Richard Madden And Gemma Chan Reveal Why Working With Chloe Zhao Was ‘Dangerous’
Chloe Zhao has been hailed as one of the great emerging directors of our time. Her work on “Nomadland,” the Frances McDormand-led drama about a woman who lives in a van after the economy of her small town collapses, netted six Oscar nominations for the film and three wins, including Best Motion Picture and Best Achievement in Directing. The Chinese-born director has developed a reputation for her extreme attention to detail and the care she takes with each shot. “You can feel it just in the way that it’s shot,” says actor Richard Madden, who stars in Zhao’s new movie, Marvel’s “Eternals.” “The movement of the camera, the cinematography and the huge wides, but also the really intimate character beats that she captures so well.”
Where “Nomadland” was a tight, intimate picture, “Eternals” is a sweeping epic that covers the breadth of space and the depths of time. It also has an eye-watering budget of $200 million (via The Numbers), but according to a couple of cast members, Zhao didn’t allow her perfectionism to be dampened by access to Disney’s extensive resources. “Eternals” is her movie from start to finish, all the way down to interesting casting choices like Harry Styles as Starfox/Eros, and that ownership came with a high set of standards for the film’s cast, who explained why working with the indie director was, at times, “dangerous.”
Chloe Zhao insisted on shooting in natural light, leading to time crunches
One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s main filmmaking tools is its extensive use of computer-generated imagery, also known as VFX, to make otherworldly events come to life on screen. But even when working on a big-budget project like “Eternals,” Chloe Zhao is a traditionalist who insisted on ditching the sterile blue and green boxes of a motion capture set in favor of shots captured in real-world locations with natural light. While “Eternals” reviews report that the decision paid off visually, it also came with a set of challenges for the cast, as stars Gemma Chan and Richard Madden explained (via The Hollywood Reporter).
Asked how Zhao’s insistence on natural light affected their jobs, Madden answered, “It affects things in terms of timing. You end up with a very limited window in order to get the shot that the director wants.” That’s because natural light is both fleeting and unpredictable, dependent on the time of day, cloud coverage, and more. “You’ve got to bring your A-game,” Madden observed, “because you’re only going to get two takes before the sun is over that mountain and we’ve lost it. We’d have to wait another day for it. So it’s always quite exciting when you’re shooting like that. It’s dangerous and exciting.” Chan chimed in to agree. “It’s a challenge, as Richard said. You do have a small window where the light is perfect and it’s weather-dependent as well,” she offered.
Despite the pressure to be on their game for the daylight shots, Chan felt it was all worth it for the chance to be a part of nature. “We were in sandstorms and we were on really windy cliff tops,” the actress said. “We were soaked and dusty, and it’s hard to replicate that when you’re in a studio environment. There’s just something about being in the elements.”