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Brian Tyree Henry Thought He’d Have To Get Ripped For Eternals, Recalls Emotional Convo With Chloe Zhao About What It Really Means To Be A Marvel Hero

Brian Tyree Henry in Eternals
(Image credit: Disney)

Through Eternals, Marvel Cinematic Universe fans were introduced to a number of new and exciting heroes, who are bound to play major roles in the expansive franchise moving forward. What’s even more exciting is that Chloé Zhao’s film broke new ground when it comes to representation in the superhero genre. While this surely means a lot to particular audiences, it was also a big deal for the actors themselves, like Brian Tyree Henry, who plays Phastos. Recently, the actor revealed that he was under the impression that he would have to get ripped to play the role. But that notion quickly left him after he had an emotional conversation with Zhao about his Marvel hero. 

If there’s one thing we know about comic book movies, is that actors usually find themselves getting into “superhero shape” to play the role of a costumed protector. Marvel stars like Captain Marvel’s Brie Larson and Thor’s Chris Hemsworth are prime examples of this. So it’s understandable why Brian Tyree Henry assumed this would be the case for his MCU debut. But during a recent press conference for the film that was attended by CinemaBlend, Henry revealed what his director told him that both surprised and delighted him:

I remember the first time that they were like, ‘So… we want you to be a superhero.' I was like, 'Cool. How much weight do I have to lose?' Chloé was like, 'What are you talking about? We want you exactly as you are. To be a black man, to have someone look at you and say, 'We want you exactly the way you are,' is unlike anything that I've ever felt.

Most would agree that there are plenty of projects (aside from superhero movies) that desire an actor with a particular look or body type for a given role. And as a result, many (particularly marginalized groups) don’t get to see themselves represented. There have been a few instances of true representation in the comic book genre in the past few decades, but the true shift has only happened over the last several years. To that point, Brian Tyree Henry further recalled not seeing many superheroes that looked like himself when he was growing up:

It just triggered me to being an 11-year-old kid who's watching these superpower movies, superhero movies, and not ever seeing anyone like me reflected. … I truly believe that that moment started when I sat down with Chloé. It's unlike any feeling I've ever experienced.

The Atlanta star also explained that he’d always hoped that “one day there would be somebody representing me and the way that I am.” Well, he did in fact get to see that happen and, even better, he himself turned out to be that source of representation. In addition, Phastos also makes history as the first openly gay character in the MCU. Needless to say, the star’s performance could be incredibly impactful when it comes to showcasing underrepresented groups moving forward.

The latest MCU feature is also breaking down barriers in a few other ways. For instance, it features the franchise’s first deaf superhero in Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari. Salma Hayek is also the first Mexican-American actress to play a prominent superhero role in a Marvel Studios production. 

It’s taken a while, but the massive company is finally making some major strides when it comes to varying up the kinds of characters it gives its audiences. Let’s hope this is a trend that only continues as time goes on. For now, you can check out Eternals in theaters now.

Erik Swann

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.