Moon Knight is Marvel’s latest small-screen offering, and it’s a brave new world for the MCU.
Oscar Isaac plays the dual roles of Steven Grant and Marc Spector, AKA Moon Knight, a mercenary with dissociative identity disorder who serves the ancient Egyptian moon god Khonshu. Steven is a mild-mannered, socially awkward Londoner working in a museum gift shop who suffers from blackouts and what he thinks are bizarre dreams. However, he soon finds out that these are caused by Marc, a hard-headed man of action from Chicago, taking control of his body. He eventually comes to blows with Ethan Hawke’s cult leader Arthur Harrow, while May Calamawy plays Layla, a woman from Marc’s past.
Speaking to GamesRadar+ in London, Isaac is thoughtful and considered while talking about working with director Mohamed Diab, playing two roles in one, his future in the MCU, and, yes, that internet-breaking accent. Here’s our full Q&A, edited for length and clarity.
This must have been a really interesting role for you to sink your teeth into as you’ve got Marc and Steven, who are quite literally two sides of a coin. What can you tell me about their different relationships with Layla and how you approached those nuances in the performance?
Oscar Isaac: It was interesting because Mohamed [Diab] and Sarah [Goher], his wife and creative partner, took the role of Layla and found a way to deepen it by making much stronger connections. So, for instance, the fact that you find out that Marc and her were married, or are married. The important thing that came out of all our conversations with Mohamed is creating a character with Steven that is desperate for connection and love, but just doesn’t have the social skills for it. Because of the blackouts and because of his lack of history, that creates an introverted personality, and yet all he wants is to connect.
When Layla comes into his life and seems like the only person that can help him, his life suddenly starts to both fall apart and light up, because he has someone and she’s saying that they’re supposed to be married, but she’s mistaken him for someone else. Then on the other side is Marc, who is pushing everyone away, particularly Layla. And we come to find out that that’s because, in his mind, he’s trying to protect her. There was that push and pull and this budding romance that Steven has with her, and Marc, who is filled with regret and shame and just wants to push her away for her own safety.
In terms of that push and pull, there are these different ideas of justice and retribution that are prevalent throughout the whole show. What do you think those things mean, to Marc and to Steven?
OI: For me, it was really important that everything in the show visually, thematically, all of it, is an outward expression of an internal struggle that Steven and Marc are having. The idea of [ancient Egyptian moon god] Khonshu, for me, was more about the symbolic power of what Khonshu represented.
Everyone’s talking about the accent. Did you expect for that to be such a big talking point?
OI: Not really, actually. But weirdly enough, I’ve done English [accents] so many times. I was King John in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood – a movie where the idea was that we were speaking French, but we all had English accents – and [in Charlie Stratton erotic thriller] In Secret. Agora was a film I did with Rachel Weisz where I had an English accent. I’ve done it quite a bit. But I guess nobody knew who I was, so nobody cared, really. And now, because I’m more visible, and it’s a Marvel show, there was just a bit more more talk. Also it’s a time when everybody’s got to have a very strong opinion about things. I get it, it subverts your idea of what you know, it’s like, [deep voice] “It’s Moon Knight so everyone thinks that everyone’s going to talk like this.” The fact that there was just a little timid northeast London accent that pops out, I can see now why maybe that was a bit startling.
I read in another interview that you had watched An Idiot Abroad and that inspired it.
OI: I mean, a bit. Maybe it inspired the quality of it, because obviously I think he’s more northern. But yeah, it was that sense of humor and the idea of someone that’s a total fish out of water, and the humor comes out of his reactions and his non-reactions. They’re not jokes, you know, sometimes you’re like, ‘I don’t think he knows he’s being funny.’ It’s that idea I really liked. I listened to Russell Kane as well as a Jewish man from that part of town that I wanted to emulate a bit.
This was not for the accent, but again, for a way of behaving, was [reality series] Love on the Spectrum. It’s just such a beautiful show, and it’s so relatable, because it’s all the same feelings we have, but they just don’t have the social masks that we’ve learned to put on to fake it. I loved giving Steven that element. And so the accent really comes from a character place of being an introvert, being a Jewish man, a young Jewish man from London, so like, [North London borough] Enfield, that area? And then from there to finding the sense of humor.
What can you say – probably not a lot – about the way that the series ends? And what can we expect as the show wraps up?
OI: I wouldn’t want to spoil anything, but what I can say is that what we really tried to do is map out the journey of integration and then how that is a step in healing from trauma, and that the real superpower that this character, or these characters, have is their experiences. And when those things can be integrated, as opposed to pushed away, that’s where real strength comes from.
Director Mohamed Diab said that he could see Moon Knight being part of the MCU for 10 years. How do you feel about that?
OI: I didn’t look at my contract [laughs]. I mean, I don’t know. For me, it’s such a point of view character that seeing him in something that was a bigger point of view, I don’t know how that character operates in that world.
So you can’t see any sort of crossover?
OI: I mean, maybe. Obviously, there’s the Midnight Sons comic book, which is the kind of supernatural Avengers with Blade and Ghost Rider and Punisher. The idea is really interesting, but it would have to be like, is there something interesting to tell about this character in that world?