How Angelina Jolie & A Laser Pen Helped Lauren Ridloff Shoot Eternals

In "Eternals," Lauren Ridloff plays Makkari, the first deaf superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You may also know Ridloff's face from her role as Connie in "The Walking Dead." She's a Tony-nominated actress, having starred on Broadway in "Children of a Lesser God," and now she's on a first-name basis with Angelina Jolie (she calls her "Angie").

Makkari is known as the fastest Eternal, and in the movie she'll be part of an ensemble of characters played by the likes of Salma Hayek, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Kit Harington, and Barry Keoghan. Working with all of these talented actors, Ridloff faced her own unique set of challenges in that she could not hear or always see cues for when the cameras had started rolling.

It seems that Jolie devised a simple workaround for this, involving a laser pen. Ridloff spoke about her experience on the "Eternals" set in an interview with The New York Times, where she said:

"In some scenes, I had to face a wall. As a deaf person, how do you cue me? At one point, I was sharing my frustration with Angie — Angelina Jolie — at a holiday party after a day of shooting. And she immediately made a suggestion — why don't we use a laser pen that special effects can easily erase? It was an 'Aha, wow' moment. Whenever I'm looking at a wall, the interpreters would use a laser pen to make a circle on the wall — 'rolling, rolling, rolling' — and once it went away that meant, 'Action!'"

Deaf Representation Onscreen

In recent years, Hollywood has been making some strides in its representation of deafness, with films like "A Quiet Place" and Amazon's "Sound of Metal" utilizing their sound design to great effect while depicting the experience of deaf characters. When the sound drops out in movies like those, it puts the audience in an empathetic position where, for the briefest of moments, they are having a vicarious deaf experience — seeing the world without hearing it.

Marlee Matlin is still the only deaf actor to have won an Academy Award, but it's no longer the case that she's the only deaf or ASL-fluent actor whose face the average viewer would know. There's also Millicent Simmonds, who played the headstrong daughter of John Krasinksi and Emily Blunt's characters in "A Quiet Place" and its sequel this year, "A Quiet Place Part II." And there's Paul Raci, who was raised by deaf parents, became fluent in ASL (American Sign Language), and worked as a court interpreter before Hollywood came knocking. He reportedly almost turned down his Oscar-nominated role in "Sound of Metal" because it paid less than what he was already making as an interpreter.

Now Ridloff is bringing the first deaf superhero to the MCU. She had this say about what that playing one of the Eternals means within the MCU's aspirational framework:

"It makes so much sense to have this diversity and representation within the MCU because what the MCU is offering the world is amazing. They're offering a way for us to hope, to be able to get up and keep going and fight for what's important. More and more people are starting to see themselves in that universe, and that's powerful."

"Eternals" is coming exclusively to theaters on November 5, 2021.