Moon Knight is hitting Disney+ this week and to say that it’s highly anticipated is an understatement. In Moon Knight, Steven Grant is a mild-mannered gift-shop employee, with a bit of a sleeping problem. When he becomes plagued with blackouts and memories of another life, Steven discovers he has dissociative identity disorder and shares a body with mercenary Marc Spector. As Steven/Marc’s enemies converge upon them, they must navigate their complex identities while thrust into a deadly mystery among the powerful gods of Egypt. If that synopsis doesn’t have you read to watch Moon Knight, well we have a few reasons to make sure you tune in day one – from the cast and crew itself.
At the Moon Knight press junket last week, we got the chance to join the conversation moderated by Devan Coggan with Oscar Isaac who plays Steven Grant/Marc Spector, the series titular character; Ethan Hawke, the charismatic cult leader Arthur Harrow; May Calamawy plays Layla El-Faouly, a woman from Marc’s past; Mohamed Diab, the Director of Episodes 1, 3, 5, and 6; Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, the Directors of episodes 2 and 4; And Grant Curtis who serves as one of the series’ Executive Producers.
While the cast and crew definitely didn’t spoil anything, they did highlight some great reasons to make sure you tune in to watch Moon Knight on March 30, 2022.
Egyptian Mythology without the Orientalism
When we think of adventure stories, they often take place in some non-descript jungle or, Egypt. But while action-adventure is a genre near and very dear to my heart, they also come with issues of exoticism and in the case of Egypt, Orientalism.
When asked by Doogan about what made him excited to become involved in Moon Knight, Diab explained that it was the ability to tell “intimate stories” while also telling a superhero one. But that wasn’t the only reason, Diab explained, “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. 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.”
With Moon Knight, Mohammed Diab is set to bring Egypt to audiences in a way that feels authentic to him and that extends from the setting to the gods themselves. This isn’t just important from a representation standpoint, it also promises to give audiences something they won’t expect. Because quite frankly, American audiences don’t have many options when it comes to experiencing Egypt and the action-adventures set there without orientalism. Moon Knight is a chance to see this on one of the largest platforms in one of the most successful franchises, the MCU.
From the trailer alone it’s clear that Moon Knight will be a much different story than we’re used to in the MCU. While we’ve seen genre-specific films, Moon Knight isn’t just looking to nail a spy story or a heist movie, instead, it’s blending horror, fantasy, action, adventure, and yes, even some comedy too. When asked, the director elaborated on why and how they aimed to work different genres together, and more importantly, use dark humor to accent it all. For Diab, he explained, “…I’m going to talk about myself as an Egyptian. Egyptians are funny in the most dire situations. So in a funeral, we’re gonna crack a joke. That’s the way it is. I felt already there is a Marvel tone to the show before I even came in. Definitely, Oscar’s take took it in a different direction a little bit. I’m sure each one of the people sitting here and other people even that were participating, each one of them put something, but it pushed it a bit different. If you saw the reaction to it, a lot of people are saying even the humor feels a bit different than the norm which is something I’m so proud of.”
Justin Benson added, “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, at least in some of our favorite runs, like the Lemire & Smallwood run. That one feels like it’s like, oh yeah, one page of something brutal; literally half a page later, there’s a punchline, there’s a joke.”
Balancing out the horror and the comedy is one of the most captivating reasons to watch Moon Knight, and for Diab, it’s also one of the main reasons why he’s proud of the series. “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,” Diab explained. “You 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.”
One of the most repeated comments from the cast and crew of Moon Knight was that the series was “intimate.” This is a word we don’t often see for the giant budget Marvel projects that span universes and superheroic, world-saving deeds. And to be honest, “intimate” is also not how you would expect from a story about a man in an unnatural bond with an Egyptian god with a magic suit and an Englishman living inside his head. But the intimacy in the story is what drew everyone to the project and ultimately helps propel crafting a story with exploring mental illness at its core.
While also presenting a character that can connect with people. Diab explained, “What I learned through the journey of doing the show is that [Moon Knight] needs 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. 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.
But beyond integrating conflicting parts of yourself, Isaac sees the intimate story in the series as a story of survival. Isaac explained that it’s a “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.”
And if the genre or the mythology doesn’t convince you to watch Moon Knight then take a look at the characters through the eyes of the actors who played them. For Oscar Isaac, who is no stranger to superhero stories or large IPs, he explained what makes Moon Knight different from his past projects, “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.”
But it isn’t just the show’s perspective, it’s also about his characters, Isaac continued, “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. And 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.”
As for Layla, we get the chance to see an Egyptian woman who is strong and vulnerable, and equal to the men around her. May Calamawy expanded on her love of her character, “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.” Additionally, Layla has parts of Calamawy’s identity as well, “I guess the main thing with Layla, I didn’t have this idea to pull from of this woman — without giving any spoilers — and 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.”
That said, your heroes are only as interesting as the force they’re working against. Ethan Hawke explained the balance he had to find between his “villain” and Isaac’s “hero,” “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. And so now as the antagonist, I can’t be crazy because the hero’s crazy… And that was an interesting riddle for me to figure out how to be in dynamics with what Oscar was doing.” Hawke added, “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? And it’s also… I think that was our riddle, and we came up with somebody who was trying to save the world. And in his mind, he’s Saint Harrow, you know? I mean, he thinks he’s gonna be part of the great solution.”
Oscar Isaac vs Oscar Isaac
The last reason to watch Moon Knight has to be Oscar Isaac, and well, Oscar Isaac. Playing both Marc and Steve, Isaac had to bring different emotions and energy to the table while also having to act against himself. But he wasn’t alone in this difficult process, in fact, he called in some family help. In explaining how he prepared and acted as both Marc and Steven, often in the same scene he mapped out the process, “The first step was to hire my brother, Michael Hernandez, to come in and be the other me. That’s the closest thing to me there is on Earth. So he came in and he would play either Steven or Marc, even do the accent and everything, both accents. So that was really helpful to have someone that’s not only a great actor but also shares my DNA to play off of.”
That said, it wasn’t necessarily easy, even with his brother’s help. Isaac added, “That was something that I didn’t anticipate was how technically demanding that was going to be of 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 then figure it out. Because one of the fun — I think maybe if not the most fun thing about acting is acting opposite somebody and letting something spontaneous happen that you didn’t expect. But there wasn’t really an opportunity to do that and still having to try to find what makes it feel spontaneous and not all planned out.”
And that’s it, for our 5 reasons to watch Moon Knight, from the cast and crew themselves. By blending different genres, bringing emotion and intimacy into a superhero story, and bringing Egypt to life in an authentic way, Moon Knight is one to watch day one.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime.