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Eternals: Kevin Feige teases Gemma Chan as lead in '7,000-year story of humanity and our place in the cosmos'

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Apr 29, 2021, 2:05 PM EDT

The upcoming Eternals film directed by newly-minted Oscar winner Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) is perhaps one of Marvel Studios' biggest gambles since Guardians of the Galaxy. The titular characters, an ancient race of god-like beings created by Jack Kirby, are far from household names. Still, if anyone can turn an obscure, 45-year-old property into a billion-dollar box office hit, it's the grand architect of the Marvel Cinematic UniverseKevin Feige.

In a recent conversation with Variety, Feige opened up about the project, describing it as "a very bold and very ambitious sprawling 7,000-year story of humanity and our place in the cosmos." The Marvel Studios president (who also occupies the role of Marvel's Chief Creative Officer) also revealed that the character of Sersi (played by Raya and the Last Dragon's Gemma Chan) is about the closest thing to "a lead in this ensemble."

And what an ensemble it is: Angelina Jolie (Thena), Richard Madden (Ikaris), Kumail Nanjiani (Kingo), Lauren Ridloff (Makkari), Brian Tyree Henry (Phastos), Salma Hayek (Ajak), Lia McHugh (Sprite), Don Lee (Gilgamesh), Kit Harington (Dane Whitman/Black Knight), and Barry Keoghan (Druig) are all a part of the insanely talented cast. Chan is one of the first — if not the first — actor to play two totally different characters within the MCU after portraying Minn-Erva in 2019's Captain Marvel. "Gemma was best for it," Feige explained. "And thankfully, she’s proven that to be the case in the final movie."

Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb & Marvel Comics

In the comics, Sersi is a member of the Eternals who is known for closely interacting with humanity throughout the centuries. She eventually became a popular New York socialite and a member of the Avengers. If all of that carries over into the film (and there's a good chance it will), then Chan can help refract all of the cosmic and metaphysical action through a more grounded lens. But, as we know, Eternals won't be exactly like the source material. For several years now, we've heard Feige talk about how the project will represent major step forward in terms of onscreen representation for the LGBTQ+ and deaf communities.

"The notion of switching up the genders, sexualities and ethnicities of the characters from the comics, was baked in initially — that was part of what [producer] Nate Moore was really advocating for in moving Eternals to the top of the list for us to start working on," he said.

The film was originally supposed to open last fall, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The silver lining there is that Marvel Studios can now use Zhao's newfound Oscar status for the marketing campaign, which has yet to kick off in earnest. Don't be surprised if the first trailer contains the words: "From Academy Award-winner Chloé Zhao." And why shouldn't Marvel be proud of that fact? No other MCU filmmaker has ever taken home an Oscar for Best Director. Moreover, Zhao is only the second woman in history to take home the top prize (after Kathryn Bigelow, who won in 2009 for The Hurt Locker) and the very first Asian female director to do so.

"She initially was going to put Nomadland on the shelf until after Eternals was finished and released, and then come back to it," Feige recalled. "Because of our COVID shutdown, she decided to get her laptop out and, you know, finish up this little movie she was doing! And so yes, my joke is, let the filmmaker finish their passion projects when you have some downtime from your giant Marvel project, and suddenly they can make history at the Academy Awards. Knock on wood."

Barring any further delays, Eternals will clash with the wicked Deviants when it hits theaters on Friday, Nov. 5.