Editor's note: The following interview contains spoilers for Eternals.
The next step in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Eternals, following a group of superheroes who have been protecting Earth for thousands of years and who are now forced to reunite in order to save humanity. Led by the wise spiritual leader Ajak (Salma Hayek), this group of thinkers and fighters that includes Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Druig (Barry Keoghan) and Sprite (Lia McHugh) must battle monstrous creatures called the Deviants to protect the continued evolution of civilization.
Before their gig writing Eternals came about, cousins Matthew “Kaz” Firpo and Ryan Firpo were indie filmmakers who hadn’t yet had one of their scripts produced. Now that they have a celestial blockbuster under their belt, they chatted with Collider for this 1-on-1 interview about how they got this job, collaborating with the team at Marvel and director Chloé Zhao, the process for deciding which characters would make it into this film and which would get cut, post-credit scenes, deleted scenes, the aspect of the story that was hardest to get right, and the Disney+ series they’d like to see about these characters.
COLLIDER: This film has been a long time coming. What’s it like to finally have it come out and to start to hear and read fan reactions? Was there anything you were most curious about, as far as how people would react?
KAZ FIRPO: I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing the movie almost ten times now with an audience, and I get something new and special every time I watch it. It’s just such a complex and layered and deep movie, and I really think it’s finding its audience now. For me, one of the joys is just, as people are discovering different parts of it, they’re falling in love with this character and they’re loving this aspect, and they’re pulling screenshots and finding Easter eggs that I barely even remember putting in. It’s an incredibly gratifying process. Ryan and I spent about nine months in a windowless room at the Marvel headquarters, and during that time, the movie is just in your head. It’s just an idea. It’s a conversation. And so, now for it to be out in the world, once you make the movie, it’s not just opening weekend and you’re done. The gift is that it’s in the world forever now. It’s like an artifact. It’s a totem to our crazy imaginations. If I think about all of the movies that we could’ve made, I couldn’t be more happy and more proud of Eternals because it’s such a reflection of Ryan and I’s very eclectic, strange sensibilities and different lines. It’s a great honor of our lives, to have this movie be the number one movie in the world right now.
RYAN FIRPO: I should also point out that this is our first produced script, which is a mind-blower. We’re indie filmmakers that came to Hollywood and started writing. I never thought that I would ever write a Marvel movie, or write a movie that would be on this scale. We always joked, through the process, that the budget for Eternals was gonna be more than all of the movies we plan to ever write in our lives combined. It’s been really exciting to reach such a huge audience. Up until now, I’m used to the process of just slaving away on a movie for years, and then five people see it and that’s it.
You guys are cousins and you’re also filmmakers, which are independent of each other, but you came together to write Eternals. How did this come about? Does every filmmaker basically just go to Marvel for a general meeting? Did you specifically pitch this project?
KAZ: The short version of a beautiful and long and complex story with some fun twists and turns, and all of this is true, is that Ryan and I are filmmakers and we’re cousins. We approach filmmaking from a lot of different perspectives, but one day, I basically begged the best writer I knew, who I happened to be related to, to write a movie with me. I said, “I’d love to write a script that we can go make for a million dollars. I’m a French citizen. I qualify for the EU grant. Let’s go shoot it in Eastern Europe.” That’s the truth. We went and wrote this script in the woods, at his dad’s cabin up in Northern California, in about three weeks and it was called Ruin. We had no agents, we had no managers, we didn’t have an uncle that we could call in Hollywood that would connect us. It was really just outside the system. And then, I was shooting a documentary for UNICEF on the island of Jamaica, and the producer introduced us to her sister’s fiancé. That’s a quotable true story. And they introduced us to Sam Warren and Harry Lengsfield, who became our incredible managers, and they really changed our lives. They just loved the script and blasted it into Hollywood. We ended up winning the Blacklist with that script. It really changed our lives. We sold a spec script to Netflix, and most importantly, it landed us a meeting with Nate Moore, over in Marvel, who at the time was working on Black Panther, and we just really got along. A lot of Hollywood is working with people you like and that you have chemistry with. It was immediate, as soon as we sat in the room. And then, about six months later, he said, “Hey, I have this project, if you’d be interested in talking about it.” Ryan and I went in the room, and that rest is history. It tapped on so much of the stuff that Ryan and I love. I studied the classics and archeology in school. I worked on an archeological dig in Egypt for four months. I brought as much as I could of that into the film. And Ryan loves these big existential questions, like in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was a chance to bring all of that into the movie and do something that had never been made before.
RYAN: People would never recognize this reference, but my favorite movie of all time is Boogie Nights. I really love movies about circus families and chosen families, with people that come together. That was really important to me and exciting to me, to explore that kind of dynamic in a giant superhero movie that also grapples with the dawn of man.
I read that, as you guys got to work on this, Marvel handed you a binder. What was that like, to have them hand you that giant pile of information? Where do you start? How do you even pick the first character?
