Eternals follows a group of heroes from beyond the stars who had protected the Earth since the dawn of man. When monstrous creatures called the Deviants, long thought lost to history, mysteriously return, the Eternals are forced to reunite in order to defend humanity once again.
Directed by Chloé Zhao and starring Gemma Chan as humankind-loving Sersi, Richard Madden as the all-powerful Ikaris, Lia McHugh as the eternally young, old-soul Sprite, Brian Tyree Henry as the intelligent inventor Phastos, Lauren Ridloff as the super-fast Makkari, Barry Keoghan as aloof loner Druig, Don Lee as the powerful Gilgamesh, Salma Hayek as the wise and spiritual leader Ajak, Angelina Jolie as the fierce warrior Thena and Kumail Nanjiani as cosmic-powered Kingo, this is a complex superhero family who has traversed the world over eons, protecting humanity.
We spoke to Kumail Nanjiani about playing the heart of the Eternals family with Kingo…
When did you first get involved with Eternals?
I found out that I was meeting with Nate Moore, who’s the producer of Eternals and of some fantastic movies like Civil War and Black Panther (he’s currently doing Black Panter 2) and Chloé Zhao. I am big fan of Chloé’s and I knew that she was directing Eternals so I was like: ‘Oh wow, is this something to do with Eternals?’ Then when I met with them and they gave me this 40-minute pitch of the whole movie, I could see that they had the entire movie in their head.
They kept mentioning this character Kingo, and at the end they said ‘okay, so what did you think?’ and I said: ‘What are you asking me right now?’. They said: ‘Do you want to play Kingo?’. I was like: ‘Really?!’ and no one ever does this, no one ever says yes in the room. Even if you want to say yes you’re like ‘okay yeah let me consider that’ but I was just like ‘YES! I’ll do it’ [haha]. That’s how I got involved, with just them asking me and me saying yes immediately. I was like yeah, I will pay YOU for me to do this movie!
What were your first thoughts when you read the Eternals script?
I was stunned at the ambition of it and the vision that Chloé and Nate had brought to it. I was really surprised at how different it was going to be from the other Marvel movies, and just how big it was going to be. I don’t mean just in terms of scale, I mean in terms of time. The movie spans 7000 years. We haven’t had another Marvel movie that does that.
It goes all over the world. Also, philosophically, it really explores some complicated things that I really think superhero movies have the power to do – mainstream movies that people called ‘popcorn movies’ really have the power to muddle and tackle with some really complicated issues that concern humanity right now. So I was really really surprised at just how integral these complicated philosophical ideas were to this big, fun, epic sci-fi movie.
A lot of superhero movies traditionally have good versus bad. Those lines are very clearly delineated and this movie really gets into some morally grey areas. It’s a movie where good and bad aren’t as easily defined as they have been traditionally in superhero movies. We really get into our responsibility as humans, our responsibility to other humans, and our responsibility to Earth itself. It’s messy, it’s complicated. There are 8 billion people on this planet so how do we deal with different cultures and different morality systems and different points of view? There’s no real easy answer to that and the movie really gets into all that.
My first impression was my head just kind of spinning. I was like ‘oh wow, if they can pull this off this is really something I’ve never seen’. It was just a combination of all my favourite genres. I couldn’t believe they were asking me to be in it.
Can you tell us more about the Eternals themselves and their relationships with each other?
They are at least 7000 years old and they’ve been on Earth for 7000 years. There are ten of them, and they were given a specific task. That task is now over and now they’ve just been kind of hanging out on Earth for that long.
If you think of a family, if you think of your family, there’s so much history, there’s so much drama, there’s so much tension because of decades of baggage. They have 7000 years of baggage! So they’ve all sort of gone their separate ways and they have just so much history with each other that even though there’s love, it’s really complicated.
So to me what was really exciting was each of these ten people have completely different relationships with one another and relationships that have really evolved and changed and gotten worse and gotten better and gotten worse again over millennia.
It really is a family that knows each other too well, that’s been with each other for way too long. In some ways, the last thing they want to do is see each other again.
The fact that each character has a different relationship with all the other Eternals was really the fun of it for me too. It was like writing down every character and going, ‘okay, how is Kingo’s relationship with this character? How is his relationship with this character?’ Because there are ten new characters in a movie, all these things have to be completely defined when you go in. So to me, there was a lot of prep doing this movie, not just getting all the physical aspects right but really getting 7000 years of history mapped out!
What are Kingo’s powers and what part does he play in this family dynamic?
So his powers are he can shoot energy beams from his hands and he’s also very strong. He really is the young kid of the family. So everybody else are like older brothers or sisters or parents, all these different roles. He’s definitely the young kid of the family and he’s the one who’s really missed his family the most.
All the other characters have different levels of excitement at seeing each other or lack of excitement at seeing each other but he’s the one who’s definitely like ‘oh my god the family is back together, this is amazing!’ He is a character who really just loves being an Eternal, he loves his powers, he loves the other Eternals, he loves his life.
He’s become a Bollywood movie star and he loves that. He’s really fallen in love with the trappings of humanity, all the good and the bad of that. He’s fresh, he likes being rich, he likes buying stuff for himself. He’s arrogant in many ways, but then also selfless. He’s sort of a mix of a bunch of weird things. He’s really sarcastic but also very sincere and very sensitive but pretends to be badass. He’s basically everything that I ever wanted to play in characters. I was like ‘oh, I’m gonna put this into Kingo, and hopefully I’ll get to play him a few times’.
What was it like putting on your superhero costume for the first time?
I think every single one of us had a really emotional moment when we put it on. They built the suit piece by piece. So when we first went in, there were little strips of it, and we sort of saw it over months. We shot all the non-superhero suit stuff first and we were already a couple of months into filming when we first had the suit ready and put it on. It was amazing. I remember wearing it looking in the mirror and being like ‘wow, I am a Marvel superhero’.
This character has been wearing this suit for 7000 years, so to him it’s not special, so I sort of had to have that moment of like, ‘okay, this is amazing. I look really cool right now. Now I have to forget that and go to work!’.
I think what really helped is that over the years Marvel has gotten really good at making the costumes. The material is better, it moves a lot more, it’s not as heavy, it’s not as thick, it’s not as hot. So it was actually comfortable to wear the suit. I could move around and jump in it. It looks beautiful. My friends asked me if it was uncomfortable but no, it was great, I’d be wearing it right now if I could!
What are the main themes and takeaways from Eternals?
When I watch old Hollywood movies like Casablanca, and stuff like that, they’re very hard to categorise. Casablanca is one of my favourite movies (I know, what a unique opinion haha!) but it’s just a great movie! It’s really funny, it’s got drama, it’s got suspense, it’s got romance, it’s got everything. You can’t put it in a genre box. But I think over the years recently movies have really become genre-specific. It’s all got to fit in this specific box.
I think the Marvel movies are a throwback to those old Hollywood movies that would contain every genre, every tone and I think that’s what Eternals is too. It’s got so many different genres in it. It’s a historical epic, its sci-fi, it’s got romance, it’s funny, it’s got action, it’s got drama, it’s got truly everything. That’s why I love going to these Marvel movies because you really feel every emotion there is to feel. It feels to me like watching those old movies where tones would shift and stakes would shift and they just have room for everything.
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