Moon Knight meets the hype as one of the most standout Marvel Studios productions. Combing elements of psychology, horror, Egyptology (that for once doesn’t feel Orientalist), and action-adventure, it’s sure to make a distinct impression on audiences so used to the Marvel formula. But what exactly went into the creative process of this series?
The Nerds of Color was fortunate to attend a press conference panel featuring actors Oscar Isaac, Ethan Hawke, May Calamawy, directors Mohamed Diab, Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, and co-executive producer Grant Curtis, where they dished on how their cacophony of talents and backgrounds went into making this psychedelic series.
Quotes have been edited for length and clarity
For series lead Oscar Isaac, the storytelling was all about perception, for Steven/Marc and that of the audience whose perception of the events of the show could just as easily skew. “The story is so point-of-view,” he said, “You’re seeing things in the skin of [Steven].” On playing this new character, Isaac was keen on leaning into the humor, as Marvel films are wont to do, but with unintentional humor from the main bewildered character. “Marvel has done such an amazing job at combining action and comedy, and with Steven, there was a new way to do this with someone who didn’t know he was funny.”
On practicing how to act against himself in the scenes where Steven and Marc would interact, Isaac had a very simple and effective method. “The first step was to hire my brother and be the other me. He came in and played either Steven or Marc (with both accents!) and that was really helpful to have someone who’s a great actor and shared my DNA!”
I haven’t read much Moon Knight (I plan on changing that) but even I knew he was never British. I was very skeptical about Isaac’s accent we heard in the trailer, but having watched episodes and listened to his reasoning, I found myself warming to the British Steven take. “I love English humor, like The Office, and so much of that humor I find so funny, and I was like ‘What if we make him English,'” Isaac said. Additionally, Isaac considered the Jewish population of the UK to keep in line with his character’s Jewish origins. “I thought about the Jewish community in England and listening to a lot of where those accents are from,” he said.
Ethan Hawke noted how intriguing it was to him that the show was taking so many departures from what is usually done in popular media, and ultimately for the better. “The histories of movies have mentally ill villains,” he noted, “we have a mentally ill hero, and that’s fascinating. We’ve inverted the whole process. I have to find a sane malevolent force. That was interesting for me to find out how to work that with Oscar. Everything the audience is seeing is from a skewed point of view.”
May Calamawy is making history as the first Egyptian, and just North African generally, lead actress and main character for an MCU project. On her dynamic character Layla El-Faouly, she notes that “she’s strong and she’s for the people and fights for what she believes in.” And the moment of significance for her joining the MCU isn’t lost on her. “As someone who’s grown up in the Middle East, it meant a lot to me,” she said.
Calamawy also noted the tremendous support she had onset from her screen partner Isaac. “Oscar did such a good job. He understands at such a cellular level. I didn’t even have to ask who he was.” She also noted that she had multiple people in the creative department helping her in the development of her character, and listening to her input. “I’m relatively new to this whole process and industry, so I’m lucky that you were all fighting for Layla as well. They really heard me.”
Mohamed Diab is an independent filmmaker from Egypt whom Marvel approached to lead the directing team. “I come from a background that is very small-tent, small film. Oscar said to me once “Mohamed, what the hell are you doing here?” [Laughs] Oscar was smart asking me why am I here. I talked about making intimate stories, but I never connected to something like this intimate story. I was drawn right away.”
Like his fellow Egyptian Calamawy, the significance of his leading the directing team isn’t lost on him, especially in a series that aims to break the norm of Orientalism in its action-adventure genre. “As an Egyptian, we usually see ourselves as exorcised and Orientalized. So getting to see Egyptians as Egyptians, seeing Egypt as Egypt was great.” Getting to work on a large production like this was incredible for him as well.”We had literally 1,000 people working with us. Including Sara my wife who was a producer”
Diab noted how his culture informed his sense of humor that then informed the show. “Egyptians are funny in the most direct situation. I felt already there was a Marvel tone to the show, and Oscar’s take took it in a different direction. Even the humor feels a bit different than the norm, which I’m so proud of.”
On the various storytelling themes and styles he and the team put into the show, Diab is in awe of their whole team. “I’m so proud of putting all those genres together,” Diab said.
His fellow director Justin Benson also noted that Moon Knight fits seamlessly into the Marvel tradition of humor, but still with his own take on it. “Our cheat to finding the humanity in characters is to have them joke in a stressful situation, including Moon Knight in some of his most famous runs.”
With all these elements and more, most audiences should be in for a fun and intriguing time.
You can watch Moon Knight starting on March 30, streaming exclusively on Disney+.