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Oscar Isaac is no stranger to the Marvel Universe or the corporate Disney machine, having appeared in the X-Men and Star Wars film franchises. His experiences on both properties are what gave him serious doubt when Kevin Feige came knocking with an opportunity to play Steven Grant/Marc Spector in a Moon Knight TV series for Disney+.
It's not hard to see why Isaac thought of turning it down: his portrayal as Apocalypse in the follow-up to Days of Future Past failed to connect with audiences while the Star Wars sequel trilogy was a massive hit, but still left some fans wanting.
"My initial thing was, 'No, I don't want to go back into that kind of machinery,'" the actor admitted while speaking to Empire for the magazine's April 2022 issue (now on sale). "I did that already. The last thing I want is to be on a massive set, [thinking], 'What am I doing here?'... Often on these big movies, it can feel like you're building the plane on the runway. The idea of getting back to 'handmade' films, character studies... I was desperate for that feeling."
While Moon Knight was always going to feature the grandiose comic book storytelling the MCU is known for, Isaac saw an opportunity to sneak an indie-sized story about a man struggling with his own identity into the blockbuster proceedings.
"It felt 'handmade,'" he explained. "And it's the first legitimate Marvel character study since Iron Man. Plus...I thought, 'Maybe I can hijack this thing. Maybe this is the chance to do something really f***ing nutty on a major stage."
"He clearly likes this world — Star Wars and X-Men — but we hadn't found the right thing, necessarily," added Feige. "We started talking about Moon Knight and he a couple of outside-the-box ideas that were like, 'Maybe this could work...' And spoiler alert: they do."
As the actor has stated before, the lack of box office expectations allowed the show (which he helps executive produce) take some truly staggering creative risks. "How can we make this experiential thing, so we're inside the eyes of the character, living in his state of fear and the unknown?" Isaac mused.
The show picks up in London where a nervous wreck of a man, Steven Grant, suffers from blackouts and terrifying visions. He can't tell the difference between what's real and what's imagined. That's because Steven is one of two personalities occupying the body of Marc Spector, a mercenary who has the ability to call upon the powers of an Egyptian moon god (reportedly voiced by Mythic Quest's F. Murray Abraham).
"What I love about this thing is that it's an exploration of a mind that doesn't know itself," Isaac added. "A human being that doesn't know his own brain. I found that really moving: what the mind is capable of as far as survival. But the workload was massive: the technical challenge of embodying these different characters, physically, the way I manifest my body... It required a lot of energy."
The easiest way to tell the difference between Steven and Marc is their accents. Steven is British and Marc is American. It's not rocket science, but "in the initial script, the difference between [them] was in attitude," revealed head writer and executive producer Jeremy Slater (Death Note, The Umbrella Academy). "It was Oscar who said, 'What about an accent?'"
"He's playing radically different people. That's scary, and a lot of actors could have phoned it in," Slater said. "But Oscar's thing was, 'This may be a superhero show, but I'm going to approach it like it's Shakespeare. Ultimately, the key to letting the audience know which persona is in charge of Spector's body at any given point came from an Isaac-originated brainwave."
Moon Knight premieres on Disney+ Wednesday, March 30.