When Fandango visited the set of Eternals in late January of 2020, the Marvel movie was wrapping up principal photography and had a release date set for that November. It’s been more than 18 months since that day came and went, and anticipation for the superhero epic has only grown.
In that time, director and co-writer Chloé Zhao won two Oscars for her drama Nomadland, which was also named Best Picture. Meanwhile, Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has begun with great success, on both the big and the small screen, and the franchise looks very different today than it did back then.
While we haven’t seen the end result for ourselves yet, we can finally share why Eternals is going to be a Marvel movie unlike any you’ve ever experienced before. Below is a look at some of the coolest things we learned from the set, both to increase and to satisfy your expectations for the next piece of the MCU.
1. The Eternals are not your typical superheroes
When you look at the ensemble cast assembled for Eternals, you immediately notice that this is a different sort of team than The Avengers — and superhero groups in general. The range of diversity in their race, gender, age and physicality is not just for the sake of representation and to include a variety of different types of actors. It also makes sense for the movie’s story.
The 10 main characters that make up the group have been on Earth for 7,000 years and need to blend in with humanity — all of humanity. “Eternals were, to some degree, selected for this mission because they could integrate into an Earth that does have a sprawling identity,” explained producer Nate Moore. “They do look like…not everybody, but there is a nice cross-section there.”
Moore also acknowledged the importance of diversity, and for it not to be just for show. “As filmmakers, we want our audience reflected on the screen. And I think the great thing about Eternals is, it’s just part of the narrative without having to talk about it,” he explained. “We want it to feel like a natural extension of the storytelling, but also just a way for audience members — and kids especially — to see themselves on screen maybe for the first time.”
The inclusion didn’t go unnoticed in other creative aspects of the filmmaking either. “There’s a lot of diversity on every level,” said costume designer Sammy Sheldon Differ. “I think people can relate to these heroes in a different way. Instead of it being that inaccessible kind of superhero, there’s definitely a lot of difference in their body shapes and stuff, which is fab.”
Hair and makeup artist Frances Hannon also took note of how the diversity of the main ensemble reflects most of the world they are inhabiting. “Chloé’s brief was everybody had to be natural,” Hannon said. “She didn’t want a superhero look. She wanted them to be accessible to every age, and for nobody to feel that they could never look like that or be like that.”
It was apparent with some of the cast members during the making of Eternals what it meant for this team to represent people outside of the expected superhero aesthetic. Actor Brian Tyree Henry (Godzilla vs. Kong), who plays Phastos in the movie, got emotional when he saw himself in the part.
“He was so scared,” explained Sheldon Differ. “He didn’t understand how we were going to turn him into a superhero. And so in his last [costume] fitting, when it was finished, he put it on with his eyes closed and then looked in the mirror and cried with joy.”
2. The Eternals costumes were particularly ambitious
Speaking of the costumes, they’re unbelievable. Viewers are going to think — and some already have said as much in reaction to the trailers — that the Eternals suits are all computer-generated. While there might be some added digital effects, the truth is that they are physical creations. And very impressive ones at that.
“We’re hoping that when you see them in the film, you go, ‘What is it?’” Sheldon Differ said of the primary outfits. “Not, ‘I can see that’s armor, or it’s a Spandex suit, or something with a print over it that makes it look like mesh or something. We wanted to create something a bit more artistic and organic…Is it metal? Is it color?”
Sheldon Differ and costume effects supervisor Ivo Coveney went into great detail explaining all the different materials and artistry that went into the design and production of the costumes so that they could be tactile but also out of this world, faithful to the cosmic drawings of Jack Kirby as well as the natural quality of Zhao’s filmmaking approach. We can confirm that the team pulled it off.
Moore noted that Marvel Studios was able to take some liberties given the lack of familiarity with these characters from the comic books. He also said the goal was for the Eternals’ costumes “to feel like something that was both ancient and timeless — that paid homage to Jack Kirby in the circular designs of his original artwork but also felt like something that could be their own.”
It’s one thing to make one masterpiece of a superhero suit, but the art department needed to create 10 distinct versions of that brilliant idea. “To give them all personality but to also make it feel like a whole,” Moore recognized. “Because unlike the Avengers, who all have their own mythologies and are brought together, these people all come from the same place. So how do we make them feel like of a piece but give them different characteristics?”
Considering how much went into making the costumes not look recognizable as far as the material and craftsmanship is concerned, it’s a wonder they didn’t just go with special effects. “These were a really massive job to build, I can’t stress that enough,” Sheldon Differ admitted. “They were technically probably one of the most difficult things we’ve ever had to make.”
And in the end, they did less than intended, but it worked out. According to Sheldon Differ, there should be a minimum of nine copies of each suit to cover the actor, the stunt performers, any necessary roughness, etc. They had to make do with eight or fewer. “We managed to do this film with six on some people,” she confessed, “just because of the amount of work. It’s not ideal. But, luckily they don’t fall apart, which is amazing. They’ve survived.”
