Press Conference: Cast & Crew of ‘Moon Knight’ Reveal More About Marvel’s Latest Dark Fantasy
Moon Knight is the latest offering to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The series, premiering on Disney+ on March 30, will debut the titular character being brought to life by Oscar Isaac. The actor plays Steven Grant, an employee at a museum who struggles with a sleeping disorder, only to discover that he has dissociative identity disorder. One of his personalities is Marc Spector, a mercenary whose existence is shrouded by the presence of an Egyptian god, Khonshu, who bestows Steven/Marc with the power to become Moon Knight.Along for the ride in this dark fantasy are May Calamawy, as Layla El-Faouly, and Ethan Hawke as Arthur Harrow, to round out the starring cast.
Geeks of Color attended a virtual global press conference, moderated by Entertainment Weekly’s Devan Coggan, to hear about the MCU’s new show from Isaac, Calamawy, and Hawke, along with director and executive producer Mohamed Diab, executive producer Grant Curtis, and directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.
*This press conference has been edited and condensed for clarity*
Devan Coggan: Grant, I’d love to start with you. Tell us a little bit about when Marvel started thinking about bringing Moon Knight into the MCU, and what was it about this character that most intrigued you guys creatively?
Grant Curtis: Well, I think Moon Knight has been on Kevin Feige’s radar from day one. I mean, you look at his history. He first appeared in “Werewolf by Night” in 1975. Then, he kind of bounced around in the Marvel Universe for the next five years. He got his own offering in 1980. I think this was a natural progression, a merger into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I think it was just like this was the perfect time.
Coggan: Oscar, you’re obviously no stranger to these big projects, like Star Wars and Dune. What was different about joining the Marvel world, specifically, with Moon Knight?
Oscar Isaac: I think that there was just — when I looked at it and we talked — Grant, and Kevin, and Mohamed, as well — it just seemed like there was a real opportunity to do something completely different, particularly in the MCU, and 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. So it felt like for me once I got a real take on how I wanted to play Steven and I brought that to everyone and they welcomed that with open arms, I also realized I had real, incredible collaborators and it was going to be a creative adventure.
Coggan: That makes sense. For you, what is it that makes Marc Spector and Steven Grant different from some of the heroes we may have seen in the past?
Isaac: Well, I think the story is so point of view. 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. So 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. And 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 funny. 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.
Coggan: May, you play Layla, who’s sort of an ally to both Steven and Marc. What was it about her that most intrigued you guys?
May Calamawy: About Layla? I love how strong she is. But at the same time, I felt like I got to play the full gamut of a woman with her because she’s strong and she’s for the people and fights for what she believes, but she’s also really vulnerable and scared. So that was fun for me.
Coggan: And Ethan, you play the sort of charismatic antagonist of this story and he’s a protagonist of his own story, we’ll say. But what was it about him that really hooked you and made you want to get involved in this story?
Ethan Hawke: Well, the history of movies are paved with storytellers using mental illness as a building block for the villain. I mean, 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 I have to kind of find a sane lunatic or a sane malevolent force. And that was an interesting riddle for me to figure out how to be in dynamics with what Oscar was doing. And Mohamed was really embracing his mental illness as a way to create an unreliable narrator. And 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?
Coggan: Mohamed, I’d love to talk to you a little bit about when you first got involved in this project, what was it that made you most excited about it?
Mohamed Diab: I come from a background that is very independent, small films, usually from the Middle East. I remember the first call between me and Oscar, and he told me, “Mohamed, what the hell are you doing here?” He called me privately. No, but Oscar was smart. He just wanted — why? Why am I here? And I remember telling him something about making intimate stories not exclusive to budget. I had other offers before to make big-budget movies, but I never connected to anything like this, intimate stories that had some big stuff happening around them. So just imagine that line. You as a normal person discovering that you have another identity that is a superhero. I was drawn right away. And the other aspect that really attracted me was the Egyptian part of it, the present and the past, the Egyptology of it. As an Egyptian, we always see us depicted or the Middle East depicted in a way that is – we call it orientalism, when you see us as exotic and dehumanized. Just showing us as a human, just normal human beings, through Layla’s character and seeing even Egypt as Egypt because 90 percent of the time, Egypt is not Egypt. So that’s really what attracted me.
