Naturally, the task of adapting a property with the enormity (and $200 million of Disney’s money) of Eternals had to be overwhelming. Yet, Zhao’s timely moment with Hayek was not only an emotional salve but it may have served as ongoing inspiration for her adaptation of Ajak, the visually-loud Jack Kirby-created (notably male) Marvel Comics character, a task she juggled while conducting cast members such as Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Barry Keoghan, Gemma Chan and reunited Game of Thrones Starks Richard Madden and Kit Harington.
For those who don’t know Ajak, Hayek is tackling a character who debuted in the Aug. 1976-stamped Eternals #2, a member of a sub-group of virtual immortals called the Polar Eternals, who possess superhuman abilities of flight, strength, stamina, durability, and the manipulation of molecules. Moreover, he has walked the Earth for many millennia, having fought in the Trojan Wars, in which he was recognized as the legendary Ajax, and notably spent time in ancient Central America, where he was known as Quetzalcoatl to the Aztecs and Tecumotzin to the Inca.
So, where would one start in attempting to adapt all of that? Well, it seems that the healing energy that Hayek herself offered Zhao during that fateful moment of ambivalence was a terrific template for Ajak’s onscreen manifestation. It was a surprising role for Hayek, who states, “I knew the name of my character. But don’t look for it in the comics. When I did look at the comics, I was a man.”
Hayek’s Ajak is described in the story as the “spiritual leader” of the Eternals, although, if the dynamic of the comic remains in place here, then leadership in the field will fall to Madden’s Ikaris. Yet, while Ajak is poised to serve as the sagely fulcrum on which the group wayward immortals hinges, Marvel has been playing coy with the extent of her role, as exemplified by the recently-dropped early footage of the film, which briefly shows her on horseback, living a cowgirl’s life, Stetson and all. However, don’t expect her to spend the film lassoing calves, since allegedly leaked photos of the character’s Hasbro Marvel Legends action figure show her in a more regally-themed dress and a gold helmet that matches the motif of her male comic counterpart.
Hayek is proud of the proverbial handprint she’s setting in the MCU, and sees her casting as a positive sign for diversity, explaining how it was the realization of what “people in power” wanted to happen, notably Marvel vice president of film production Victoria Alonso. “I cannot love this woman more. She is extraordinary,” says Hayek of Alonso. “She was very supportive to all the cast. And when you talk to her, you can see that this was something meaningful to her for a long time. Even [Marvel chief] Kevin Feige was very proud of it. But I was terrified. They tell you you’re going to be in this movie, but they can’t give you a script, and you have to sign the contract. You have to negotiate and sign the contract, and you cannot tell anyone.”
Exactly how Marvel’s still-mysterious Eternals entry ultimately turns out is certainly one of the biggest nail-biters for fans who fear that the 13-year-running MCU might have already peaked. The film is scheduled to hit theaters on Friday, Nov. 5. In the meantime, you’ll be able to catch Salma Hayek—alongside Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson—in action sequel The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, which bows on June 16.