Acclaimed actor on playing an anti-gangster and appearing in a Star Wars sequel
He is best-known for playing a musician in Inside Llewyn Davis. But now, everyone will know Oscar Isaac as ‘that guy from Star Wars’. The most-viewed trailer ever shows him as the rebel pilot at the controls of an X-Wing spaceship. The 35-year-old Guatemala-born American has two new films out. First, there’s A Most Violent Year in which he stars as a ruthless businessman trying to stay straight in wintry 1981 New York City. In sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, he plays a dotcom billionaire who’s invented a female android who might change the future of humanity. We spoke to Isaac on the phone from the US where he’s filming Show Me a Hero, a New York-set TV series from The Wire creator David Simon.
Your character in A Most Violent Year is an anti-Scarface. He’s quiet and trying very hard to be a businessman, not a gangster. He’s always saying: ‘I don’t want to be a gangster’. But the thing is, he can be quite callous and shares some of the sociopathic characteristics that a lot of successful businessmen have. Everything is a commodity, including humans. He also turns a blind eye to some criminal activity by his wife when it comes to finances. He’s strategically ignorant.
He’s Latin American, from Colombia, but buys 100 percent into the American Dream, even refusing to speak Spanish. Did you find that interesting? Yeah, I really found the idea that he completely severs his past interesting. Nowadays, this whole idea of who you are and where you come from is really important. And for movies he’s such an unclichéd Latin American character. I love that. He doesn’t have all his homeboys around or a big family with cousins and uncles and aunts. You don’t see him dance salsa.
You’re developing a good line in moody, wintry, New York-set historical dramas. Last year it was Inside Llewyn Davis. Now, it’s A Most Violent Year. True! And actually A Most Violent Year couldn’t get more local for me. I live down the street from where we shot in Brooklyn, so I got to walk to work every day. What I like about both films is that you don’t feel like you’re being sold an idea of what New York was in the early ’60s or the early ’80s. Sometimes you see films and everything about them is trying to say, ‘It’s 1975!’ or whenever. There’s a real subtlety to... both.
You’ve finished shooting Star Wars. Are you one of the handful of people in the world who knows what the film is about? No. I’m just as in the dark as everyone else as to how it will all come together. But I do know it will come together beautifully. [Director] J.J. Abrams has so much passion and love for the story. I can’t wait to see more of it. That trailer was incredible. Just like the rest of the world, I was floored by it.
It must be every boy’s dream to be in Star Wars and fly a spaceship. Yes! It was pretty incredible!
You’re in Ex Machina, too, another sci-fi film. You must be a sci-fi expert by now? Ex Machina is sci-fi, but I think Alex Garland [the film’s writer and director] reaches for the highest form of the genre, with the allegorical nature of it. It’s not about aliens and robots, but something higher, and this is all about the nature of consciousness. Visually, it’s very attractive. It’s one of my favourite characters of all of those I’ve played. I hope people feel the same way about it as me.’ Ex Machina is out in cinemas across the region.