Oscar Isaac has been in some of the biggest movie franchises in the past few years, from Star Wars to Dune. So, it was no surprise to see him starring as the titular superhero in Moon Knight, a Disney+ Hotstar series that is set in what is arguably THE biggest film franchise of the last decade – the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
This is not even his first foray into a Marvel superhero movie though – he played the villain Apocalypse in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse (before Walt Disney Company bought 20th Century Fox and the X-Men franchise along with it) and voices Spider-Man 2099 in Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse and its upcoming sequel.
However, Isaac, 43, was still initially hesitant to take on a role within the MCU itself, and only decided to make Moon Knight because of its disconnection from the main universe, as well as the relatively unknown quality of the character.
“It’s very exciting to feel such a big excitement growing over a character that's not very, very well known,” the American actor said during a virtual roundtable interview with Asian Pacific journalists.
“When it first came my way, I wasn't sure, because I had just done Star Wars and other of these kinds of bigger films and I kind of wanted to go back to more psychologically character-driven stories. And then when I found that there was room to make that kind of story in the world of the MCU (with Moon Knight), I thought that was a really exciting opportunity!”
Created by Marvel writer Doug Moench and artist Don Perlin, Moon Knight made his debut in 1975’s Werewolf by Night #32. In the comics, Marc Spector is a mercenary who against the wishes of his cruel employer, Raoul Bushman during a mission in Egypt and was beaten up and left for dead in the desert. However. Khonshu, the Egyptian Moon God, resurrects him and appoints him as his Avatar on Earth, giving Marc superhuman powers and a magical, indestructible suit.
Seeking revenge against Bushman, Spector creates two other identities – millionaire entrepreneur Steven Grant and cab driver Jake Lockley – to aid his mission, but as time went by, these multiple personalities became part of his psyche, and Marc is later diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).
For the TV show, only two of these personalities are retained (for now) – the original Marc, and Steven, who has been reimagined as a mild-mannered gift shop assistant in London. The antagonist this time is not Bushman either, but rather, a former Avatar of Konshu named Arthur Harrow, played by Ethan Hawke.
Having to juggle two distinctly different personalities within the same character proved a challenge at first, and Isaac had to initially request that they not film scenes with both of them on the same day.
“At first, I asked if we could just not do Mark and Steven on the same day. For a while... maybe two months, I basically just stayed with Steven,” he recalled.
“Then slowly as I got more of a handle on Mark, I started to get a little more comfortable being able to switch him on during the same week, and then on the same day, and eventually in the same scene. So it was a process of getting more flexible, mentally and physically, between the two.”
Besides the distinct mental and personality traits of Marc and Steven, Isaac also had to juggle the physical aspects of the two, including how they would react and move during a fight.
“Mark Spector is a trained ex-mercenary, and an ex-boxer as well. So we talked a lot about the way that he would fight, and the way that he stands. He's also someone that doesn't deflect a lot, especially when he's in the suit. He's someone that takes a lot of punches as well. And that's also part of his brutality,” Isaac explained.
However, according to him, another aspect of Moon Knight is that in the comics, he is so difficult to fight because he's completely unpredictable, because sometimes the other personalities can take over as well.
“So when Steven comes in, there's something that's a little bit wilder about him. Steven doesn't really know how to fight, so he's just reacting a lot more and that makes for a very dynamic physical character," he said.
Admitting that he had never heard of the character before he got the role, Isaac, who used to collect comic books as well, did a deep dive into the Moon Knight comics, starting from his first appearances, up to the current run by writer Jed MacKay and artists Alessandro Cappuccio and Federico Sabbatini.
However, it was writer Warren Elis’ 2014-15 run on the title that stood out the most for him.
“I really liked Warren Ellis’ run – the imagery was so beautiful. It felt like that one really got more into the psychological feel (of Moon Knight) – the visuals were a manifestation of what he was feeling inside,” he recalled. “For me, that was really important, that everything that's happening is an external representation of what's happening internally.”
The chance to call attention to the mental health aspect of the character was also another draw for Isaac, who called himself an “old school kind of actor” with “lofty ideals”.
“As pretentious as that might sound, (I want to) help people with the problems of living by acting out different things, and things that are difficult to talk about,” he said.
“With this story, it’s about the mental health aspect – the DID and what it feels like to create different psychological constructs in order to survive trauma, and survive abuse. So it was really important that everything got oriented around that idea for me,” he said, adding that Disney and Marvel also consulted with relevant parties to make sure they dealt with the subject in a respectful way.
Moon Knight starts streaming on Disney+ Hotstar today (March 30)