrous creatures long thought lost to history, called the Deviants, mysteriously return, the Eternals must reunite to defend humanity once again. Set on Earth over the course of 7,000 years, producer Nate Moore calls Eternals Marvel’s “most ambitious first film” yet. Eternals was created by Jack Kirby in 1976, “but we do change some of the Kirby mythology,” says Moore, “so our movie takes place over two time periods… There's a past storyline and a present storyline.” With ten Eternals, it’s the largest cast Marvel’s had for a first movie, but with a story that covers such a large scope of time and history, the large cast is warranted.
The first thing experienced on set was an overall rundown by producer Nate Moore about the story, how the production came together, and an introduction of each of the ten Eternals, including the actors portraying them and their character design. “In the past, we see the Eternals — who in our version of the mythology are immortal aliens from a planet called Olympia — who've been asked by the Celestials to rid the Earth of creatures called the Deviants. The Deviants are these parasitic aliens who go from planet to planet, and as they kill the apex predators on a given planet, they take the characteristics of those predators and wipe out intelligent life,” Moore shared. “So in the past, we see the Eternals as they come to Earth and begin to succeed in eradicating the Deviants. But at the same time, these ten characters start to fracture as a team and split off and go their own ways.” In the present-day storyline, the Deviants return, and the Eternals must regroup to return to their mission of saving humanity.
Eternals director Chloé Zhao has a background in independent film, and won the 2020 Academy Award for Best Director for Nomadland (which also won Best Picture), so Eternals represents a change for her. “She doesn't seem to be the kind of filmmaker who necessarily wants to tackle this giant visual effects blockbuster, but a couple of things we learned when we met her — one, she grew up reading manga, she grew up in Beijing, China." Beijing has a rich culture of comic books, and she took advantage of it growing up. "Two, she's a huge MCU fan. She's seen her movies countless times, she loves them. She loves Captain America especially,” says Moore. “In talking to her early on, we realized this was a true storyteller, a writer, director, who did have a very strong vision of what the movie could be. And it's been proven true… she pushed us to make Eternals feel aesthetically different than any other Marvel movie. She likes to shoot a lot of natural locations and natural light, so this film, [more than] any Marvel films, has shot outside exteriors more than anything else. And I think it's lent it a look that's unlike anything we've ever done.” Actor Salma Hayek, who plays Ajak agreed. “I mean, just from hearing her talk even without the script, she was strong, she was clear, she was different, she was interesting. You could see images, the way she described things. There is [an] intimacy in the visual language and in the moments she captures from the characters that you can see in Chloé's work.”
Zhao’s naturalistic aesthetic carried over to other aspects of the production as well. Actor Lia McHugh, who plays Sprite, explained, “She's invested in every single aspect of it — the costumes, the hair, the makeup, the sets. She's made this movie so amazing.” As each department head spoke, they affirmed Zhao’s involvement. Frances Hannon, hair and makeup designer, shared how it affected her domain: “Chloé's brief was [that] everybody had to be natural. She didn't want a Super Hero look. She wanted them to be accessible to every age and everybody, and [for] nobody to feel that they could never look like that.” That meant a no-makeup look. Production designer Eve Stewart also mentioned this natural influence when giving her presentation: “The director felt very strongly, because she comes from independent filmmaking, that a lot of the sets should be physical, and... the actors have really said they felt much more able to act in the story rather than constantly thinking, ‘Oh, what's behind me?’” in contrast with CG. Locations included London and the Canary Islands, which each stood in for several different settings. And in building those sets, because the story is so rooted in human history, the team took earthly inspiration. “Because the Celestials are gods and they've created the Eternals, we wanted to look at sacred geometry, and look at the symbolism from every religion across the world,” said Stewart. “And we found that triangles and circles are a particular shape that reoccur in every single religion around the globe, so we thought, ‘That's our starting point.’”
