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Interview: Gemma Chan and Kit Harington on Marvel's 'Eternals'.

Interview: Gemma Chan and Kit Harington on Marvel's 'Eternals'.

"I was a fan of the MCU before joining it; I never dreamed I'd be part of it, let alone twice," says Gemma Chan of her second role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - now cast as the immortal Sersi in Chloé Zhao's 'Eternals', following her portrayal of the Kree sniper Minn-Erva in 2019's 'Captain Marvel'. Echoing her sentiments, 'Eternals' co-star, Kit Harington shares, "I think it's many actors dream to be involved in this particular franchise: The MCU. And it's no different for me. It's quite a dreamlike experience sort of being part of it and being here promoting it, so 'dream' is a good word for it."

Today, the duo are in Los Angeles on a press tour in support of the 25th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Chan continues onscreen via Zoom: "I am very lucky in that this is my second time; I feel very fortunate. It was as much of a surprise to me, as to probably everyone else, but I feel very, very lucky to be part of this film, and amongst this incredible, talented cast... I certainly wasn't expecting to be back. I had run into Kevin Feige on the awards circuit when I was promoting 'Crazy Rich Asians' and he just came up to me and said, 'Oh, we loved your work in the film, and we would love to have you back.' And I just thought he was being nice. I thought: 'Who knows if that will ever happen? And maybe sometime in the distant future... you never know.' I wasn't expecting to be called in. I did a screen test for Sersi quite late in the game. I think everyone else had been cast with the exception of you, Kit. We were the last to be cast, I think. And yeah, it just caught me by surprise, but I was really, really happy to get the call."

"It's really exciting to be part of a new phase," adds Harington, who plays a human: Dane Whitman. "A great part of the appeal of this was entering something entirely new - the fact that it wasn't part of an older phase, that it was a really fresh, new look at what Marvel were doing. And that's how it was described to me and that's how it comes across. When you see the film, it's a mass new introduction to loads of exciting new characters, and I was happy to kind of be the slight tag-along in the movie, as it were, that seemed like a good deal for me."

Describing her lead role in 'Eternals', Chan says: "This is really a coming-of-age story for Sersi in that when you meet her, although she has not been denying her Eternals background, she really loves humans. She wants to fit in with them. So, she’s been kind of operating under the radar. Her story in the film is her rediscovering her power and finding out that she needs to use it to an even bigger extent than she ever thought."

And in a novel twist for a superhero, Sersi draws strength from her empathy. Harington explains: "The most important thing we can have is empathy. Above and beyond everything, it's the link to kindness, it's the link to understanding, it's the link to progression. Sersi is the most empathetic character in this movie, and that's beautifully portrayed by Gemma, and I think that that's why we really warm to her as a central character - she's very much not there for herself, she's there for others. Empathy is a very important factor, and an important part of this movie."

"I really identify with her free-spirited nature, her empathy, her kindness, and her loyalty," adds Chan. "I think we were all cast because there was something in ourselves that was also in these characters, and that became really clear when we all met each other and we started working together."


A post shared by Gemma Chan (@gemmachan)

In the film’s present-day timeline, Sersi works at London's Natural History Museum with Dane - two thirds of a love triangle that also includes Richard Madden's Ikaris, with Sersi at the centre of it all ("I enjoyed being able to build the relationship with Ikaris and Sersi over the ages," Madden has said. "I think it’s a fascinating study of what keeps a couple together for thousands of years. When do they not get bored with each other? And what kind of love means that you really care about someone for that length of time?").

"My character, Dane Whitman, while not being an Eternal, fits into the movie as the human element of the story," shares Harington. "Dane, who is close friends with Sersi, represents all those things that she loves about the planet. He’s meant to kind of stand for Earth and stand for humanity. So, within that we get his quite dry sense of humour, his affection, the way he speaks, and the way he moves and talks."

As for the future of Dane Whitman in the MCU and if he may one day evolve into the superhero Black Knight, as he does in the Marvel comics? "Black Knight, can't really talk about that as an entity because all we've got in this film, and the only thing I'm depicting, is Dane Whitman," details Harington. "You can read what you want, as I did, on the internet and see the comic history and that might give an outline to where things are going. But we don't know yet. And it's just this movie at the moment, where I play a human, and it sounds weird, but I was excited to come in and play the human character rather than a superhero."

On working with director Chloé Zhao (who won Best Director at this year's Academy Awards for 'Nomadland'), Chan says: "I was a huge fan of her work before we started filming, and I was so excited to see what she would bring from her films that she's done, and how she was going to interpret this huge story. And what I thought was amazing, was the fact that she managed to bring her signature style and her signature sensibility, through to a film of this scale. But she was also able to not only capture these epic, sweeping landscapes and all of that, but also these really gentle, quieter, intimate moments between the characters. And I think that's something she does so well."

"Yeah, exactly what Gemma said," agrees Harington. "And also, for me, from the very first conversation I had with Chloé, it seemed like you were in the hands of someone who knew exactly what they were doing and had a very clear vision, and also was not going to get overwhelmed by the scale and scope of the thing. Which is, I think, essential with something like this - you need to have that utter conviction and confidence that you can handle a Marvel movie even if you've not handled something on this scale before. And that's what she brought."

Spanning over 7,000 years on Earth and in space, 'Eternals' opens in ancient Mesopotamia 7000 BC at the very dawn of civilisation. And in the present day, the Eternals are scattered all over the world, including London, Mumbai, South Dakota, Chicago, Alaska, Australia, and the Amazon forest. Choosing to shoot mainly on location, Zhao's production included four weeks of filming in Fuerteventura and Lanzarote - two of the Canary Islands; a Spanish archipelago off the coast of Africa.

Chan reflects: "We did do some location work [on 'Captain Marvel'], but it was more kind of 70% studios / 30% location, whereas this time it's switched the other way around. I still love working in-studio, but I think that different environments have different challenges, and there are pros and cons to both, but working with just natural light on location in some very challenging conditions was hard at times. When you're trying to just shoot at Magic Hour and you've got a really short window of time to be able to get the shots, you're not going to get many takes at all, you have to just be really prepared and ready to go. That was a challenge, but hopefully it's something that's paid off in the final film."

Harington surmises: "I felt that this was Marvel going out to meet the real world, which felt really interesting to me right from when I heard the kind of pitch of the movie. I love shooting on location. I personally get really sleepy on big sound stages, I find it really hard to stay awake, so I need a brisk breeze in my face to do acting, it seems."

And of being immortal? That, too, seems like it would be exhausting. Chan concurs: "Oh my goodness, I definitely wouldn't want to be immortal. I think all good things have to come to an end. If I'm fortunate enough to live a long life, that would be amazing; I'd be blessed. I wouldn't want to live forever, no."

"Ah, I'll definitely second that," Harington concludes.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

'Eternals' is out in New Zealand cinemas now - watch the trailer below:

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