The actors also reflect on the benefits — and the pressure — of shooting with natural light: “you’re only going to get two takes before the sun is over that mountain and we’ve lost it.”
Eternals stars Gemma Chan and Richard Madden know full well how significant their characters’ love scene is in Chloé Zhao‘s Eternals. After all, it’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first bona fide sex scene in its 26-film oeuvre. While the impact of the scene is certainly apparent in hindsight, Madden and Chan, at the time of filming, were just trying to portray a 5,000-year relationship between Sersi (Chan) and Ikaris (Madden) as authentically as possible.
“I just saw [the sex scene] more in the storytelling of these two characters and having that intimate moment between them,” Madden tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So I didn’t really see it in the context of the MCU, the bigger picture or Disney, for that matter. I just thought about this film, these characters and that moment. If I’d actually thought about the scale of that or the significance of that, I would’ve been more nervous than you already are when doing a sex scene.”
While shooting the scene, Chan was especially thankful for her shared history with Madden, as the two actors have known each other for at least a decade.
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“It helped that Richard and I have a trust with each other and a history,” Chan says. “I could feel that we had each other’s backs in that scene. To do scenes like that can be quite a vulnerable thing, so I felt lucky that I was with my friend.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Chan and Madden also discuss Zhao’s signature use of natural light and how it impacts their performance. Then they reflect on the shooting days that they’ll never forget.
So the two of you have history together, and your characters also have some major history together. Did you get together early on to chart out this 5,000-year relationship and to also understand how each other works?
Richard Madden: I wouldn’t say we charted it out. I would say we talked a lot about it. We talked about the concept of people who’ve been in love for that long and have seen everything and done everything and why they keep coming back and finding joy within each other. It’s a really beautiful love story to explore. So I think we just tried to explore that delicately from the start and work out how to bring some honesty to a 5,000-year relationship.
Gemma Chan: I mean, it’s hard. How do you do that? How can you really put yourselves in the shoes of people who have been on and off for 5,000 years? (Laughs.) So you have to just try and relate it to your own experiences. I found the idea of two characters who are pretty different actually, but are drawn to one another, really interesting. They keep coming back to each other, and they’ve been through everything together. I found something quite beautiful in that and it was interesting to explore it with one of my oldest friends. As Richard said, we tried to find some moments of truth and intimacy amongst all the crazy spectacle, time jumps and everything else that you get in a film like this. We just really tried to find those grounded moments. How do they make each other laugh? How do they push each other’s buttons? So it was great to be able to do it with someone that I know so well.