Forever Eternal: Lauren Ridloff Discusses Firsts, Subtitles & Superpowered Team-Ups

Marvel’s first deaf superhero sheds light on bringing ASL to the big screen.

There are many quotes about manifesting one’s destiny, but a personal favorite has to be, “It’s already yours.”

Three years ago, Lauren Ridloff gave an interview while starring in a Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God — a performance that turned her from a 40-year-old former kindergarten teacher into a Tony-nominated actress — told The New York Times she’d like to play a superhero.

Fast forward to 2021, and Ridloff, who has been deaf since birth, has had a recurring role on The Walking Dead as Connie also poignantly played a teacher in last year’s Sound of Metal with Riz Ahmed. Marvel Studio executive Nate Moore saw in Ridloff and Eternals an opportunity to broaden the MCU’s demographic by reimagining several characters, including Brian Tyree Henry and Kumail Nanjiani.

Directed by Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao, The Eternals are the first post-Avengers group moviegoers see as we enter into a larger multiverse. Ridloff’s casting as Makkari, an immortal guardian with a hoarding habit and superhuman speed, is one of several MCU landmark moments in the film. 

Eternals also features the films’ first Asian American woman protagonist (with Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi as the first), the first gay kiss, and, in a brief PG-13 scene, the first superhero sex scene.

RELATED: Marvel Says They Will Not Recast Chadwick Boseman’s ‘Black Panther’ Character

Despite the critics and controversies, the film has grossed over $336 million worldwide, and, as of Nov. 5, sits at no. 1 on the U.S. box office charts.

Zhao’s beautiful storytelling coupled with Ridloff’s cool star power is what makes Eternals one of this year’s must-see events. A proud Black Mexican woman, Ridloff has also used her platform to advocate for more opportunities for deaf people and people living with disabilities in front of and behind the camera. scored a few minutes with the actress to talk about manifesting Makkari, making inclusive changes to the big screen, and what Marvel superhero she would tag team-up with outside of the Eternals. Marvel has expanded its universe with the latest of films. In going after the role of Makkari, what was the audition process like for you?

Lauren Ridloff: I didn’t exactly audition. It was more of a conversation. I was invited to a sit-down meeting with the director, Chloé Zhao, and [Marvel Studio executive] Nate Moore. The two of them explained the new concept. It was [a story] that was in the [Marvel] comic books, and it wasn’t very well-known. That’s how I first learned about the Eternals.

That conversation shifted more to who I was as a person, and Chloé was very curious about what I liked to do in my free time, what my passions were, what my hopes and dreams were. Later, in an email from Marvel, I learned that I would be playing Makkari. It is a big leap in many ways, but one that seems in alignment with your recent work. On The Walking Dead as Connie, you’re a survivor, a fighter, and a sister who is a part of a big community—with some of those same character attributes presented in The Eternals, can you speak to your progression as an actor?

Ridloff:  It’s funny because there is that familiar sense of community in The Walking Dead and The Eternals. I think that is the underlying message with the film — the importance of coming together as a community and blending in your specific talents to achieve a common goal. That’s very much like The Walking Dead in that sense. Connie is a part of a community, and they all come together, bringing their skills in as one to survive. The big difference is that Connie is in survival mode whereas Makkari, she just lives, baby [laughs]. In not offering any spoilers, your character, Makkari, has a love of shiny objects but isn’t necessarily a thief. More like a hoarder, yes? As yourself, what popular Marvel item in its canon would you love to have for yourself?

Ridloff: [Laughs] First of all, I feel so bad for Makkari. She gets such a bad reputation as a hoarder. But, for me, I’d love to have Kingo’s jet [played by Kumail Nanjiani].

(L-R) Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Brian Tyree Henry, and Barry Keoghan While this is a big moment for Marvel with you as the cinematic universe’s first deaf superhero, this is a watershed moment for people with disabilities. In addition to young Black people seeing you, too, what does the impact of this moment mean to you?

Ridloff: I definitely feel the impact of seeing a deaf superhero on the big screen. First of all, it is very obvious that that will impact a lot of people who have felt underrepresented or invisible within (and outside of) Hollywood. Hollywood plays such a big role in influencing society, and it establishes a belief and a framing of how people are perceived.

So, I am excited to affect that and have an impact on culture through the film. I look forward to seeing how that impacts the industry, with the people behind the camera, the writer’s room, and more. I hope that just seeing that the MCU has a space for a deaf person, for those in the LGBTQ community, and different kinds of representation show that people are ready for it. We’re ready for new stories. Very true. And since we’re embarking on this multiversal experience within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s room to imagine a host of characters for audiences to see down the line. If there was anyone outside the core Eternals group that you’d want to tag team with, who would it be and why?

Ridloff: Probably Spider-Man [laughs]. I would love to hang out with Spider-Man. We can use his webs to swing, and I would just run up the walls [alongside] him. I would slow it down so we could hang out [laughs]. It’s also no secret that you’ve been an advocate for normalizing captions on the big screen. First, how do you see that process happening in the industry? And then secondly, what impression do you think that’d make on the viewer?

Ridloff: This is 2021 [and] it is a post-pandemic world that we live in. Let’s enjoy life. Let’s make sure that everybody that’s within our community — whether deaf, hard of hearing, or just learning English as a second language — can enjoy having movies with additional subtitles. I think that benefits everybody. So, I think it is essential that we normalize subtitles. I want to see more of it out there, whether it’s on social media or subtitled within your content — it is a way to be inclusive.

And for deaf and hard-of-hearing children, it allows them to see a little more of themselves on the screen. It will give them the space to dream bigger. I, myself, did not have the dream of being an actor because I didn’t see that [growing up]. But now, more children will look at the screen and know there’s room for somebody like them, [and] it gives them hope

Marvel’s Eternals is currently still in theaters.

Up next for Lauren Ridloff is Part Two of the final season of The Walking Dead, and as Lia in Jenn Shaw’s Charlie and the Hunt.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Kevin L. Clark is a screenwriter and entertainment director for BET Digital, who covers the intersection of music, film, pop culture, and social justice. Follow him on @KevitoClark.

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