NEW DELHI: Oscar-winning filmmaker Chloe Zhao says her pitch to Marvel boss Kevin Feige for directing "Eternals" began with a poem by William Blake because she wanted to make a superhero film whose scale was "as large as the creation of the sun" and yet as intimate as "whispers of lovers".
The 25th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), "Eternals" introduces audiences to 10 never-seen-before superheroes, played by some of the biggest names in Hollywood such as Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, "Game of Thrones" stars Richard Madden and Kit Harington, Gemma Chan, Kumail Nanjiani and Don Lee.
Zhao quipped that despite her unusual pitch, she was still "allowed to stay in the room".
"Well, it started with me showing him (Feige) a macro photo of sand and then quoting a poem from William Blake. I still was allowed to stay in the room so it was really nice. But in that poem, William Blake was trying to convey that you can see the endless beauty and the meanings of the cosmos within the smallest things you can find on Earth," Zhao revealed in a virtual global press conference on Tuesday night from Los Angeles, which was also attended by PTI.
The 39-year-old director, known for her humane stories set against sweeping vistas such as "Songs my Brothers Taught Me", "The Rider" and Oscar-winning film "Nomadland", said she wanted to go big scale-wise while retaining the intimate tone of the story.
"The vision of the film was to set out to capture that scale, something as large as the creation of the sun, and as intimate as whispers of lovers. So, going on location, doing this kind of immersive shoot, having the support and understanding of this amazing cast was kind of how we got here today," she added.
Feige said with "Eternals" MCU wanted to take a "bold new step". "...In a post Infinity Saga world, we wanted to make a bold new step and say, 'You don't know everything about the universe yet'. And that there are these 10 spectacular heroes who you haven't met, who've been here the whole time'," the producer said.
The Eternals are an alien race living on Earth for over 7,000 years who team up to protect humanity from their evil counterparts, the Deviants. Jolie plays an elite Eternal in Thena and the actor said she was a fan of the MCU and director Zhao.
"I just wanted to be a part of this family before I even knew very much about who I was going to play. But as I learned about Thena and that's one of the special things that Chloe brings to this is...she's known for bringing reality to a film, somebody's true self," the Hollywood star said.
"So a lot of us were cast to bring out something from our own lives, something within ourselves that maybe we weren't even aware of. And then let it live and let it grow within the film," she added. Jolie said in her storied filmography of diverse roles, Thena was the most fantastic role and "yet my children said she was the most like me that they've seen".
"Crazy Rich Asians" star Chan said her character of Sersie may not be the best of fighters but has the superpower of "empathy and real affinity" towards the human race. "It's kind of coming of age even though she's kind of 1000s of years old, but she learns to trust herself and to grow into her own power really," added the actor, who has previously starred in MCU's "Captain Marvel".
Madden, whose character has a love triangle with Chan and his "GOT" co-star Kit Harington, said he is used to doing romance on screen but what was different with Ikaris was that all the decisions made by his character are driven by love. "He's kind of trying to bury that love because it gets in the way of his duty and he's constantly wrestling the two," he said.
Harington said his role of Dane Whitman, a human who works at the Natural History Museum in London and is dating Sersi, is a "nice, cool guy" and represents humanity. Asked about working with Madden again, Harington said though they have been friends for a long time now, their screen time on "Eternals" was "very little".
"I just want more," he added, reminding fans about how Madden's "GOT" role of Robb Stark and his character of Jon Snow had separate journeys despite growing up as brothers in Winterfell. "And one thing I really respect him (Dane) for is that a man (Ikaris) flies out of the sky, shoots lasers out of his eyes, steals his girlfriend (Sersie) and he's kind of cool with it," Harington joked.
Actor Brian Tyree Henry, whose character of Phastos is the first superhero to be depicted as gay in an MCU film, said he trusted Zhao "wholeheartedly". The "Atlanta" star said he was attracted to the character because Phastos, a weapons and technology inventor, chose love over everything he has been through.
"It really resonated a lot with how I felt my place in society was. How, you know, we can be kings and queens and at the same time, they'll take our pedestal and take our superpowers from us like that," he said.
Henry said he thought he would be asked to lose weight for the role but the director surprised him by saying, "we want you exactly as you are". Feige said it was important to have a diverse cast for the film as "you can't do the history of humanity without the heroes looking like a cross-section of humanity".
"Train to Busan" star Don Lee, who plays Eternal Gilgamesh, was also impressed with the "great, diverse cast from all over the world". Also starring Barry Keoghan, Lia McHugh and Laura Ridloff, "Eternals" is set for release in Indian theatres on November 5 in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.