Ma Dong-seok adds his personal touch to new Marvel film
“Gilgamesh is like, the most powerful and the strongest character in ‘Eternals.'”
This is how actor Ma Dong-seok, also known as Don Lee, introduced his character at the red carpet world premiere of the highly-anticipated new Marvel film “Eternals” in Los Angeles on Oct. 18.
“Eternals,” which will hit local theaters on Nov. 3, is set after the events of “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) in which half of the population returns to Earth. The sudden burst of energy ignites an “emergence,” where "Eternals" — an immortal race created by the "Celestials" who have secretly resided on Earth for over 7,000 years — return to protect humanity from the evil called “Deviants.”
Korean audiences have always been eager to uncover what the latest Marvel story has in store for them — but this time they await with more excitement than usual as Ma will star as one of the Eternals named Gilgamesh in this upcoming film directed by Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao of “Nomadland” (2021).
When Marvel Studio confirmed the news in 2019 that Ma would be appearing in “Eternals,” he became the first Korean actor to star in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
At an online press event conducted with the Korean press on Friday, Ma hinted that “Eternals” will not be the only Marvel film that he will feature in.
“I think this film is a stepping stone, a great opportunity for me to continue to work with Marvel,” Ma said. “I’ve done a lot action films before, but this role [of Gilgamesh] is perfect for me because it gave me chance to show off various kinds of actions.
“To design how my action sequences would be played out [in the past], of course I worked with superb Hollywood action crews on set, but Chloe and Marvel asked me to design the action scenes together because they wanted to incorporate my action style [in Gilgamesh] as well. For the action scenes, we tried to keep the movements simple, yet impactful enough to show [Gilgamesh’s] full strength instead of adding fancy elements. I thought that was the best fit for the character.”
Ma revealed that he did not go through any audition process and the role was offered to him thanks to his appearance in director Yeon Sang-ho’s “Train to Busan” (2016).
“I've been offered numerous roles in action films or superhero stories from Hollywood since then,” he said. “But the timing wasn't right until one day, a casting director proposed the role of Gilgamesh from ‘Eternals’ to me. So I had an online chat with the producer and director Chloe Zhao.
The actor said that Director Zhao and the studio put special focus on incorporating the cast’s own personalities and traits into their respective characters.
“Marvel Studio had already seen my films and analyzed my acting style, and created this character from the prior characters I’ve done in other action films and my boxing movements as well,” he said. “Gilgamesh originally wasn’t Asian, but the studio and Chloe changed that and wanted me to be actively involved in building the character so that he could be the perfect fit for me. The Eternals are immortal beings who have been alive for more than 7,000 years — so I don’t know if they could be referred to as humans. They’re humane, but simultaneously have traits that go beyond mortality. As for Gilgamesh, he’s warm-hearted and very protective of his Eternal family, and especially Thena (played by Angelina Jolie). Although he can be humorous and kind, when he fights the Deviants he changes into an extremely ferocious and powerful fighter.”
According to Ma, the cast immediately clicked even though they hadn’t had the chance to bond before they started filming.
“Salma [Hayek] is a leader, the kind of person that can make people around her happy,” he said. “And she takes on the leader position in the Eternal family as well. For Angelina, I thought of her as a great actor, and a good person as well. [The filming with the cast] just felt like working with old friends whom I’d reconnected with after a long time. Strangely enough, it didn’t feel unfamiliar. Angelina kept telling me that she is a fan of mine, she mentioned the films I was in, and when we were doing press interviews to promote our film, she said a lot of nice things about me to reporters around the globe. I believe the companionship that we have will definitely be portrayed in the film through our natural chemistry.”
While Ma was answering questions from the press, Jolie crashed the interview to say hello to him and the local press.
Jolie briefly shared what it was like to work with Ma.
“It was a dream,” she said. “I was a fan before and when I realized that we were going to be doing a lot of scenes together and action scenes and we were in fact, a pair in the film I was unbelievably excited [...] As you see, we’re partners but he’s also a protector and has become a dear friend.”
Ma also talked about his experience working with Zhao.
“I’ve watched her prior film ‘The Rider’  before and that left a deep impression on me, so I was already a fan of her work,” he said. “As for her Oscar with ‘Nomadland’ and the film winning over 200 international accolades — none of use anticipated that because it took place way after we finished filming for ‘Eternals.’ But what I’ve felt through working with Chloe is that she is a creator who can articulately balance out the artistic and commercial aspects of her work. I’ve met and worked with a lot of filmmakers but she is very humble despite her talent and she’s very intelligent. Personally, I don’t think a filmmaker can answer to everything about their film, and Chloe honestly admits to that. She openly asks about things that she is unsure of and asks us about our opinions to make us feel comfortable while we're acting.”
The actor hinted that he is in the process of working on more Hollywood projects.
“‘Eternals’ is a superhero movie, and I hope that people can first have fun and really get to enjoy the film,” he said. “What Chloe wanted to say and what the cast was attracted to for this project was that this story emphasizes people without categorizing them by race, gender, age, skin color or nationality, without any of the stereotypical factors that one often associates people with. And when the unique powers of each superhero harmoniously merge into one, they become the strongest. I think that’s the most important message of this film, and like what the film is trying to say, people can look at each other with a little more openness, so that we can really see each other without any prejudice or stereotypes.”
BY LEE JAE-LIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]