Interviews TV

Moon Knight Is a Big Budget Indie Series Built from The Ground Up

From Marvel Studios, exclusively for Disney+, comes the all-new, original, live-action series Moon Knight, starring Oscar Isaac, Ethan Hawke and May Calamawy.

The story follows Steven Grant, a mild-mannered man who lives a mundane life, plagued by blackouts and mysterious memories of a life somehow separate from his own. After one fateful encounter, Steven discovers that he has Dissociative Identity Disorder and shares a body with Marc Spector—a former mercenary and the ruthless avatar of Khonshu, the Egyptian god of the moon and vengeance. With their enemies converging upon them, Steven must learn how to adapt to this revelation and work with Marc. With other godly motives at play, the two must navigate their complex identities amid a deadly battle played out among the powerful gods of Egypt.

Moon Knight is a fascinating and exhilarating origin story which is grounded in Egyptology, and infused with globetrotting adventure, intensity and mystery. The edgy, dark themes of Moon Knight and the exploration of the unique character add another dimension to the MCU’s storytelling.

To celebrate the beauty and unique vision of Moon Knight, Disney held a press conference with Oscar Isaac (Marc Spectre/Stephen Grant), Ethan Hawke (Arthur Harrow), May Calamawy (Layla), Mohamed Diab (director), Justin Benson (director), Aaron Moorhead (director) and Grant Curtis (director) to learn more about the highly anticipated series.  

Inside Marvel Studios, there was great excitement about telling Moon Knight’s story in an episodic series. Executive producer Grant Curtis explains: “There are multiple aspects of Moon Knight that gets us internally jazzed at Marvel Studios. But one of the unique aspects of this character is it takes Marvel Studios to its Iron Man and Tony Stark roots. That was a character that was obviously built from the ground up, and it is the same with Marc Spector.”

Grounding the character in his comic book heritage and celebrating what made him popular with readers was essential for the Marvel Studios filmmakers. Curtis is quick to point out how the series pays homage to the original comics: “We’re absolutely embracing the supernatural aspects of what was in publishing, the Egyptian gods, this ruthless Egyptian god Khonshu that manipulates Marc to do his bidding. We’re embracing all that. We love stuff that goes bump in the night.”

While embracing the darker, grittier aspects of the original character, this new series also aims to show audiences a modern iteration of the character, breaking new ground and exploring a Marvel Superhero that audiences have never seen on screen before. “There’s no attachment to the current MCU,” says Curtis. “He’s brand-new, and he is going on a brand-new adventure. We really think the fans are going to enjoy it.”

Moon Knight, in particular, has been on Kevin Feige’s radar from day one. You look at years and decades of storytelling, as the great storytellers and artists on the Moon Knight pages have been doing, I think this was a natural progression, a merger into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was just like this was the perfect time. When you look at Disney+ needing a broader canvas to tell this incredible story, this was the perfect time to drop into the universe,” said Curtis.  

The Moon Knight series doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of the character as well. Moon Knight is an MCU Superhero, but the character is dealing with real-life relatable traumas, as Oscar Isaac, who plays Moon Knight, points out: “I think it was just about being honest about what Dissociative Identity Disorder is, and honest about what a lot of people have to deal with, which is really intense childhood trauma and how that manifests as an adult. I think for us it was about authenticity, more than even story communication.”

“When I looked at [the script] and we talked, 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. [There was] also [an opportunity] to create an indelible, unusual character, particularly with Steven Grant. It felt like once I got a real take on how I wanted to play Steven and I brought that to everyone, they welcomed that with open arms. I also realized I had real, incredible collaborators and it was going to be a creative adventure,” said Oscar.

In Moon Knight, audiences know as little as Steven does, and are, like him, swept along on his journey with little conviction in its actual reality. Steven is in the dark about what is real and what is not. As Isaac explains, because the audiences are watching the action unfold via Steven’s gaze, as a result, the audience can empathize with him. You feel what it must have felt like to have all these wild things happening to him, not knowing if he’s crazy or he’s actually discovered something.

“The story is so point of view; 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 have 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, doesn’t know they’re being funny. That was really exciting, 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,” Oscar finished.

The talented and captivating May Calamawy plays Layla El-Faouly, an archeologist and adventurer who knows Marc Spector well. Layla finds herself unintentionally dragged into Marc’s troubling and dangerous existence. Layla and Marc must put their differences aside and forge a new relationship if they are to survive the battle ahead. Offering insight as to how her character plays into the storyline, Calamawy says, “She’s aware of Marc’s secrets with Khonshu but she’s discovering other secrets as the audience is also discovering them. So, we meet her at a point where her partner has disappeared for several months and when she sees him again, she’s meeting a different person, Steven.”

“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,” said May.

“I’m relatively new to this whole process and industry, I just didn’t know I was going to be able to take the space to collaborate in that way, and then seeing I had it, it took me a second to trust my opinion. I’ve been in this place where I’m like, ‘I’m just going to do what I’m told.’ And then I get to watch [Oscar and Ethan], and [what] I really learned [is to] just throw out so many ideas, even if [it’s] one that doesn’t work. They all really heard me.”

