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How Oscar Isaac's 'Moon Knight' Differs From the Rest of the MCU

The creative team behind 'Moon Knight' discuss dramatizing a superhero with DID and digging into Egyptian iconography for Marvel's latest Disney+ series.
by Lauren Piester — 
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Moon Knight

Disney+

If you're impatiently awaiting the next Marvel installment to find out if anyone remembers the name Peter Parker, Moon Knight is not going to be the thing that quenches that thirst. However, if you're in the mood to see Oscar Isaac put all he has into fighting ancient Egyptian monsters and telling himself he's handsome, the MCU's newest series for Disney+ is right up your alley. 

Moon Knight follows a man, played by Isaac, who has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Sometimes he's Steven Grant, a history nerd who works in the gift shop at the British Museum, and sometimes he's Marc Spector, an American mercenary who's chasing after mysterious ancient artifacts and pissing off a few people in the process. Marc and Steven are frequently fighting over control of their shared body, slowly learning to work together as the season progresses, just in time for a few twists and turns to throw their relationship on its head. May Calamawy plays Layla and Ethan Hawke plays the mysterious antagonist Arthur Harrow in the series.

While the show doesn't premiere until March 30, the cast and producers gathered for a virtual panel ahead of the premiere to shed some light on the series and how it fits into the world of the MCU — or maybe how it doesn't. 

With his two very different characters, Isaac saw an opportunity to bring a "very different kind of comedy" into the world than the MCU has seen before. Parts of the show are set in London, partly because the franchise has exhausted New York, and Isaac also wanted to bring a twist to the brooding, moody superhero. 

"What makes him so special is that he has this little Englishman living inside of him," Isaac said. 

He took inspiration from British comedy, including The Office and Karl Pilkington in An Idiot Abroad, and tried to create a character who is funny without knowing it, with an accent developed by studying the Jewish communities in London. His brother, Michael Hernandez, acted as his stand-in for the scenes where both Marc and Steven are present, which helped, but Isaac still found the process of playing two characters surprisingly difficult.

"That was something that I didn't anticipate — how technically demanding that was going to be," he said. "Having to show up and decide which character I was going to play first, and then try to block that out, give my brother notes, and then do the scene, and then switch characters and figure it out." 

Calamawy, who plays a friend to both Marc and Steven, never had a problem figuring out which character she was talking to. "It was really two separate people, and I could feel that energy," she said. "I wouldn't even have to ask who he was. With Marc, I would find myself more guarded, and with Steven, I would feel more nurturing. … It was just visceral." 

Hawke, meanwhile, found a unique challenge in a villain who was facing off against a man with mental illness. "I have to find a sane lunatic, or a sane malevolent force," he said, explaining that the show has "inverted the whole process" in terms of the usual trope of villains being "crazy." 

"We came up with somebody who's trying to save the world in his mind," he continued. "He thinks he's going to be part of the solution." 

The series also takes place in Egypt and spends a lot of time digging deep into Egyptian iconography, which particularly attracted director Mohamed Diab. He was excited to show Egyptians as "normal human beings" and bring a bit of Egyptian humor into the show. "Egyptians are funny in the most dire situations," he explained. "So in a funeral, we're gonna crack a joke. That's the way it is." 

"Dire" is certainly a word for many of the situations Marc/Steven and Layla find themselves in, as the show manages to blend comedy pretty seamlessly with horror. Diab was particularly proud of himself when Isaac would tell him one of his jokes was good, saying, "I'm funny in a different language!" 

Calamawy, who is Egyptian and Palestinian, said it was important to her to be able to take the space to collaborate, especially on such a male-dominated set, to make sure that Layla could accurately represent her history. 

"I wanted to find a story that would work with someone who had a similar conditioning, who would deal with situations a certain way," she said. "What would that look like for someone raised [in the Middle East] versus someone raised in the West? And it was confronting in many ways." 

She added that she felt "lucky" to find so many people on set who were ready to fight for Layla as well. 

In its deep dive into Egyptian mythology, Moon Knight is able to bring in some serious elements of horror that are particularly effective because, as Isaac explains, the show is told very much from Steven and Mark's point of view. Steven, in particular, is new to being chased by monsters. 

"You're in the skin of this guy, and you're seeing things happen and you're experiencing it just as he is experiencing it," he said. "There's something that's terrifying about that." 

Marc and Steven take on the monsters with two different suits and two different identities: Moon Knight and Mr. Knight. Marc, the more experienced fighter of the two, looks a bit more menacing as Moon Knight, while Steven's Mr. Knight looks more like a professor. At one point, the identities were switched, but Isaac's collaboration with the creative team led to the costumes seen on screen, which are mostly just updated, comfortable versions of the suits worn in the comics. 

The creative team also wanted to take care to represent Marc and Steven's DID, and Diab said he learned a lot over the course of making the series. 

"I would call myself ignorant about DID, because all the information we know is from the movies. It's a bit shallow," he said. "But what I learned through the journey of doing the show is that the characters need to live with themselves, their identities. I identified with that. Each of us, the persona is the mask that we're putting [on]. Right now I'm putting a mask to hide my desires, 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, and I think this is the struggle that all of us through the journey of living are trying to achieve." 

Isaac agreed, saying, "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. To see that journey happen, I think that's a really powerful thing."