As Moore described each of the ten Eternals, he made sure to note, “Everybody gets a moment, and that's hard to do. I think part of that is a credit to Chloé. She's a very smart filmmaker and really focused on not letting anybody get left, not letting anybody be the wallpaper.” But he also shared, “We often talk about our Eternals in pairs because pairs tend to spend a lot of time together in the movie,” though the type of connections between the pairs vary greatly. And of course, the group of ten has an overall dynamic. Describing the connection between the actors playing the Eternals, Moore said, “They became fast friends, which was great because we knew in order for you to believe that these people had worked together for 7,000 years, they had to have chemistry on screen.” Actor Salma Hayek shared of her unique connection with the cast, “It's beautiful because it's such a diverse cast, and I think in a way, when you are used to being the diverse part of something, then it's something that unifies you. We're all very different, but at the same time, we were all the same because we're used to being the diverse part of everything... and it really felt like a family because of it.”
One way the cast built their team chemistry was through the time spent together side by side in the makeup chair. Speaking from inside a hair and makeup trailer, Frances Hannon, the film’s hair and makeup designer, shared, “The actors take as long as the actresses. They pretty much have one artist each, so they are all in the chair together.” In fact, this was purposefully done. Hannon explained, “My other [hair and makeup] truck is bigger than this. It seats ten, so I can put ten Eternals in the chair all in one go.” Salma Hayek compared this experience to previous film sets: “The relationship off-screen was an unusual situation, because sometimes you're not working and other people are working, and you don't see [them] — you're like in a micro universe with one or the other. “ As for how the group spends their time while getting hair and makeup done, Hannon described, “In general, if they have big dialogue scenes, they all run their lines together while they're in the seats getting ready. It all varies, but [it’s] very much a bonding process because they're all in there together and usually for the same amount of time, roughly.”
When it came to designing the costumes, Moore explained, “When you have this many characters, one of the challenges is to give them all personality but to also make it feel like a whole, like they came from the same place.” Costume design is drawn from the unique personalities of each character. Costume designer Sammy Sheldon Differ shared, “The shapes of [the costumes] are split into two. Five of them are more thinkers, and five of them are more fighters. You can tell with anything that's more flowing, they're the thinkers... Obviously they all fight at some point, but [some] definitely more.” But it’s not just the character’s fighting style taken into consideration. Moore explained, “The goal [for] these costumes, both for us and for Chloé, was to have it feel like something that was both ancient and timeless, that had some technology to it.” And costume effects supervisor Ivo Coveney explained how the costumes went from concept to reality: “The concepts, as is often the case, they don't allow movement. They look beautiful, but as soon as I see a concept it's, ‘Well, how does that move?’ And that's our job, to take whatever concepts we're given and actually translate into something that will allow movement on set.”
After spending three to four months developing the costumes, Coveney and Differ showed off the final suits for the ten Eternals. “These were a really massive job to build, I can't stress that enough,” said Differ. “They were technically probably one of the most difficult things we've ever had to make.” The team had only a few months to build them, beginning in July, with the actors getting to set in October and building continuing after shooting had begun, up til Christmas. Three or four months were spent doing research and development, but once that was all worked out, each individual suit took about two weeks to put together. The costumes alone employed 140 people at one point, according to Coveney. Each costume was tailor-made to each actor, so the team couldn’t use a uniform pattern for all — each could have anywhere between 20 to over 200 separate pieces making up the whole. “They've all got different places that they fasten,” Differ shared. Zhao’s initial concept for the costumes was for them to appear seamless: “Chloe did initially want [them] all to be almost like skin,” said Coveney. Differ detailed further, “So [from] whatever angle, it just looks like they're wrapped in this mineral or something, and each one is completely different in shape.” The team worked to find a urethane material that “was UV-safe, that wouldn't fade, and that was flexible,” says Coveney. Typically, they’d need to make at least nine copies of each costume: the main one worn by the actor each day, a stunt version, a wire version, copies for their stunt double, and then copies for the picture double, plus extras in case of wear and tear on the job — but there was only time to make six for some. “Luckily they don’t fall apart,” Differ said. And those are just their Super Hero costumes — they also dress as normal humans in the modern world as well!
But before the Eternals arrived in the present day, there was the 7,000 years they spent on Earth throughout human history. Producer Nate Moore showed early renderings of the Eternals as they land in early Mesopotamia; the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; the Gupta Empire in 200 AD (the cradle of culture in Southeast Asia at the time); and the fall of the Aztec civilization in 1500 AD. “Because the Eternals were here so early, did they help influence a lot of myth and legend from cultures all around the globe?” Moore asked. “We think it is a fun idea to play with.” As to how they picked which places in history to visit, he said, “We wanted to go to places in history that you don't always see in movies. We didn't want to go to the same places we've seen multiple times, we wanted to go and highlight cultures and times that aren't often depicted.” Frances Hannon, the hair and makeup designer, said, “For us, the brief was to be timeless. Some of the historical areas we touch on were quite short… so we never change our look. You'll never sort of wonder who you're looking at.” The same went for costumes. Sammy Sheldon Differ said, “There's a story that runs through each character's journey with their clothing.” She showed off displays from each of the epochs the characters go through, sharing that the team consulted with anthropologists and had a whole room full of research. “What we did was follow the colors from their suits right through every period that they go through. So, Sersi always wears something green — even if it's just a touch, there's always a green there.”
The central pair of Eternals is Sersi, played by Gemma Chan, and Ikaris, played by Richard Madden. Sersi has the ability to change matter with the touch of her hand, and Ikaris is the de-facto physical leader of the Eternals, and can fly and shoot cosmic energy out of his eyes. Moore showed storyboards of Sersi’s power in action. Of their relationship, meant to be the spine of the movie, Moore shared, “We've made 25 movies now at Marvel, but this is the first movie that's really built around a romance as the center,” with past films’ romantic plots tending to be side stories. “[In] 7,000 years they definitely have their ups and downs, so you get to see all of the happy joyous parts and the hard parts and the tricky parts. And again, I think that it's really interesting to explore, in the midst of all the other things that are going on, how do these two people stay together (if they do stay together)? Or if they don't stay together, what tore them apart?” Hayek, speaking to the character of Ikaris, shared, “Ikaris is the perfectionist. He has to do everything perfect.”
The next pair of Eternals is Thena, played by Angelina Jolie, and Gilgamesh, played by Don Lee. Thena is the best warrior in the galaxy, and Gilgamesh is the strongest physically of the Eternals. Moore explained their powers, “He can use his cosmic energy to create an exoskeleton that actually amplifies his strength. Thena can use her cosmic energy to create weapons — any weapon she can think of on demand — made of cosmic energy.” He shared a VFX test displaying Thena’s power at work. However, in the present-day storyline, Thena’s been afflicted with something akin to dementia, called Mahd Wy’ry, which can affect an Eternal due to the sheer amount of memories they accumulate. She starts to forget exactly when in history she is, so Gilgamesh becomes her protector. In the present-day timeline, the two are living off the grid in Australia because she’s too dangerous to be around humans. Of casting legendary action actor Jolie, Moore shared, “When we first talked to her, she thought we wanted her for a very, very small cameo, so she was sort of surprised at the size of the role and really threw herself into Thena, creating a movement style and a fighting style that was unique.” Frances Hannon, the film’s hair and makeup designer, Sammy Sheldon Differ, costume designer, and Ivo Coveney, costume effects supervisor, all noted how involved Jolie was in designing the look of her character, and how the departments work together: “We both work with Angelina completely to make sure she has the harmony,” said Harmon. “She puts a lot of back thought… and based both [her] costume and her hair coloring from the comic story.” Differ notes, “These two are lost in time, so they never get into modern clothing.” Actor Salma Hayek shared the perspective of her character, Ajak, on Thena and Gilgamesh: “Thena is mysterious and you never know what's going to come out in her — because she is the strongest, and in some ways, the most fragile, and that's the beauty in her, and this is why I watch out for her. And then Gilgamesh is the one with the good heart, the kindest one.”