“In the beginning, there were times where I would go to people individually or I messaged Ethan and I was like, ‘I really think we need a scene together.’ And then Ethan came and had this whole scene idea. Everyone was empowering. It was really important to me as someone who grew up in the Middle East, 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. What would that look like for someone raised there versus someone raised in the West? And it was confronting in many ways, but when I felt okay to take that space, I felt like it was happening in a more fluid way,” May finished.

Ethan Hawke, who plays Arthur Harrow, is particularly excited about finding out more about this new MCU addition. “A lot of my favorite Marvel movies are discovering new legends,” he says. “You don’t know who Doctor Strange is, you don’t know who Black Panther is. It’s about getting introduced to a new Superhero and a new world.”

Ethan Hawke as the nefarious, yet philosophical, Arthur Harrow. Arthur is no stranger to this deceptive world of gods and avatars as he seamlessly maneuvers through it to wage a war against Moon Knight and Khonshu in order to show that vengeance deserves vengeance of its own kind.

For Ethan Hawke, playing cult-like leader Arthur Harrow required not thinking of him as a villain. “If you’re playing a villain you have to erase that word from your brain, and you have to see the universe from their point of view,” Hawke explains. “I find it really interesting when you think about cult leaders throughout history, those megalomaniacs very often start out extremely idealistic and then the idealism takes a hit, or they compromise themselves in some way. Most people who commit terrible crimes in this world don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m the bad guy.’ They have their reasons, and hell is paved with their reasons. So, as an actor, I had to come up with Harrow’s reasons and make them as rational and sane and compelling as possible.”  

“Usually when there’s a huge budget, there’s a tremendous amount of fear. And the people in charge are incredibly controlling, and creativity is reduced. In my entire experience with Grant and with Marvel, it’s the opposite of that. [They] have translated [their] success into confidence and the confidence to do what we want. There was a lot of playfulness and a lot of willingness to fail and a lot of willingness to have bad ideas. Because you can’t find a great idea if we don’t say some dumb ones and make mistakes. And I sensed it. There was a huge passion to contribute. When an actor has a strong hit on a character and they have something they want to contribute and you follow it, good things happen. Oscar had a hit on this guy, on DID, on how it could be useful, and that combined with the architecture we had already is what collaboration is,” finished Ethan.

Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who came on to helm episodes 102 and 104, are well-versed in the horror, mystery and cryptic storytelling elements that are vital to the world and narrative of Moon Knight. The duo’s finely honed skills are not just reserved to directing, as they have done everything from produce, shoot, edit and even act in their films. Benson and Moorhead were excited to work in conjunction with Mohamed Diab and the Marvel team.

“After seeing Mohammed’s feature Clash, we went into this job thinking of him as like a superhero among directors,” the directors say. “By the time the job was done, he remained a hero and also became a friend. He really rose to the occasion of this gigantic undertaking, and it was a privilege to get to witness him do it. Working with Marvel is to collaborate with a group of the best storytellers living today. Everyday there is something new to learn from each other, and more importantly, inspire each other, and it is an honor for us to be part of it.”  

Commenting on why they were drawn to the subject material, the directors say, “We were attracted to the idea of telling a story about one of the more unusual great superheroes of all time, and one with a history of particularly bold renditions. Placing this character in a dark Indiana Jones-esque world, in which the magic of ancient Egypt looms large, was also what made us gravitate towards its strangeness. It’s a complicated character with such an untapped treasure of stories that it was a gift to bring to life.”

Benson and Moorhead also found their style of directing complemented Moon Knight. “Our directing style is often grounded in very human characters navigating their own personal tragedies in weathered places of immense history, so in that way this was a perfect fit,” the directors’ comment. “There is also a rhythm of drama mixed with a naturalistic levity that we always drift toward. We love that in the darkest moments these characters can find the humor and humanity in it, and to us that’s what makes these heroes so relatable.”

“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?’ And I remember telling him something about making intimate stories not exclusive to budget. And I think Marvel was onto something. I had other offers before to make big-budget movies, but I never connected to anything like this, intimate stories that has some big stuff happening around them. So just imagine that line. You as a normal person discovering you have another identity that is a superhero. So that’s what I was drawn [to] right away.”

“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% of the time, Egypt is not Egypt. Imagine Paris and you’re seeing Big Ben in the background. That’s how we see our country,” said Mohamed.

They add, “Beyond all that there was an opportunity for working with color, texture and light that are not often seen in traditional superhero stories. Old, ripped fabric, layers of dust, surreal landscapes of immense rocks under moonlight, all among the magic of ancient traditions—there was something visually ambitious about making this the world of an outsider superhero.”

For Benson and Moorhead, the most challenging aspect of Moon Knight was “bringing the energy to it every day the wealth of source material deserves.” Elaborating, the directors add, Moon Knight is one of the last iconic Superhero characters never attempted as live action so there is a pressure to make you get it right. One thing we wanted to make sure we got right was that it had some images in the spirit of the great mind-bending imagery from the comics. We are particularly proud of how much dreamlike eye candy we could blend with the drama, humor and heart.”

Moon Knight will premiere on Disney+ on March 30th.

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