Chloe Zhao on making Marvel’s “Eternals” and her passion for the genre
Oscar winner Chloe Zhao is the director of the highly anticipated Marvel movie Eternals. In an exclusive interview, we talk to the Chinese director of the film and her passion for the genre.
At the 2021 Oscars, Beijing-born director ChloÃ© Zhao became the second woman and the first woman of color in history to win the coveted Best Director award for her film. Nomadic country. In addition, the neo-Western drama that Zhao also wrote, produced and edited won the most prestigious statuette of the evening, that of the best film.
After winning over a global audience with an in-depth and poetic character study that explores the effects of the Great Recession in the United States, in his latest project, the Marvel superhero film Eternals, Zhao leads a stellar ensemble cast, which includes Gemma Chan, Kit Harington, Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek, in an epic story that spans 7,000 years.
One of Marvel Studio’s most ambitious films to date, the story, which is also co-written by Zhao, is based on the 1976 Eternals Marvel comics and follows a group of diverse superheroes who defend humanity. We recently spoke to Zhao about the movie, the challenges of such a big project, and his passion for the world of superheroes.
In conversation with ChloÃ© Zhao
In Eternals you bring together different cultures in a multi-faceted story. What do you like about this aspect?
When I entered the process, there was a cure. And in the treatment [a document that presents the story idea of a film], there were stories unfolding in Mumbai where Kingo [one of the characters] was a Bollywood star these days. I thought it was so interesting, because we knew Kingo – played by Kumail Nanjiani – was going to be a character who would embrace the side of humanity that loves pop culture, storytelling, and showmanship. It was interesting to see that the writers and the Marvel team not only made him a Hollywood star but a Bollywood star.
It’s also great that the movie includes a nice Bollywood dance sequence. I thought it was amazing to include it in a big Marvel production.
Your resume doesn’t necessarily say âsuperhero movieâ, but you are. What did you think when you were first approached?
I wanted so much to work with the Marvel crew, because I love their films. But I also felt like I had something to offer for this particular story. It’s a story that answers questions I ask myself as a human being and I knew directing would allow me to grow.
You are a fan of manga and fantastic films. How important was the use of your imagination to this project?
I’m not just a fan, you know. I’m a real fan-girl of the genre. When I got hired I was able to sit down with the creative team and get a lot of referrals. It was a mixture of films that have nothing to do with each other. I think in this movie you can see that there are a lot of different genres and references. These conversations really crept in. We have shown everything, from Tree of life to YuYu Hakusho, and the Harry potter movies. We just watched it all – and having a team at Marvel so open to trying crazy things was how we got here today.
What were the main challenges in making such a great film?
Lack of sleep. And be able to prioritize. There are so many important things, you know, there is my cast, there is the camera, there is the building of a world, there is the script and all these things that I have to make sure to give the same. be careful, but sometimes you also have to prioritize one or the other. This balance is not easy.
Most of your work is about finding a sense of belonging. Why are you particularly interested in this topic?
Lately I’ve been thinking about us as a species, as humanity. As a species, we’re always trying to leave home and look for something else: gold, opportunities, whatever. And then in the end, when you get older, you always end up wanting to go home. I think this is such a trend. As I get older, I think about these themes a lot. Belonging and home.
What do you like about previous Marvel ensemble superhero movies?
I’ve always liked this type of overall storytelling. It comes from Sailor moon and Dragon ball Z, from my obsession with manga growing up. But I was also a big fan of the X Men films, the oldest, when they are released. There is something about belonging to a group of people and finding your place within that group that is not necessarily your blood family. It’s so nice and heartwarming to see these people who either don’t agree with each other or, you know, come from different walks of life and find commonalities, something worth fighting for together. As humans we love to watch these stories because we hope we can all find common ground and things that are worth fighting for and that unite us.
You mentioned that you think a lot about membership and the like. Were you worried that things would get lost in the translation in such a big pop culture project?
For every movie I make, I’m afraid things will get lost in the translation. You know, I never know. I try not to go. Because when a movie is over, like right now, that movie is more yours than mine. The path Nomadic country came out during the pandemic, for example. I had no idea how the movie was going to relate to people when I made it.
Do you see yourself developing a sequel or other stories within this universe?
We were really encouraged to do a standalone movie and to really do a movie outside of the main script. This has repercussions for the future. But we got to see how this movie interacts with the world and grows, and what shape it will take, and then we can make plans for the future. This movie is not finished yet, the making of this movie is now left to you guys. I loved working with my team at Marvel and would be back to work with them in a second.
Is it difficult to direct such huge actors?
People think it might be more difficult, but it’s also difficult to lead someone who’s never played before, who doesn’t even care whether or not to show up on the set. What is beautiful about this cast is that they were chosen because there is something in who they are, it is already the character. And, and so immediately, they could go and build their characters themselves.
In a movie like this, how do you balance storytelling, action, and special effects?
It was not difficult because I had a very good team. They would ask me “What do you want?” “What is the thing you are trying to do?” And then they found ways to present me ideas. What I’ve been telling everyone from the start is that everything has to happen for a reason. Things can’t happen because they look cool. It has to relate to the story and the character, both in visual effects and in world-building. The action must also incorporate character development. The construction of the world must have a lot of constraints and limitations because everything must have a meaning.