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INTERVIEW: MOON KNIGHT Cast and Creatives on Character Growth, Collaboration, and Being On Location

What does it take to create a show about a superhero who is the avatar of an Egyptian moon god?

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Credit: Marvel Studios

With the premiere of Moon Knight, audiences got to meet the titular superhero along with his alter egos, Marc Spector and Steven Grant, both played by Oscar Isaac. What starts as a story about a mild-mannered gift shop attendant quickly takes a turn when Steven Grant finds himself in the alps and fighting a gaggle of people. By the end of the first episode, we see Marc Spector take control and become Moon Knight to fight a giant demonic jackal.

The Beat was on hand with director and executive producer Mohamed Diab, directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, executive producer Grant Curtis, and cast members Oscar Isaac, May Calamawy, and Ethan Hawke when they spoke about the series during their press conference. The group spoke about bringing the character to the MCU, the nuances of the characters, filming on location, and what audiences should take away from all of this.

Bringing Moon Knight To The MCU

Credit: Marvel Studios

Grant Curtis spoke on bringing the superhero to Disney+, saying, “Moon Knight, in particular, has been on Kevin Feige‘s radar from day one. I mean, you look at his history, first appeared in Werewolf by Night in 1975.  Then, he kind of bounced around in the Marvel Universe for the next five years, and he got his own offering in 1980. When you look at years and decades of storytelling, as the great storytellers and artists on the Moon Knight pages have been doing, I think this was a natural progression – a merger into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think it was the perfect time.”

As Moon Knight, Oscar Isaac spoke about the differences between playing Marc and Steven. He said, “I think the story is so point-of-view. 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 Steven, in particular, there’s a sense of humor there that is different from what we’ve seen. I think Marvel, in particular, has done such an amazing job at combining action and comedy in such a great way.”

“I thought with Steven, there was a chance to do a different type of comedy than we’ve seen, of somebody that doesn’t know they’re being funny. That was really exciting. And 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.”

Marc and Steven On Screen

Credit: Marvel Studios

Of course, in the series, there are often scenes where Marc and Steven are speaking to one another, and Isaac spoke on acting with that process. “The first step was to hire my brother, Michael Hernandez, to come in and be the other me. That’s the closest thing to me there is on Earth. He came in and he would play either Steven or Marc, even do the accent and everything, both accents. So that was really helpful to have someone that’s not only a great actor but also shares my DNA to play off of.”

“That was something that I didn’t anticipate which was how technically demanding that was going to be, of having to show up and decide which character I was going to play first, and then trying to block that out, give my brother notes, and then do the scene, and then switch characters, and then figure it out. Because one of the fun things, if not the most fun thing about acting, is acting opposite somebody and letting something spontaneous happen that you didn’t expect. But there wasn’t really an opportunity to do that and still have to try to find what makes it feel spontaneous and not all planned out. So that was challenging.”

Co-star May Calamawy, who plays Marc’s estranged wife Layla, even praised Isaac for being like an acting teacher to her. “He really understands it at such a cellular level,” she said. “And when he would be each character, it was really two separate people, and I could feel the energy. I wouldn’t even have to ask who he was. With Marc, I would find myself more guarded around him. With Steven, I’d feel more nurturing. There was no intellect or thought process involved in it. It was just visceral. It was so fun to work with you and experience that.”

A More Three-Dimensional Character

Credit: Marvel Studios

Ethan Hawke was also quick to compliment Calamawy for pushing to have a more three-dimensional character. “Yeah, and I’m relatively new to this whole process and industry,” Calamawy said. “I just didn’t know that I was going to be able to take the space to collaborate in that way. And then seeing that I had it, I think it took me a second to trust my opinion. I’ve been in this place where I’m like, I’m just going to do what I’m told.”

Calamawy continued, “But everyone was empowering. I guess the main thing with Layla, I didn’t have this idea to pull from of this woman and it was just really important to me that as someone who’s grown up in the Middle East that the more I ended up taking from myself, the better, the easier it became. I wanted to find a story that would work with someone who had a similar conditioning, who would deal with situations a certain way. What would that look like for someone raised there versus someone raised in the West? And it was confronting in many ways, but when I felt okay to take that space, I feel like it was happening in a more fluid way.”

A Malevolent Force

Credit: Marvel Studios

Hawke, who plays the antagonist Arthur Harrow commented on playing a villain in a series like Moon Knight. “The history of movies is paved with storytellers using mental illness as a building block for the villain. There are countless stories of mentally ill villains, and we have a mentally ill hero. That’s fascinating because we’ve now inverted the whole process. Now as the antagonist, I can’t be crazy, because the hero’s crazy. So, I have to 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 continued, “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. 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.”

Collaboration and Filming

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When it came to the filming and technical creation of the story, the group talked about how collaborative the process was between the creatives behind the camera and the talent in front. “On the weekend, while we were shooting, we would all sit around the table and have a Sunday brunch and we would all just talk about the episode. We’d talk about the show and what we wanted to do,” Isaac explained.

“How it could be better. What did that mean? Could that be more interesting?” Hawke added. “And it brought our collective imagination into one thing. That made it easier when we’d be directed by [different directors.] It was always part of the same team. The imaginative force behind it was the same.”

Director Aaron Moorhead said,  “Yeah, those days were probably the days when the work felt like it was getting done, in terms of building a plan to execute, more than any other single day. They were very exciting.”

And, as much of the filming was done on-location, Hawke talked about one particular moment that stood out. “There’s one that jumps to mind. Getting to be on the deserts in Jordan and literally being on-location where they shot Lawrence of Arabia. One of the things that surprised me about the Marvel Universe is that it’s kind of fun acting in front of a lot of green screens. I come from theatre training. I enjoyed all that, pretending something was there, pretending you’re on top of a pyramid.”

“But then 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. And the people there in Jordan treated us so well, and it elevated our collective imagination, I think, and it broadened the scope of the show. So I loved being there.”

The Journey of the Show

Credit: Marvel Studios

Finally, director and EP Mohamed Diab talked about the fact that Marc has DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and what this journey taught him about it. Diab admitted that most of what he knew about the disorder only came from movies. “What I learned through the journey of doing the show is that the character needs to live with themselves, the identities. I felt that. I identified with that by the way each of us… the persona is the mask that we’re putting [on]. I’m right now putting a mask on to hide my desires, to hide everything — the other real character in me. What I learned from Marc and Steven is I need to be the same. I need to be one person. I think this is the struggle that all of us through the journey of living are trying to achieve.”

“I think that is the thrust of it, you know?” added Isaac. “That that in itself is its own superpower. To be able to live through abuse or trauma and survive it, and then come to terms with that, as opposed to pushing it all away. And to see that journey happen, I think that’s a really powerful thing.”

Moon Knight streams exclusively on Disney+ on Wednesdays!

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