Lia McHugh Talks Being An Eternal – Exclusive Interview
“Eternals” introduces a healthy dose of new characters to the MCU, many of whom are played by well-established actors. Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, and Kumail Nanjiani all play Eternals, and were obviously some of the selling points of the movie.
It also sports several relatively new faces, who are responsible for some of the film’s most compelling characters. One such person is Lia McHugh, who is also the youngest performer in the cast. McHugh plays Sprite, an Eternal with the power to create illusions. Though she’s exactly as old as the other Eternals, she’s stuck in the body of a tweenager — a source of great insecurity.
Looper spoke with McHugh about her role as Sprite. She told us about the strange audition process, what it’s like playing a superhero without CGI, and how Sprite fits in with the world.
Dummy slides and big stars
We’ve interviewed a bunch of Marvel talent in recent months, and something they have in common is a lot of them didn’t know they were auditioning for a Marvel project. Did you know?
I believe I knew it was Marvel, but I was given dummy sides. I remember, it said something funny about the color of her eyes or the color of the hair of the character. When I went into casting, I was like, “Oh, I’m willing to wear contacts. I’m willing to dye my hair.” They were like, “Oh, don’t worry. This is not the character at all. These aren’t even real sides.” I was like, “Oh, that’s funny.” I didn’t know it was for such a big role, even after I signed onto the project. It wasn’t until they sent me the script, and I actually read through it and realized how prominent my character was.
You were probably one of the three biggest characters in the movie, too. Was it hard carrying that burden?
I mean, I definitely had a lot to live up to with the all star cast that it is. I think it helped to push me to really do my best. I mean, I was playing a superhero. It did help that we were all new to being superheroes. We all sort of figured it out together. Watching how everyone worked really inspired me and had me, gave me something to live up to.
Lia, you mentioned the cast and you work with some huge names here. Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie. I don’t need to list them, you know them, but what’s the pressure? You have Angelina Jolie, who’s one of the biggest movie stars in the world. What’s it like having a scene with her?
I mean, I honestly don’t think I was as aware as I should have been about the people in the cast. I honestly hadn’t seen much of their work. I knew who they were, of course, they’re very popular names, but I think that sort of helped going into it not being so caught up in being with famous people. I was actually excited to work with experienced actors, but definitely, watching Angelina with her stunts and choreographing and working so well with the crew. And Chloe was really cool to me. I mean, to be able to do that because Angelina’s directed some things, she went in there ready for it and it was really informative to watch.
The power of illusions
Sprite’s power is basically illusion. You didn’t really get to see what your power was for pretty much any of the time you were shooting. Is that correct?
Yeah, none of us did. We all looked pretty stupid. I mean, Kumail has got his hands like little toy guns, and I’m just waving my arms around frantically. I mean, you really have to envision it when you’re there. I think not being on a sound stage in front of a green screen for most of it really helped, but it was pretty funny not being able to see what you were really doing.
When you actually saw what it was like did it live up to what you imagined?
Yeah. I mean, I really didn’t know a lot of what to expect. I was just going into it really excited to see the final product because it’s been so long. I mean, I remember being on set and just any glimpse behind the camera of footage that I could catch was so insanely cool to me. I mean, it was beyond my expectations.
Was it strange watching a younger version of yourself on the screen from where you are right now?
I don’t think it was very strange. I’ve gotten used to watching myself on TV. I did a movie when I was a lot younger. I got to be honest with you, watching it for the first time was pretty nerve-wracking, but as I’ve seen it more and more, I’ve gotten more used to it. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform my best. When I watch a movie and feel that I’ve given my best performance, no matter what age I am, I feel pretty good.
Maggie Smith, prepwork, and closing thoughts
You mentioned a bit during the press conference that you studied Maggie Smith. Would you consider Sprite an old person in a young person’s body, a young person with an old person’s mind, or something in between?
I think that she’s just wise beyond her years, and like an extremely old lady, but I do think she takes advantage of being in a child’s body in a way where she can get away with her sass and her little comments. “Oh, I have to go to bed, it’s past my bedtime.” Her little jokes here and there. She definitely incorporates that a little bit into her personality.
Did you read any of the Eternal comics when you were preparing for this or did you just go in blind?
I think I downloaded one, and I don’t know which one it was, but I read a little bit of it. I think because the movies are, I don’t know how, I think they’re pretty different from the comics because the characters change so much. I felt that it was more important to focus on the storyline of the movie and the characters and getting to know everyone.
What was the comic you read, if you remember at all?
I don’t really remember it. It was a long time ago. It was two years ago. I don’t even think my character was in it. It was just a fight sequence. I think Thena might have been in it.
Last question, what do you want people to take away from the movie?
I mean, it has so many layers to it. The beautiful cinematography, the characters, the diversity of powers and looks. How there’s young people, older people, people, everyone can identify with someone. I think the emotion is a lot more or different than they’ve seen from any other MCU movie. I’m really excited for the audience to experience this new layer to the Marvel universe.
“Eternals” opens in theaters on November 5. Stay tuned to Looper for more exclusive coverage.