3. The Eternals spaceship wound up being prophetic
If you’re going to have incredible costume design, you might as well have incredible production design to go with it. Fortunately, four-time Academy Award-nominee Eve Stewart (Les Misérables) was also up to the task. “Chloé and I were talking about trying not to make the spaceship into anything we’ve seen before,” she said.
The ship, which is called the Domo, is not from Earth, so it had to look otherworldly but also show signs that it could have influenced cultures of this planet when it arrived 7,000 years ago. “We wanted to look at sacred geometry,” Stewart added about the vehicle’s design, “and look at the symbolism from every religion across the world that kind of means something.”
She found that triangles and circles reoccur in every single religion around the globe, hence the Domo’s triangular structure and circular spaces within. “If you go around the world, mosques and synagogues and Christian churches and other temples, they all have this kind of shape,” she said. “It must be something within all of our human souls that relate to this in a kind of positive way.”
Stewart also acknowledged how much went into making sure the Domo didn’t look like it could have been made from Earth-bound materials. “I went for weeks to the science museum here, looked at meteors, looked at moon rocks, looked at all sorts of stuff,” she shared. “And then in the end, we decided to do it as the kind of dust that you see that trail meteors.”
As it turned out, she made a great call in the creation of the ship. “What was really exciting is only about three weeks ago, in the press, they suddenly found stardust that arrived on a meteor that just landed,” she explained. And it’s a very new kind of material. And it was exactly the same color. We had a premonition.”
4. Eternals doesn’t look or feel like other superhero movies
If you’ve seen Chloé Zhao’s other films, you might be wondering what she’s doing taking on a big, expensive, sci-fi/fantasy superhero movie. But you should be imagining instead how she brought a big, expensive sci-fi/fantasy superhero movie to her artistic sensibilities and approach to filmmaking, not the other way around.
Moore showed great excitement in talking about Zhao’s unique direction for Eternals. “We realized this was a true storyteller who had a very strong vision of what the movie could be,” he stated. “She pushed us, I think, to make Eternals feel aesthetically different than any other Marvel movie.”
Regarding Zhao’s style and how it offered the MCU a fresh coat of paint, Moore recognized that “she likes to shoot a lot of natural locations and natural light. So this film, actually, of 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.”
Stewart also addressed Zhao’s visual approach for Eternals and how it looks compared to other installments of the franchise. “She hasn’t done the traditional cinematic Marvel route. It’s very much more, yeah, very blue-y, daylight-y. Quite harsh but really good looking,” the production designer explained. “Of course, if the Earth was there, that was bouncing in terms of lighting.”
After the climactic aspect of Avengers: Endgame, Marvel was ready to try a new aesthetic with Phase Four. “It’s a comic book movie, it’s an action movie, but it didn’t feel like a superhero movie. It seemed to us like a good palate cleanser and a good restart as we looked at what was post-Avengers,” Moore said.
He added that it also just fit with the genres they were working with this time around as well as new themes for the MCU, like immortality. The intent was to make “a more hard sci-fi movie, frankly, with something we really hadn’t tackled — to do something that didn’t feel necessarily like a superhero movie.”
5. Eternals follows Marvel’s first real love story
In addition to hard sci-fi, Eternals tackles another genre that fans of the franchise aren’t used to. “We’ve made 25 movies now at Marvel, but this is the first that’s really built around a romance,” Moore revealed. And before one could attempt to correct him with examples like Tony and Pepper and Steve and Peggy, he acknowledged those as “kind of the side stories.”
Eternals, on the other hand, is “an epic romance,” according to the producer. “It’s never going to be The Notebook, but that’s the goal is for it to be something that is the spine of the movie.” He later doubled down on the comparison to the beloved 2004 drama: “We reference The Notebook more than you would think for a Marvel movie… in The Notebook you get to see all the challenges they have to try and to be with each other. I think this is similar.”
This core romantic plot of Eternals involves the immortal characters Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden) and what a love story looks like spread over millennia. “I’ve been married to my wife for six years, and we definitely had our ups and downs,” Moore shared, offering personal context against the movie’s 7,000-year relationship. “You get to see them in all of the happy joyous parts and the hard parts and the tricky parts.”
When it comes to the good times, in particular, we can expect the romantic storyline to feel genuine, too. “What we didn’t know when we cast Richard and Gemma is they’re actually really good friends and they’ve known each other for a long time,” Moore confessed, “so that chemistry was instantaneous, which is very helpful when you’re trying to cast a romance like this.”
Obviously, you can still expect the action and the world-threatening stakes and the visual spectacle you need in a Marvel movie, but the romance is a through-line at least. “I think it’s really interesting,” Moore said, “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, what tore them apart?”
Eternals opens theatrically on November 5, and you can get your tickets now through Fandango.