KAZ: That is both true and also a great question. It was literally a digital binder of 700 pages that was really just comics. We were like, “I like this. This is really interesting to us. This could be cool.” They were like, “Read this, come back in a month, and tell us a movie.” That’s really what the process was. It was Ryan and I sitting in his office, and it began just by picking characters. Like all great stories, it’s about whether you wanna spend time with the people in the story. That’s really where it began for us.
RYAN: Looking at some of the runs that they did helped us start to zero in on the characters that we should focus on. We really wanted to write a movie that dealt with this idea of love versus duty and put superheroes in his moral quandary that we hadn’t quite seen before. Some of the best characters that represent that were Sersi and Ikaris, with her representing the love and him representing the duty. And then, he’s ultimately challenged by his love for Sersi. We thought that was a great core for a dramatic story, and then we just started to branch out from there. With certain characters, we realized that Ajak would be a better maternal character that was the leader of the group and gave it that vibe, so we gender-flipped that role and thought of Salma [Hayek]. We just played with the pre-existing characters, based on what we needed for this particular iteration.
You’ve previously talked about how you had characters that ultimately didn’t make the cut, as you were figuring this group out. When it comes down to having to cut characters, how did you decide who to cut? Do you put names into a hat and draw one, or do you spend a lot of time thinking about that?
RYAN: Early on, we became enamored with the idea of a dozen. There were 12 characters that we put in the first draft, but even at the time, it felt like quite a lot of characters that we were meeting for the first time. We felt like probably some were gonna go. So, we wrote a whole draft with those characters and it became obvious who should go. And then, we took those storylines and those characteristics and merged and folded them into the other characters. So, while those characters are not in the movie, their contribution to the narrative has been merged into the other characters.
KAZ: A big part of that is you start to discover who you want to preserve for the next one. You don’t want each character to step on each other’s toes. You want that unique aspect, so that each one stands out. So, there was a version of events where there was Valkin, who is a healer, and now you see those healing powers have found their way over to Ajak. And there was also Zuras, the original leader and old man of the group. What we realized was that we couldn’t have two elder statesmen in the same film, so it made sense to leave Zuras, the great godfather Eternal, for the next one.
RYAN: There are a lot of similarities between Zuras and Gilgamesh, especially in the early drafts, so we realized that we had to merge those together and have it be one character.
How was it decided where each of these Eternals would end up living, in the present time? Did you make specific decisions for each of them?
KAZ: Yeah, absolutely That’s been the joy. Every location in the past and the present came from the very earliest outlines and the very earliest conversations. Ryan and I have traveled a lot. We’re both documentary filmmakers. I’ve spent a lot of time in Greece and working in Lebanon, and telling stories about human migration, so right away, we wanted to look at a reflection of the world. For instance, my father lives in the Canary Islands in Spain, off the coast of Africa, and I visited him and that became the genesis of the volcanic islands. That real-life experience found its way into the script and it became the movie that you see. That volcanic island at the end is the Canary Islands. For us, it was about reflecting our lives and the world, but also taking people places they hadn’t seen before.
It brings such an interesting variety of visuals to the story too.
KAZ: We wanted it to reflect the world. The world is a very different, diverse place and the Eternals are too.
RYAN: We love movies and we love that movies give you this past and these little micro worlds. With foreign cinema, you get to go visit these different places and cultures. The cool thing about Eternals is that you get to have all of these little worlds in one movie. You can go and visit all of these little micro climates. That was something that was very exciting for us, from the jump.
You’ve also previously talked about how there was a variety of different possible post-credits scenes for this film. Were they each focused on different characters? Was it just that you were trying out different possibilities and ideas until someone was cast in a role and could then actually appear in the film?
KAZ: You’re playing with a massive orchestra. The MCU is this big, beautiful machine that has all of these different moving parts. For us, it really started out as just creative choices. That’s what’s so great about the process there. They really let artists tell their stories. So, there were about half a dozen, maybe more, versions of what could have been there and each one opened up a different doorway that took you somewhere else. For us, it was really about opening the most interesting doors. Where does the audience wanna go for number two, or the spinoff, or the prequel TV series? For us, Dane is an obvious audience favorite. He’s a great character. He has a rich history in the comics. We thought that was a great thing to tap into and see where it went. The same thing goes with Eros. Harry [Styles] wasn’t us. That was all Chloé [Zhao]. But that character, we had written that scene in the earliest drafts of the outline. Really, it was about, “If you can’t kill a God without consequences, when you do it and these consequences come, what are they gonna be and where does it go from there?”
RYAN: All we knew about where to go from here was two things. They’re gonna have to deal with the ramifications of what they did with Arishem. We also wanted to open up the world of Eternals and meet other Eternals, and be introduced to this whole other civilization that lives out in the cosmos. Eros really gave us a great way in, and the fact that he’s connected with Thanos is a little extra cherry on top. He was a great doorway into all of the things that we wanted to explore, moving forward.
Is there an aspect of the world of Eternals that didn’t make it into the film or that didn’t get enough time in the film, that you’d love to expand on? If you could create a Disney+ series in this world, what do you think would be interesting to see?
