It’s not every day that a Latina woman in her 50s stars in a Marvel movie. It’s something that director Chloé Zhao was very aware of when she cast 54-year-old Salma Hayek to play Ajak in the upcoming “Eternals.”

“Ageism in Hollywood is a very concerning issue that we must stand against as artists,” Zhao tells Variety. “Aging is a beautiful part of life that should be celebrated. It’s really an honor for us to have Salma to lead the ‘Eternals’ family. I can’t take all the credits. When [executive producer] Nate Moore first showed me the treatment, which he worked on with [writers] Kaz Firpo and Ryan Firpo, I was impressed with the age diversity of the characters they put together, and it was a big part of what got me really excited about ‘Eternals.’”

While audiences have only seen a glimpse of Hayek in character, she says seeing herself for the first time in costume was an emotional experience. “I am claustrophobic. I was terrified of the costume. I was terrified. Because if I cannot move and it’s kind of thick… I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to be able to breathe. It’s going to drive me crazy,’” she says. “And I went to put it on, I found myself profoundly moved. It was a very strange experience because I didn’t expect it. I forgot about how does it fit? Am I going to get a claustrophobic attack? All I could see was, ‘Oh my God, here’s a Mexican female in this outfit and this is really happening. And yes, we get to be superheroes.’”

Zhao adds, “I think we all gasped. She looked so strong and beautiful.”

Zhao has been praised for her inclusive casting of the film, which includes Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Harish Patel, Barry Keoghan, Mia Dong-seok, Richard Madden and Kit Harington. “I think a lot of people are going to feel seen and that’s important and that’s what matters,” Hayek says.

She adds, “It’s not diverse for the sake of being diverse. It’s the way she chose every single one of us that really creates a family for the purpose of the Eternals. For the purpose of the film. It doesn’t feel forced.”

Manori Ravindran contributed to this report.