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The Surprising Actress Who Inspired Sprite's Character In Marvel's Eternals

At a presser for Marvel's latest potential mega-hit, "Eternals," Lia McHugh revealed how director and co-writer Chloé Zhao ("Nomadland") helped the actress embrace the dissonance between her character's age — approximately thousands of years old — and her appearance, which is that of a tween. In the film, McHugh takes on the role of Sprite, a Loki-like member of the Eternals, whose restlessness compels her to play mischievous tricks on those around her "often at the expense of (her) own kind" (via Insider). After sharing that she could relate to Sprite as someone who's "always looked younger" than she is, McHugh was asked how Zhao helped her navigate the inherently conflicted character and her emotional timeline "even though (they were) shooting out of order."

In talking about Sprite, McHugh explained that while she "goes through a lot of emotions" over the course of her time on earth, "she expresses them in a sort of sassy ... way, as ... an old lady would." So just how did the soon-to-be fifteen-year-old actress manage to demonstrate that difficult balance of experience-born sardonicism and naive wonder so integral to the role?

Lia McHugh got some inspiration from Dame Maggie Smith

As it turns out, Zhao told McHugh to take her cues from Oscar-winning actress, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and veritable UNESCO world treasure, Maggie Smith. The "Eternals" actress took her inspiration for Sprite's conflicted inner and outer response to the world and events around her from Smith, and explained that her goal was to "sort of be like an old lady, but also have the wonderment of a child." 

For her part, Zhao said that she "didn't do much" when it came to steering the young actor in the right direction, and that while McHugh was narrowly focused on what a given scene required of her character, she herself was (understandably) often distracted. "She's always on point," the director said of the young actress, adding that she "comes in with her homework." Though she couldn't give too much away, McHugh did say that Sprite is "wanting to be of this world, but can't," and therefore "deals with a lot of emotional stuff ... being in the body of a child."

Marvel and Maggie Smith fans alike can look forward to seeing McHugh channel the "Gosford Park" and "Downton Abbey" star in Marvel's "Eternals" on November 5, or streaming on Disney+ after a forty-five day window following its theatrical release (via Collider).