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In Moon Knight, we meet the mild-mannered, socially inept Steven Grant who is as knowledgeable and passionate about Egyptology as he is completely ignorant of day-to-day human interactions. Although aspiring to be a museum docent, his mawkish persona and chronically irritated superior keep him working at the gift store, selling souvenirs and hoping for a date.
His dull but at least predictable lifestyle becomes upended however, when his chronic sleepwalking tendencies suddenly worsen and start placing him in increasingly untenable situations. Is he mad? Possessed? Cursed? A combination of all three? Whichever it turns out to be, Grant must find answers quickly…and try to stay alive in the process.
At a recent virtual press conference, Moon Knight filmmakers Oscar Isaac (Moon Knight/Steven Grant/Marc Spector,) Ethan Hawke (Arthur Harrow,) May Calamawy (Layla El-Faouly,) Mohamed Diab (Director of episodes 1, 3, 5 and 6,) Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead (Directors of episodes 2 and 4,) and Grant Curtis (Executive Producer) discussed the development of this esoteric property and the specifics of its characters.
Moon Knight Press Conference highlights:
On getting involved with the project:
Curtis: “Well, I think Moon Knight, in particular, has been on Kevin Feige’s radar from day one. I mean, you look at his history…first appeared in “Werewolf by Night” in 1975, then…kind of bounced around in the Marvel Universe for the next five years and got his own offering in 1980. When 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.”
Isaac: “It just seemed like there was a real opportunity to do something completely different, particularly in the MCU, and to really focus on the internal struggle of this character, and to use Egyptian iconography and the superhero genre and language to talk about the real internal struggle that this person is having. 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.”
Diab: “I had other offers before to make big-budget movies, but I never connected to anything like this, intimate stories that have 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. So…I was drawn 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 percent 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. So it’s funny, but it hurts. So that’s really what attracted me.”
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 find what’s personal in this at such a large scale. And then especially…finding this deep humanity of humor and pain and everything else in what you might call the great mythology of our time.”
Moorhead: “We’ve been trying to make sure that all of our independent films, they’re based on a new mythology. It’s something that’s come up whole cloth. You kind of think, oh, where are the new stories coming from? And weirdly enough, I mean, our great, modern myths are Marvel movies right now. The Great American Myth right now comes from Marvel…it is really cool to actually be a part of that and telling a story that’s actually about these ancient myths and things that we all grew up on. And also, just the fact that that tonally somehow dovetails with all of our independent work is really, really cool. We probably would have said yes to anything, but it happened to be something that was just like what we do, you know? So very cool.”
On their characters:
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. 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 being funny. So 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.”
Calamawy: “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.”
Hawke: “Well, the history of movies are paved with storytellers using mental illness as a building block for the villain. I mean, there are countless stories of mentally ill villains, and we have a mentally ill hero. That’s fascinating because we’ve now inverted the whole process: Now as the antagonist, I can’t be crazy because the hero’s crazy. 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. Mohamed was really embracing his mental illness as a way to create an unreliable narrator–once you’ve broken the prism of reality, everything that the audience is seeing is from a skewed point of view. That’s really interesting for the villain because am I even being seen as I am? I think that was our riddle, and we came up with somebody who was trying to save the world. In his mind, he’s Saint Harrow, you know? I mean, he thinks he’s gonna be part of the great solution.”
Isaac: “It was set in London, and when I asked why it was like the answer was ‘we just have too many characters in New York.’ So it seems like let’s just change it up. Let’s make him an expat in London. I was like, okay…but then it felt like there was–I mean, I love English humor, like The Office and…Stath Lets Flats. There’s just so much of that humor that I just find so funny, and I thought there’s an opportunity here to maybe make something.
What if we make him English? What if Peter Sellers was approached with a Marvel project, what would he do? And so I started thinking about that, and that led me to Karl Pilkington from An Idiot Abroad–not so much for the accent but just for his sense of humor where you can’t tell if he knows he’s being funny.
“And then, I thought about the Jewish community in London and where a lot of that community is from and Enfield as an area and sort of listening to accents that are northeast London. And then just committed to that and found this guy that it wasn’t just about accent, but it was also about his timidness but also wanting to connect with people but not quite knowing how.”
Diab: “…What I learned through the journey of doing the show, is that the characters need to live with themselves, their identities. And I felt that I identified with that by the way (that for) each of us, the persona is the mask that we’re putting on. I’m right now putting on a mask to hide my desires, to hide everything–the other real character in me. 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: “Yeah, very well said. I think that is the thrust of it, you know? That 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. To see that journey happen, I think that’s a really powerful thing.”
Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight will debut exclusively on Disney+ on March 30, 2022.