Lauren Ridloff cannot count the number of times that she has been asked about what it’s like to be the first deaf superhero within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For the past few weeks, the performer who brought to life Makkari, the superhuman speedster, in Chloe Zhao’s Eternals has been on a hectic press cycle. It’s a question that she’s received many times.
“It’s been an opportunity to control that story. But, I wish people would ask me questions like “What was it like working alongside Chloe?” or “What is the most important message in this movie?” Ridloff shared her experience. “They also asked me about American Sign Language. I am proud to show it off. However, there’s more to the deaf experience that being a signer. It’s about how to live in an auditory world. What is your way of sharing that space? These are the things I am interested in.”
What was it like working alongside Zhao, the director best known for his western drama The Rider and Oscar-winning Nomadland films?
Ridloff claims that she met Zhao long before filming began, when she gave Zhao a name using American sign language. “We give names to people based on their unique characteristics or quirks in the deaf community.” Ridloff explained that it is impossible to give someone a sign language name without knowing them.
Ridloff was struck by Zhao’s grounded presence during her second encounter with Zhao. “I believe she was burning Palo Santo. It might have been in an offices, but it felt like a sanctuary. The lights were dimmed. The actress recalls that she was sitting on the ground. She was like, “Come in, sit with me,” and she wasn’t wearing shoes. She’s with cross-legged on a floor, and that’s her name sign. Her name sign simply means “cross-legged upon the floor”. It shows that she is very down to earth.
Eternals boasts an ensemble of actors from all walks of life. While that is a great quality and something to be proud of, it also raises the question of how diversity could reduce its power. Ridloff is also multiracial, Black, and Mexican mother of two. But there’s more to her than her deafness.
“Everyone is unique and has their own identities.” Ridloff states that it is up to us to decide how we talk about the intersection of our identities. “I talk about my experiences by asking myself how I identify with one aspect of me and not deflating the other. How can you decide which part to tackle first? This conversation must continue.”
Actress Ridloff, 43, was born in Chicago, Illinois. She attended Model Secondary School for the Deaf, Washington, D.C., during her teenage years. Ridloff’s first dream was to become an author. She would write long before she studied English at California State University Northridge. She was a huge Stephen King fan growing up. In fact, Ridloff wrote a horrifying horror story for school that resulted in a conference of parents. Although the story’s content was a little disturbing to her parents, Ridloff was proud of its storytelling skills.
In 2018, Ridloff’s career changed. Ridloff was working as an American Sign Language tutor for the revival of Children of a Lesser God. Ridloff took the role of the lead in a read-through alongside Joshua Jackson. Kenny Leon was so impressed by her performance, he offered her the lead role. The theater was her first step into professional acting. Ridloff said that the learning curve was steep, not to mention the fact that Ridloff’s baptism by fire occurred in public after the production went from a pre-run to Broadway.
“The first scene, and I’m standing and sobbing.” She says, “First scene on Broadway,” and she had to express every emotion and mentally prepare to be in that space. She was able to adapt quickly and earned her a Tony nomination as Best Actress in A Play. When she was cast on The Walking Dead’s zombie apocalypse show, Connie, she applied some of the lessons learned on stage to her life on set. She recalls that “Transferring those to television and The Walking Dead was more a matter of access issues and support and resource in terms of what production required from me and what production needed from us.” “That was an amazing learning experience.”
The actress was able to feel more comfortable speaking openly about her needs, which helped her on the Eternals set. Ridloff recalls that the cast went to a holiday party after a day of filming. Angelina Jolie was there with Ridloff, who was discussing the difficulties of being cued in scenes where she faces a wall and starts her scene by facing it. Jolie suggested that the special effects team use a laser pen to erase scenes during post-production.
Ridloff has been running for many years. But, she claims that it was quite a challenge to pull off the main power of her Eternals character. Makkari’s superspeed is what makes her unique. She can leap into foes and race around the globe in just seconds. Ridloff had the task of sprinting on an over-sized treadmill to give the illusion of superspeed. It was not your typical morning jog. Instead, Ridloff had to run dozens of different speeds while wearing a superhero suit. But when she finally saw the movie magic on film, she said that she was pleased with how everything turned out.
The Eternals, an ancient immortal group, are shown in the film as a group of old, discreet, and peaceful beings that have quietly integrated themselves into Earth’s society for millennia. They are forbidden from intervening in any man-made tragedies that have occurred over the history of humans living on the planet. Makkari is able to see the entire world in a matter of seconds, so it’s not surprising that the character may become bored within the movie’s universe. Between the moment the Eternals are released by Ajak (Salma Hayek), from their fight against Deviants, which threatened the human race, to the moment when Sersi (Gemma Chan), reunites the group centuries later, Makkari spends thousands of hours collecting famous artifacts, pieces of history, and between that time and the end of the film. Ridloff believes that Frida Kahlo would have taken from La Casa Azul if she had the same behavior in real life. It is now a museum dedicated to the legend artist.
Although there is a shared aesthetic between Makkari and Ridloff, Ridloff’s Makkari version differs from the one that appeared in the comics over many years. The character Makarri is portrayed in The Eternals comics from 1976 as a white man with blond hair. Ridloff’s version of Makarri has some differences. She changed his race and gender and changed the spelling of his name. Her portrayal of Makkari shows the concept of Deaf gain, which challenges the notion that deaf people operate from a place of lack and focuses instead on their benefits. Ridloff has the ability to sense vibrations. This is similar to how the deaf community experience music through vibrations. Her sonic booms (which are a result running at high speed) don’t affect her. Ridloff said she was thrilled to hear the term being used in mainstream culture.
“When I was a teenager, I was first introduced to the saying: “Deaf people can’t hear but they can do anything.” But this quote has evolved. Today, that’s Deaf Gain. She says, “We’re fortunate to be the way that we are.” It’s not a situation where all is lost. It can be, but it’s just like any other identities–sometimes you’re like, ‘It’s not easy being X.’ The whole world is set up to serve a specific group of people, which means if you’re not in that group, you’re not being served a lot of the time,” she goes on. Ridloff says that being deaf can bring many benefits. One example is sitting next to a crying baby while on a plane and not being bothered. She says, “I’m like: ‘Sure. Because I’m not going hear them.'” “That’s Deaf Gain.”
Ridloff’s busy schedule is not slowing down as Eternals arrives in theaters on November 5. She already has her sights set for what she will do after months of hard work, including press cycles, physical training, and attending premieres. “I am really looking forward to my trip in Mexico. She says she is relaxed and that she’s going on holiday with her family to celebrate the retirement of my father. “I can’t wait to try a pinacolada.”