In Chloé Zhao’s Eternals, the director’s first Marvel film, a motley crew of immortal beings with superpowers band together and fight evil. One of those beings is Makkari, played by Lauren Ridloff, who uses her gift of superspeed to save humankind. Ridloff, who is deaf, got her start on Broadway before taking on roles in The Walking Dead and 2019’s Sound of Metal. With an MCU role and the larger platform that comes with it, she’s excited to educate audiences about what it means to be part of her community. “There's so much more to the deaf experience than being a signer. It's how to live in a space that is for a world which is auditory,” Ridloff told W last year. “How do you share that space? I'm really interested in talking about those things.” Here, she speaks with Editor at Large Lynn Hirschberg about working with Zhao, her path to becoming an actress, and why the film Amélie means so much to her.
So how did you end up in Eternals?
It's a really funny story, actually. I was taking my son to an audition. It was for him. And in that audition, the casting director saw me, and she said, "I would like to see you in a Marvel movie." And I didn't take it very seriously because I mean, really? A few months later I found myself sitting in a meeting with Chloé Zhao and [producer] Nate Moore.
And you had been a teacher before?
Well, once upon a time, in another lifetime, I was a teacher. I taught kindergarten and first grade for almost 10 years. Some of the kids were hearing kids that were born to deaf parents. Some of the kids themselves were deaf. Some of them were local kids who lived in the neighborhood and their parents wanted them to learn sign language. Then I became a stay-at-home mom. Acting was not part of my plan, not in my trajectory at all.
So what changed?
I met a man in a coffee shop. He had ordered some orange juice, and I taught him how to sign orange juice. And the rest is history. This man is Kenny Leon, who is a Broadway director. At that time, he was considering bringing back Children of a Lesser God. He wasn't sure at the time, which is why he wanted to meet with a real-life deaf woman, who just happened to be me. We became friends, and we met once a week for almost a year. One thing led to the next, and I found myself on Broadway. Kenny truly trusted me. He looked at me and said, "Lauren, you can do it. Only if you want to." And I decided, "Oh yes." This was going to be my opportunity to become a teacher again. Only now my classroom is a lot larger.
Were you happy when you were onstage?
Oh, I loved every minute. Theater is a natural medium for a deaf person like me to be able to use sign language. It takes over so much physical space onstage. It's easy to use different facial expressions—even someone sitting all the way in the back of the theater can recognize that. There's something really exciting about being in the moment, acting the shit out of whatever story you're in.
Did you have to do a lot of physical training to get into character for Eternals?
One of the nice things about working with Chloé, especially for Eternals, is that she tailored each character to meet the actor who was representing that character. And so when I was cast for the role of Makkari, it wasn't a huge life change for me. I've been running ever since I was in high school. I'm not as fast as Makkari. I've always kind of been a lazy runner, but I ran. I considered myself a runner, and it was a very natural first step for me. But the training was really more focused on developing my core strength. Whenever I run like Makkari, I run while being on wires, and you have to wear this really tight harness. My superhero suit was very comfortable—I made sure of that. But wearing the harness was like running with a corset on. That was one of the most physically challenging things about being in Eternals. And I was supposed to make it look easy.
Is there a movie that has made a deep impact on you?
The French film Amélie, with Audrey Tautou. Here we have a film that has minimal dialogue, but there's so much happening. And Audrey is so expressive, and she speaks through her eyes and through her face. I was so intrigued with that movie. I would love to be in something like that.
In Sound of Metal, you played a teacher to a classroom of deaf students. Was it interesting to work on that film?
It brought me back to my roots as a teacher, and it felt very natural, but at the same time, I had never had a classroom that was full of just deaf students, like I did in the film. I was fascinated with Riz Ahmed and the amount of immersion that he did to prepare for that role. I really saw him dive into the deaf community in New York City. He was socializing. He would go to weddings! He was in it, and it really showed.
You have beautiful hands. Watching you sign is mesmerizing.
Thank you. When I was born, I was this little thing. And my parents said, “Oh my god, look at her hands. They’re so big.” They never dreamed that that little baby would end up using her hands to communicate.
Hair by Ali Pirzadeh for Dyson Hair at CLM; makeup by Daniel Sallstrom for Chanel at MA+ Group; manicure by Michelle Saunders for Nailtopia. Set Design by Gary Card at Streeters. Produced by Wes Olson and Hannah Murphy at Connect the Dots; production manager: Zack Higginbottom at Connect the Dots; photo assistants: Antonio Perricone, Jeff Gros, Morgan Pierre; digital technician: Michael Preman; lighting technician: Keith Coleman; key grip: Scott Froschauer; retouching: Graeme Bulcraig at Touch Digital; senior style editor: Allia Alliata di Montereale; senior fashion market editor: Jenna Wojciechowski; fashion assistants: Julia McClatchy, Antonio Soto, Nycole Sariol, Sage McKee, Josephine Chumley, Rosa Schorr; production assistants: Tchad Cousins, Juan Diego Calvo, Gina York, Brandon Fried, Nico Robledo, Kein Milledge; hair assistants: Tommy Stanton, Sol Rodriquez, Andi Ojeda; makeup assistants: Tami Elsombati, Bridgett O’Donnell; manicure assistant: Pilar Lafargue; set coordinator: Sarah Hein; set assistants: Olivia Giles, Seth Powsner, King Owusu; tailors: Suzi Bezik, Cardi Mooshool Alvaji; tailor assistant: Elma Click