Why Sersi From Marvel’s Eternals Looks So Familiar
This year, Marvel fans are getting used to seeing new faces in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the franchise is moving past its ambitious crossover event that was populated by known and loved characters, and entering into a new phase full of (previously) obscure superheroes.
“Eternals” introduces 10 new super-powered and immortal beings, who are sworn to protect Earth from monsters known as the Deviants. Among them are some instantly recognizable actors, like Angelina Jolie as Thena, but others may leave you reaching for their name. One of the central characters is Sersi, who has the power to manipulate matter, turning an item into a different material, but has been working as a museum curator in modern times. She loves humans, more than many of the other Eternals, and is even dating one – Dane, played by “Game of Thrones” star Kit Harington. However, central to the story is her long romantic history with another Eternal — Ikaris, played by another “Game of Thrones” star, Richard Madden. Sersi (in contrast with her “Game of Thrones” name twin, Cersei) is actually quite empathetic.
If Sersi looks awfully familiar, that’s because she’s played by British actor Gemma Chan. Any Marvel fan has certainly seen Chan before, as she’s had the rare opportunity to play two parts in the MCU, but she’s also been in several other roles that fans will likely remember her from.
Gemma Chan was a guest on Doctor Who and Sherlock
In an interview with Vogue UK, Gemma Chan reflected on the early days of her acting career: Although she was advised to leave the UK for America, in hopes of finding more opportunities for Asian actors, she decided to stay. That meant taking any job she could get, as there were few available, but not every part avoided stereotypes.
She had a couple notable guest roles on two of the UK’s most widely known series: “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock.” In 2009’s “Doctor Who” special “The Waters of Mars,” she played Mia Bennett, a geologist with the doomed crew of a Mars research base. The following year, she appeared as Soo Lin Yao, an expert in pottery at the National Antiquities Museum, in the “Sherlock” Season 1 episode “The Blind Banker.” After airing, the episode was heavily criticized for its portrayal of Chinese people and culture, especially with regards to Chan’s character.
On the topic of the “Sherlock” episode, Chan recently said to Vogue, “Would I necessarily make the same choices now, if given the choice? Maybe not. I think I would speak up more if I felt that a role was leaning into an orientalist trope of some sort. I’m much more aware. And I think I’m in more of a position where I could say something.”
Gemma Chan played a robot on Humans
The British series “Humans” imagines a world very similar to our own, save for the robots that look exactly like humans — they’re called “synths” — that have fully integrated into society. Gemma Chan plays the central character, Anita, a synth bought to help out a family, but who is just a little unsettling to the people around her. The show builds tension around the question of whether or not Anita is a danger to the family, as her curious behavior sometimes goes out of the realm of a normal synth.
“Forget ‘Westworld,'” Vulture’s Jen Chaney wrote, in a review of the series. “‘Humans’ is the most compelling, emotionally resonant robot-centric show on television.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Chan discussed how she and the other synth actors prepared for their roles by attending a boot camp of sorts. They worked together on how to physically play the robots, in particular to keep them consistent across the series. With the synth’s inherent reliance on limited battery power, they agreed that the synth movements would be highly efficient. Chan described it as: “Perfect steps, very precise, nothing very robotic, but something other than human. We decided that with the synths, their eyes would move first, then their heads and bodies. I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t blink too much.”
That effort certainly paid off because even with just three seasons, “Humans” ended up being a turning point in Chan’s career, putting her on the map for roles in big budget Hollywood movies.
Gemma Chan wowed everyone in Crazy Rich Asians
Most audiences probably remember Gemma Chan from “Crazy Rich Asians,” 2018’s romcom that signaled a turning point in Asian representation in Hollywood for its predominantly Asian cast. The movie centers on Asian American professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), who brings her home to Singapore for his friend’s wedding. There, she meets his absurdly rich family and struggles to gain their acceptance. Chan plays Astrid Young Teo, the glamorous and kind cousin of Nick, who discovers her husband is cheating on her.
In a 2019 interview with the Guardian, Chan said she felt lucky to be a part of “Crazy Rich Asians.” It was a special moment, she said: “I took my mum and dad with me to the premiere in London, and they were just in tears. My mum said to me, she never expected to see people [on screen] who looked like her family, the food that we ate, music that was in the soundtrack that she hadn’t heard since her childhood. It was really personal and really special.” It was “Crazy Rich Asians” that put Gemma Chan in the running for her part in “Eternals,” according to Entertainment Weekly.
Gemma Chan's first Marvel role was totally different
Gemma Chan has the unusual experience of playing two Marvel characters. Her first was in 2019’s “Captain Marvel,” which adorned her in all blue makeup as Minn-Erva, a Kree sniper and a team member of Vers (Brie Larson) on the elite squadron Starforce. Together, they fight in the Kree-Skrull war, but things turn sour between Minn-Erva and Vers when the latter learns she’s actually the human pilot Carol Danvers. Minn-Erva was part of the team sent to take out Carol’s mentor Mar-Vell: they crashed Mar-Vell’s plane, then killed her, and kidnapped Carol.
So, Minn-Erva turns from a begrudging ally to a bitter enemy over the course of the movie, eventually meeting her fiery death in a dogfight with Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch).
“It was very different to any other job that I’ve done. I enjoyed the physical challenge of it. I had to train for it,” Chan said to Deadline. She added that she enjoyed working with the directors and cast, saying, “I think the caliber of the people and the talent that Marvel can attract is what’s really attractive to me.” While that blue makeup may have been annoying at the time, it probably is what allowed her back in the MCU, as she looks completely different as Sersi.