Why Oscar Isaac had ‘mostly reservations’ about making Marvel’s ‘Moon Knight’ after ‘Star Wars’ and ‘X-Men’
When it comes to mega-franchises, Oscar Isaac has experienced both the highs (his heralded and groundbreaking entry into the Star Wars universe as Poe Dameron) and lows (the critical backlash to 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, where he played the titular supervillain).
So it would be understandable if the actor had some reservations about joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe so soon after landing his last X-wing and hanging up the flight jacket.
“I had mostly reservations,” Isaac clarified in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment to promote Marvel’s new Disney+ series Moon Knight, the sixth MCU-expanding show to premiere on the streaming service and first to introduce a new lead superhero.
“It was a very difficult decision for exactly the reasons you just said. And so it was really important that if I was going to do it, it had to feel like there was something really different and special and unique about it. And so one of the first things I did was I started to create this really weird, different character that wasn’t necessarily on the page. And in a way it was first to get me interested, but also to see if [Kevin Feige] and everybody at Marvel was interested in a collaboration. And so I presented that character to them and they, Kevin, said, ‘Yeah, go for it.’”
That weird, different character is Steven Grant, an awkward London museum “gift shopist” who sleeps with ankle restraints to keep himself from a dangerous sleepwalking habit. What Steven doesn’t initially realize is that he’s also Marc Spector, an American mercenary who has become the human avatar of Khonsu, the Egyptian god of the moon, in a long battle for the soul of humanity against goddess Ammit and her devoted cult leader Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke in his first comic book role).
That means it’s a dual role for Isaac, who blew away his collaborators on set.
“This sounds a little bit cliché, but going to the set every day was like a master class in storytelling, because the commitment that guy brought to his craft day in and day out was mesmerizing,” says executive producer Grant Curtis. “It was invigorating and energized the whole cast and crew.”
As comic fans know, Spector’s multiple personalities are a result of dissociative identity disorder (DID). And Moon Knight’s team recognized their responsibility in approaching the series’ mental health themes delicately.
“Dealing with DID was at the forefront of our minds every single day,” says Justin Benson, who directed two episodes with filmmaking partner Aaron Moorhead (Synchronic, The Endless). “You know, we got to work with experts and also Oscar especially was extremely mindful of making sure that we present it with the respect that it deserves. Of course, it is a fictionalized narrative. It is not the definitive presentation of the disorder. But it was something that was extremely important to us but also just on a human level to have a conversation in what otherwise is sometimes called ‘popcorn cinema.’”
With its Egyptian mythology and themes, Moon Knight is also Marvel’s first project to center on the Middle-east. It’s one reason the studio recruited acclaimed Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Diab (Cairo 678), who thoroughly impressed the studio with a 200-page pitch, to executive producer and direct four episodes. The series also co-stars Egyptian-Palestinian Ramy breakout May Calamawy as Spector’s wife, the archaeologist Layla El-Faouly.
“It was very important that the burden that I had was not just to succeed, it was to succeed and show that I’m not here because I’m Egyptian. It was very important for me to show I’m here because I’m the best director for this show,” Diab says.
“That was the first responsibility. The second thing was how to show Egypt without Orientalism. We always are depicted in a way that is very exotic and dehumanizing and primitive. And we call this ‘Orientalism’ that looks at us [that way]… we want to be normal.” Diab points to Hollywood’s clichéd depiction of Egypt’s Giza pyramids, which are located right outside of the Cairo metropolis, as opposed to the middle of the desert as we commonly see them in film. He also made headlines recently for calling Wonder Woman 1984’s portrayal of Egypt “a disgrace for us.” (In his first Marvel-based film, the Fox-produced X-Men: Apocalypse — where Isaac played En Sabah Nur, an ancient Egyptian mutant bent on world conquest — some critics called out the depiction of Egyptian culture and religion.)
“It’s a testament to Kevin Feige and Grant Curtis that they worked with someone like Mohamed Diab because that automatically is bringing an authenticity to it that I don’t think anyone who’s not from Egypt would be able to bring,” says Calamawy. “And especially Mohammed because he’s very passionate and he’s very dedicated to the details and the nuances that are easy to miss if you’re not really from there.”
Moon Knight is now streaming.
— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by John Santo
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