Coggan: Justin and Aaron, what was it about this story that initially hooked you and made you want to be a part of it?
Justin Benson: Well, you know, in the roughly 50 years of comic books this character is somewhat defined by being bold and being an outsider. And there was something attractive about telling a superhero story like that, but then also working with a bunch of people who were so clearly going to make it something personal to them and then finding what’s personal in this at such a large scale. And then especially these three, finding this deep humanity of humor and pain and everything else in what you might call the great mythology of our time.
Aaron Moorhead: And weirdly enough, I mean, our great, modern myths are Marvel movies right now. And a lot of other places, but it is really cool to actually be a part of that and tell a story that’s actually about these ancient myths and things that we all grew up on.
Coggan: For the directors, how did you guys want to approach the tone? Were there any unusual reference points or things that you guys used to figure out what’s the right tone for this story?
Benson: I think in everything we do, our cheat to finding the humanity in characters is have them crack a joke in a stressful situation. And so Moon Knight obviously in decades of storytelling has been somewhat defined by that.
Moorhead: And actually, this is just to pay you guys some compliments, but we like to do all this preparation before set. You come with this plan of exactly how something will feel. But then in our kind of war room rehearsals or even just on the morning of, someone will come in with an idea and honestly, it could change the whole tone of a scene right then and there. And I feel like we all did it with confidence.
Diab: And one of the things that I’m really proud of — again collectively every one of us — is putting all those genres together and blending them in a way that doesn’t feel alien. ou 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.
Coggan: This is for Oscar and May. How did Oscar playing both Marc and Steven affect your dynamic on set, particularly given how different their relationship with Layla is?
Calamawy: Oscar did such a good job at, like — I watched Oscar a lot on this project. He was like — I didn’t tell you, but you were a big acting teacher for me throughout —
Isaac: I could tell.
Isaac: I could tell. You didn’t have to tell me.
Calmawy: Yeah, I don’t want to compliment him now. But he really understands it at such a cellular level. 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. With Steven, I’d feel more nurturing. And there was no intellect or thought process involved in it. It was just visceral, and it was so fun to work with you and experience that.
Coggan: The series delves into ancient Egyptian mythology. Did you do any deep dives on the history, or did you stick to the comics?
Hawke: We had a huge advantage, which is our director is Mohamed Diab who was an education — I mean, the way…the way Mohamed thinks — I think you can get a taste of it even here right now — the way you think, and talk, the way you edit, the way your brain works musically, it’s a different rhythm than the one I’ve grown up in. And it was wonderful. And the way [Diab] brought in other Egyptian actors and the way that [Diab] would think about approaching scenes was a unique point of view, and that was more valuable to us as performers than something we could learn in a textbook.
Coggan: May, was there something in particular that you — like a conversation you had about how you wanted to see Layla grow?
Calamawy: Yeah, and I’m relatively new to this whole process and industry, so I’m lucky that you were all fighting for Layla, as well. And I think that if…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. And yeah, they all just — they really heard me. But everyone — yeah, everyone was empowering.
And yeah, I guess the main thing with Layla, it was just really important to me that as someone who’s grown up in the Middle East that I take — the more I ended up taking from myself, the better — the easier it became. Because I wanted to find a story that would work with someone who had a similar conditioning, who would deal with situations a certain way.
Coggan: What do you hope audiences take away from Moon Knight when they finally get to meet Marc and Steven?
Diab: I wanna tell you, what I learned through the journey of doing the show is that the characters need to live with themselves, the identities. And 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 to hide my desires, to hide everything — the other real character in me. And I think what I’m learning — what I learned from Marc and Steven is I need to be the same. I need to be one person. And I think this is the struggle that all of us through the journey of living are trying to achieve.
Isaac: Integration, yeah.
Hawke: Yeah, well said.
Isaac: Yeah, very well said. And I think that is the thrust of it, you know? 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 push it all away. And to see that journey happen, I think that’s a really powerful thing.