Eternals: Gemma Chan’s New Kind of Hero

Chloe Zhao Says Gemma Chan’s ‘Eternals’ Character Will Make Viewers “Rethink What It Means to Be Heroic”

Eternals director Chloé Zhao and Sersi actress Gemma Chan promise that the upcoming Marvel’s film’s female hero and “empath” will change audiences perceptions of superheroes.

Speaking to Vogue UK, Zhao and Chan alluded to Sersi, one of the ensemble’s million-year-old cosmic beings, as a new imagining of the Marvel superhero.

Zhao told the magazine that it has been a personal passion to “create a nuanced female superhero,” especially one that is “rarely seen in this genre.”

While describing Chan not only as “a great actress” who is both intelligent and brave, the director shared that both of them shared in this desire to imagine a female hero in this way.

“Gemma was very interested in this idea as well and took on the challenge,” Zhao said. “She brought a beautiful sense of gentleness, compassion and vulnerability to Sersi that I believe will invite viewers to rethink what it means to be heroic.”

Chan said she never really anticipated returning to the MCU following her role as Minn-Erva in 2018’s Captain Marvel. “My character dies in [Captain Marvel], so I thought there was no chance that I would really be coming back, which I was a bit bummed about,” she said last December.

But with her big MCU return, the actress teased that with her character, Sersi, viewers should be ready to expect something outside what we’ve come to expect from cinematic superheros. “She’s not necessarily the best fighter, she doesn’t have the most obviously impressive powers,” Chan explained. “The main thing is she’s an empath. She has a connection with humans, and with the world and the earth. That is her strength, so I leant into that.”

Like all Marvel projects, details around the film are heavily guarded, but Chan was able to divulge not only a bit about her character, but Sersi’s relationship with fellow Eternal Ikaris, who is played by Game of Thrones and Bodyguard star Richard Madden. Chan, who screen-tested with Madden, described the two as “immortal soulmates,” before sharing what she thought was a fun challenge to representing their love story on screen, made slightly easier by the two’s established real-life relationship.

“That was a fun thing to play. Over a span of a thousand years, how do you play a normal relationship?” she said. “The good thing is, Richard and I have known each other for over 10 years.”

The actress also championed Zhao’s presence in the director’s seat, saying that getting to work with an Asian female director was a welcome surprise. “To be working with an East Asian female director — I would never have dreamt of that, even just a few years ago.”