The next pair of Eternals are Sprite and Kingo. Lia McHugh plays Sprite, who appears to be a child; and Kumail Nanjiani plays Kingo, who in present day is a Bollywood star. The two had a falling out “when about 100 years ago, he left her to fend for herself to pursue stardom, so they have a very contentious relationship. It’s also a source of comedy,” producer Nate Moore shared. Lia McHugh described her character Sprite’s relationship with Kingo, “Sprite and Kingo have a really funny relationship because she's really mad at him, but she still is his best friend. And it's sort of like a sibling relationship in a way because she makes fun of him a lot and it's a very bantery relationship.” In the present day, Sprite is frustrated by her appearance as it causes her to be treated like a child when in reality she’s thousands of years old. “She's sort of the adult of the group. She tells everyone when they're doing stuff wrong, and she's bossy and a little bit sassy at times,” said McHugh. This was taken into account when her costume was being designed. “Sprite was probably one of the most difficult because she's [thousands of] years old, being trapped in a child's body, so that is a whole weird psychology that we had to somehow express in [her] clothes,” said Differ. “Kingo [becomes] a Bollywood superstar in the modern world, so that leads you into that fun stuff you can do with him that's a bit more fashiony.”
Druig and Makkari are another duo within the Eternals. Barry Keoghan plays Druig, who can control the minds of others using cosmic energy, while Lauren Ridloff plays Makkari, the fastest woman in the universe who happens to be deaf. Druig becomes disillusioned with humanity, while Makkari has become bored with the physical limitations of Earth and turned to books and reading, becoming a librarian of human civilizations. Production designer Eve Stewart said Makkari’s speed transferred over to her new hobby: “I think she can read through 1200 pages a minute or something.” Though their powers are different, Druig and Makkari share mentalities. Costume designer Sammy Sheldon Differ explained, “Druig definitely has a similar mental journey as Makkari in terms of they’re a little bit more standoffish from the human race.” The other Eternals sign American Sign Language to Makkari, and she signs back. Moore shared, “She is constantly vibrating, she's constantly moving. She herself can sense vibrations, so she can actually hear by feeling in the same way that the deaf community hears music by feeling the vibrations.” From Ajak’s perspective, Salma Hayek said, “Druig is the dark one that is always overthinking everything, that asks a hundred questions, and then Makkari is the one that has to know everything, has to know all the facts.”
Ajak, played by Salma Hayek, and Phastos, played by Brian Tyree Henry, are the last pairing within the Eternals. Ajak is the matriarch of the Eternals, can heal them, and has a direct line of communication to the Celestials. Phastos is a technological whiz, who “can combine different technologies to create new technologies that are unexpected, and he's the smartest Eternal,” said producer Nate Moore. Phastos’ technology required the designing of unique props. Prop master Craig Price said, “We had to make Phastos using and creating lots of different technology within the lab. We needed tools that are not easily recognizable — it's not something that you could go to a department store for and start making things.” Brian Tyree Henry was emotional after being fitted for his costume as Phastos. Differ shared, “Brian was just so adorable. He went through the whole process — he was so scared when he first came because he didn't understand how we were going to turn him into a Super Hero. And so in his last fitting, when it was finished, he put it on with his eyes closed and then looked in the mirror and cried with joy.” Salma Hayek explained her approach to the character of Ajak: “She doesn't say ‘I'm your mother,’ it's just the way I played it. I control the information. I decide what to tell them when I tell them, because I'm the only one that can talk to the Celestials… the mother is a lot of the times the leader of a family.” And Differ described Ajak’s costume, “It looks like the CEO of the universe.”
But all of these Eternals must face down creatures called Deviants, which have evolved in the present day. Nate Moore showed early concept art of Kro, a leader of the Deviants. “Creating villains or frankly creatures who look different than what you've seen before was a real challenge for our design team,” he said. “We think they've done a really good job of — at least, from a texture standpoint and a shape standpoint — creating villains that are distinct and unique.” No two deviants look the same.
Secure your spot to see the Eternals take on the Deviants for the fate of humanity in Marvel Studios’ Eternals when it hits theaters November 5 — tickets are on sale now!
And now fans can explore the characters, world, and stories in AR before you watch the film — introducing Marvel Studios’ Eternals: AR Story Experience. Free and exclusive to iOS (compatible with iPhones & iPads, and on iOS 14 and above), Eternals: AR Story Experience is an extension of the film that allows audiences to step inside the world of Eternals in true Marvel cinematic quality, before the film’s release. Available in 13 languages. Head to the app store or marvel.com/eternalsAR to download.