Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
In Marvel’s latest series MOON KNIGHT, British Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac) starts off a lonely, nebbish museum worker suffering from a nasty bout of insomnia that causes him to awaken in harmful situations. Only as things progress, do we soon learn that he’s just one side of two identities, including former U.S. Marine Marc Spector, struggling with dissociative identity disorder. After being granted the powers of an Egyptian moon god, he’s pursued by judgmental religious zealot Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), determined to shed light on a deadly mystery Steven/ Marc have been thrust into.
Similarly, the series itself – directed by Mohamed Diab, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead – keeps the audience on their toes attempting to decipher what’s real and what isn’t thanks to its unreliable narrator at the center of the dramatics. At the must-see series’ recent virtual press conference, a few of the creatives and cast shared a few fun tidbits you should know.
Oscar Isaac was excited to play in a new sandbox: Isaac was enticed by the opportunity to do something completely different than what he’d seen in the Marvel Universe. It was the ability, “To really focus on this internal struggle of this character, and to use Egyptian iconography and the superhero genre and this language to talk about this real internal struggle that this person is having. And also to create an indelible, unusual character, particularly with Steven Grant.” He elucidates, “It means that you’re just in the skin of this guy, and you’re seeing things happen. You’re experiencing it just as he’s experiencing it. There’s something that’s terrifying about that. I think [with] Steven, there’s a sense of humor there that is different from what we’ve seen. There was a chance to do a different type of comedy than we’ve seen of somebody that doesn’t know they’re funny, doesn’t know they’re being funny.” He finishes, “Then to find the counterpoint of that with Marc, in some ways leaning into a bit of the stereotype of the tortured, dark vigilante guy, but what makes him so special is that he has this little Englishman living inside of him.”
Ethan Hawke was thrilled to play a chill antagonist. He explains, “The history of movies are paved with storytellers using mental illness as a building block for the villain. There’s countless stories of mentally ill villains, and we have a mentally ill hero. And that’s fascinating because we’ve now inverted the whole process. So now as the antagonist, I can’t be crazy because the hero’s crazy. So I have to kind of find a sane lunatic or a sane malevolent force. That was an interesting riddle for me to figure out how to be in dynamics with what Oscar was doing.” He continues, “Mohamed was really embracing his mental illness as a way to create an unreliable narrator. Once you’ve broken the prism of reality, everything that the audience is seeing is from a skewed point of view and that’s really interesting for the villain because am I even being seen as I am? I think that was our riddle, and we came up with somebody who was trying to save the world. In his mind, he’s Saint Harrow, you know? I mean, he thinks he’s gonna be part of the great solution.”
One key to Oscar Isaac’s success playing dual characters: hire his brother. He says, “That’s the closest thing to me there is on Earth. [Michael Hernandez] came in and he would play either Steven or Marc, even do the accent and everything, both accents. That was really helpful to have someone that’s not only a great actor but also shares my DNA to play off of. Something that I didn’t anticipate was how technically demanding that was going to be of having to show up and decide which character I was going to play first. Then try to block that out, give my brother notes, and then do the scene, and then switch characters, and then figure it out. The most fun thing about acting is acting opposite somebody and letting something spontaneous happen that you didn’t expect.”
Oscar Isaac pulled character inspiration from THE OFFICE, Peter Sellers and others. To nail the British accent, the affable actor let a few shows to inspire him. “I love English humor, like THE OFFICE and STATH LETS FLATS. I thought there’s an opportunity here to maybe make something. What if we make him English? What if Peter Sellers was approached with a Marvel project, what would he do? I started thinking about that, and that led me to Karl Pilkington from AN IDIOT ABROAD.”
MOON KNIGHT’s tone is different than other Marvel series’ and films. Director Mohamed Diab says, “One of the things that I’m really proud of is putting all those genres together and blending them in a way that doesn’t feel alien. You have horror, you have action, you have comedy, and you have very serious drama. And you never feel like, okay, this is not going well. It all blends in a very good way.”
Shooting in real locations enhanced the drama. Ethan Hawke says,“Getting to be on the deserts in Jordan and literally being on location where they shot LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. When you’re really in the desert, it’s so beautiful and you feel, I don’t know, I felt some kind of connection to the cinema history of the desert. It elevated our collective imagination and it broadened the scope of the show.”
Designing the costumes was an experimental process. Executive producer, Grant Curtis says, “This character has been around since 1975. This team of artisans and craftsmen and women were able to translate to the suit and really take inspiration from a lot of the great pages of 50-plus years. It was really best idea wins – both in the Mr. Knight, and the Moon Knight costumes.” Isaac adds, “It was an investigation and a collaboration. There was a moment there when, originally, Marc was Mr. Knight and Steven was Moon Knight. We tried to make it all connect, and so that switched. But Meghan [Kasperlik], our costume designer, she just did such an astounding job taking it from a concept to something that I could wear, and move in, and fight in. The craftsmanship was just astonishing.”
MOON KNIGHT looks and sounds unlike any other Marvel show or film. Curtis credits Diab’s role in attracting amazing talented artists. “The talent that came around after Mohamed joined brought so much authenticity in the storytelling, it’s immeasurable. Because you look at Hesham [Nazih], our composer, he came to the table because of [Mohamed]. Ahmed [Hafez], the editor of Episodes 3 and 4, because of [Mohamed]. That’s one thing I’m excited about is for people to start reading the credits. Because it’s breathtaking when you see the names associated with this project. It’s amazing.”
MOON KNIGHT is streaming exclusively on Disney+ starting March 30th.