KAZ: I feel like maybe we’re manifesting, but absolutely, there’s a Disney+ show. Maybe we make Eternals 2 and 3, and then go to the prequels. We think you could do 10 episodes, and each episode is spending with one Eternal, in a very specific period. Angelina [Jolie]’s episode could take place in ancient Greece, where she’s hanging out with Aristotle, performing at the coliseums and amphitheaters, and is basically fighting the Peloponnesian War. It’s a very specific slice of history. Kumail [Nanjiani] would be helping Gandhi deal in the 1920s with the separation from the British. You can just look at history and have a lot of fun of it. The magic of Eternals is that tone where it’s a fun and entertaining story, but it’s also about humanity as an experiment. Do humans really deserve the gift that we’ve been given, of this planet and of this life? I wanna see Sprite living in Shakespeare’s England and working behind the scenes as his magician, or supporting Harry Houdini on the world tour. There are so many chances to look at these really fascinating time periods in history. For sure, there is a show there.
I love how much you’ve thought about this.
KAZ: Only recently, in the last few days, did we come up with the idea for that show. I’d like to see it.
Are there scenes that got deleted at some point along the way, that you wish could have stayed in the film? When it comes to deleted scenes, what’s the ratio of scenes that get cut when it’s still in script form versus scenes that got cut after they were shot?
KAZ: It’s cheaper to cut something when it’s just a couple of pages. Marvel is really good at trying to hone in on, “What is this movie?,” and then adding to it, rather than subtracting. For sure, there are a few scenes that made it to the cutting room floor that we love, but for the most part, the movie that they shot is the movie that was written. There was a lot of faithfulness to that process.
RYAN: The one thing that maybe we all wish that we could have had was to spend a little bit more time in the past and see them interact with humanity, and tell that story about the Eternals losing faith in humanity over time, a little bit more completely. But it’s a big movie that’s got a lot of characters in it and a lot of things going on, and it’s hard to cover everything.
KAZ: I would watch the Gilgamesh-Thena show, where it’s just them. There’s such a richness to all of the relationships, and that’s a big part of what the actors and Chloe bring. We put the situations down. Kumail is a perfect example. We really set the stage for that comedy, but Kumail brings it to life. He’s just an incredibly funny, talented, electric actor. We put him in situations where a former noble knight is suddenly a Bollywood movie star, who’s arrogant, a little rude, and he’s like a tragic clown who makes jokes to make up for the fact that the world is messed up. And then, you bring in somebody like Kumail, who has those sensibilities and just knocks it out of the park. That’s how you create fan favorites.
What was the hardest scene to get right?
RYAN: Probably just the whole love story between Sersi and Ikaris. Just really making that land was very challenging because there are just so many other things going on in the movie that you have to keep that propulsion going with the plot, but also really make us fall in love with their love, so that we’re heartbroken an destroyed when we discover the twist. That was definitely a challenge throughout the process. There were many, many iterations of scenes and different versions of scenes and characteristics that we injected to try to make that work.
KAZ: I would agree with that. For me, what it comes down to is that sometimes you have a scene where you have ten characters debating about whether or not they should doom planet Earth to the space gods’ vengeance. That’s a lot. For us, we relish the challenge of tackling these big ideas. There is no reference point for Eternals. You can’t just go watch the other intergalactic space and moral ethics love story and be like, “Oh, that’s how they did it.” We were really out there and trying to break new ground. So, those conversations about the mythology were challenging because there’s so much richness there. The dance for us was always giving audiences the tip of the iceberg, but also making sure that it all makes sense.
What do you think would most surprise people about the experience of making this and working with Marvel?
RYAN: That even movies on this scale are really not that different from making a movie for a hundred dollars with your friends. The process is really the same, it’s just on a bigger scale. We talked about that a lot with Nate, through the process. Chloé comes from a background of making very, very small movies that have very small crews. And this was our first produced credit. At this point, we had just written a lot of independent films and spec stuff. You can compare it to walking a tightrope. Every time you’re making a movie, you’re walking a tightrope, but when you’re making a small movie, you’re only three feet off the ground. When you’re making a big movie like this, you’re three thousand feet off the ground, but as long as you don’t look down and get in your head, the process is the same. You just put one foot in front of the other and walk that rope.
KAZ: I would agree with that perfect analogy. It really is that. When you set out to tell a story, and this is true to any artist at any level, whether it’s going on four thousand screens or you’re making a movie for your high school science class, and I made a lot of those back in the day, you wanna love what you’re doing. You wanna love what you’re doing and make it for yourself and chase those things that are really special to you because that’s how you make something that is true. You can’t just take a job and go, “Okay, I’m a hired gun. I’m gonna do as best as I can and hope the audience likes this.” You try to bring a lot of yourself to the stories you tell because that is what will last. Ten years from now, I really hope people will still be able to watch this movie and get something different out of it because it is so unbelievably strange and original and cosmic and weird. It’s such a great honor that Kevin [Feige] and Nate and Victoria [Alonso], and everybody at Marvel, had the great vision to be able to try to make something new.
Eternals is now playing in theaters.
Finally, a worthy adversary!
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