How Angelina Jolie's Personal Struggles Shaped Her Marvel Hero

Eternals Angelina Jolie Thena
By Lauren Rouse

Eternals was just one of Marvel's many Phase 4 projects this year, although it faced one of the toughest tasks of any new release. Introducing an entirely new ensemble cast of characters that exist across multiple time periods and locations is no small feat, but that was the challenge that Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao took up with her first Marvel film.

While many weren't satisfied with how Eternals pulled it all together, it's hard to deny the film has a lot going for it, starting with its all-star cast. Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Kit Harington, and Kumail Nanjiani are just some of the names that make up Eternals' ensemble of immortal god-like beings. Add to that the star power of Angelina Jolie and you have a cast that rivals that of even the Avengers.

One of the main challenges with such a large cast is making each and every character unique and memorable in a time frame of only two and a half hours. To do this, Zhao went beyond simply the different superpowers each Eternal had and tapped into their personal struggles as well, which was particularly relevant for Angelina Jolie's character, Thena.

Angelina Jolie's Personal Life Influenced Her Eternals Character

Angelina Jolie, Thena
Marvel

Speaking to Empire in an interview, Eternals director Chloé Zhao talked about Thena's struggles with the Mahd Wy'ry affliction and how Angelina Jolie helped influence the character.

Zhao said that while Thena is "one of the strongest female warriors out there" she couldn't "protect herself from herself" when it came to the Mahd Wy'ry.

"It was very much in the treatment that I read. We're talking about one of the strongest female warriors out there in myth, and then we're talking about breaking her down to a point where she's lost herself. She can battle anyone else. But she can't protect herself from herself, not with strength, and not with power."

The director said that when Jolie took the role "it all just clicked" because the actress herself had "dealt with things like that in her life". 

"When Angie came in, it just all clicked, because the way I work is – I very much depend on my actors to show me who these characters are, to really bring something human and personal. I need that from them. Angie immediately clicked with Thena's arc because she herself has dealt with things like that in her life. She has gone through similar things, trauma and stuff like that."

Zhao said that Jolie was insistent that Thena stays "feminine" and "vulnerable" throughout the film which also lead to her close partnership with Gilgamesh (Don Lee).

"From the very beginning, she said, "Chloe, we gotta have Thena stay feminine, stay vulnerable, break her down. I'm willing to go there". That's very important, to know that you could be messy, you could have fallen apart and yet you could still be strong at the same time. And also for such a strong woman to not be afraid to lean the shoulder of a strong man. That partnership Thena and Gilgamesh have; she's not afraid to lean on him, and that was important for Angie."

Thena's personal struggles also played a key part in the decision to kill off Gilgamesh in the film, which Zhao said forced Thena to "embrace her vulnerability" and "remember the memories that are going to heal her".

"She had no choice but to embrace her vulnerability, her messiness. Before, she had Gilgamesh and he gave her the most important thing: "remember, you have it in yourself." She can't fight it with fire, she's got to let that that water come in. Thena needed to lean into the soft side of her, and remember the memories that are going to heal her. This was written in the treatment, but losing Gilgamesh is a tough thing for the whole group."

Thena's Eternal Struggle With PTSD

One of the main problems that faces a film like Eternals, which deals with god-like characters, is figuring out what could possibly take down such a powerful group of superheroes. Bringing in the Mahd Wy'ry affliction was an effective way to challenge the group's strongest warrior in a personal way.

In both the comics and the film, Mahd Wy'ry is shown as a psychological issue that impacts the Eternals due to the overwhelming amount of memories stored in their human brains from having lived thousands of years. Thena is one character who is shown struggling with this a lot during the film and it effectively counteracts her incredible courage and fighting skills with a mental battle. 

Thena isn't the first Marvel superhero to suffer from mental health issues. Iron Man 3 showed Tony Stark's difficulties with panic attacks and Wanda Maximoff was clearly struggling with the impact of grief and depression in WandaVision.

However, Thena's character explores another aspect of mental health as she suffers from the combined effects of PTSD and dementia, which is authentically expressed thanks to Angelina Jolie's experience as an actor and her own personal struggles. Jolie previously said that she wanted Thena's issues to come across as real and show that even though the strongest people can struggle with their mental health it "doesn't mean they're broken."

Eternals will be available to stream on Disney+ from January 12, 2022.

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