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Moon Knight Directors Justin Benson And Aaron Moorhead Discuss Oscar Isaac And Comic Book History - Exclusive Interview

The moon beams are shining bright on the new Marvel Studios miniseries "Moon Knight," and a big part of the reason the show is making a compelling leap from the Marvel comic books to live action is the awe-inspiring performance by Oscar Isaac in the titular role. Just as pivotal to the creation of "Moon Knight," however, is a bevy of behind-the-scenes creatives, from Marvel President Kevin Feige and executive producer Grant Curtis to executive producer-director Mohamed Diab and directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.

Benson and Moorhead direct Episodes 2 and 4 of "Moon Knight," while Diab takes the helm for Episodes 1, 3, 5 and 6. Teaming up to co-direct a project is nothing new for the filmmaking duo. They collectively kicked off their feature filmmaking career in Hollywood in 2012 with the horror mystery "Resolution," and their recent work includes co-directing the 2019 Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan sci-fi thriller "Synchronic." Benson and Moorhead have also been busy over the past few years directing episodes of such streaming series as "The Twilight Zone" and "Archive 81," and are already primed to return to Marvel Studios to direct the upcoming Season 2 premiere episode of "Loki."

Before that, Benson and Moorhead are taking the time to bask in the glow of "Moon Knight," starring Isaac as former mercenary Marc Spector. Afflicted with dissociative identity disorder, Spector partially assumes the personality of Steven Grant, an affable yet over-excitable gift shop worker in a London museum who has a keen knowledge of Egyptian history. That knowledge clearly comes into play when it's revealed that Spector-Grant has a superhero alter-ego named Moon Knight, the avatar of the Egyptian god of the moon and vengeance, Khonshu (voice of F. Murray Abraham). Moon Knight has his share of detractors, including charismatic cult leader Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), who has sinister intensions in mind.

Sitting down for an exclusive interview with Looper, Benson and Moorhead discuss the excitement they experienced working on "Moon Knight," which debuts tomorrow on Disney+.

A collaborative directorial unit

I find it interesting that with the first four episodes of "Moon Knight," 1 and 3 are directed by Mohamed Diab while you two direct 2 and 4. At the beginning, do you all sit in the same room and maybe consider yourself a directorial unit or do you go your separate ways — or is it a bit of both?

Justin Benson: We all collaborated throughout, actually. I don't even know if a week went by where we didn't all get in the same room and check in and toss around ideas. Everyone was working together collaboratively from the very beginning, and everyone was bringing something really personal to it. If you look at filmmaking as being a thing where everyone throws out every gut instinct that you had, sometimes those ideas are amazing, and sometimes they aren't great, or sometimes the not great ones lead to the amazing ones. It felt like everyone was coming with everything they had  and then what stuck were the things that were the perfect alchemy of the group.

Aaron Moorhead: Actually, a lot of the time when we were working with Mohamed, also present would be our cinematographers and/or the actors. They were so heavily involved from a character and story point of view. It was honestly a pretty large group of people ... the writers and EP Grant [Curtis] were heavily, heavily involved, all until we started production. Once we started production, it became more like texts.

Giving the Moon Knight story time to unfold

I was familiar with "Moon Knight" comic book prior to the series, but not as well versed as maybe some other people are. Because of that, I love that you've gone the episodic TV route, because Oscar Isaac is afforded the opportunity to give more depth and complexity, and a nuanced performance, and you're given more time to tell the story properly. Would you agree?

Benson: Yeah, absolutely. "Moon Knight" is such a special character in the MCU in terms of him being defined as being an outsider and something that is ... He's had to be bold as a character to break through in a universe full of so many interesting personalities. We, oftentimes, felt like if we didn't get that right, that we'd open up one of these comic books we were drawing inspiration from and he would turn towards us, staring through the fourth wall ... and shake his head. If we got it right, he might high-five us.

Benson and Moorhead have different picks for their favorite Isaac role

I would imagine "Moon Knight" started at some point where Oscar Isaac was on a wish list and he wasn't signed yet. Is there one particular performance of his prior to him signing on where you said, "God, he would make the perfect Moon Knight-slash-Steven Grant-slash-Marc Spector"?

Moorhead: I wish we could take credit for the idea of casting him, but I know that I walked out of "Ex Machina" and said, "That's one of the best actors alive." I actually said it. I didn't think it. My friends were like that, too ... I didn't discover Oscar Isaac, obviously, but I remember I was like, "There's this person in this movie called 'Ex Machina' you've got to see."

Benson: For me, it was "Inside Llewyn Davis." You watch that film and you basically think, "Oh, this guy could play anything, even multiple different people simultaneously." But "Inside Llewyn Davis," when you see him play guitar and perform within that movie, you can see immediately that you're dealing with someone really special.

Plus, he carries that cat around for most of the movie, too, so you can't forget that!

Moorhead: Best performance of that year!

The comic book inspiration behind the Moon Knight series

Fans of the "Moon Knight" comics are going to be watching for some homages. Is there any particular panel in the comic book that you wanted to replicate? I'm thinking, for example, there's a shot of Moon Knight jumping and his cape unfurls into a crescent. Does that hold in any sort of significance to fans of the comic book?

Benson: No doubt, any of that imagery, the superhero imagery, holds a ton of mental real estate for people. There is so much spectacular action in this show. The stuff that we personally would go and look at, for example, mind-bending imagery would be like the [writer-artist Jeff] Lemire run [of comics] — not that there is a panel that's been replicated precisely or anything, but looking at the spirit of it.

Moorhead: That particular run also affected our composition a lot because that involves a lot of, I believe, slipping in blended realities. They would have things like, for example, a match cut, where you cut from one scene to another, but the elements of it feel the same so it makes your brain skip a beat. They did that on the page in the Lemire run. For us, that was one of the favorite ones that we kept on returning to. We printed out a lot of different boards from it and pasted it on the wall while we were trying to find inspiration.

Encapsulating the history of Moon Knight in Isaac's costumes

The costuming process is very long and detailed, but at some point, you'll see Oscar wearing the Moon Knight costume — the full ceremonial version — for the first time. It's one of the coolest costumes I've ever seen. How thrilling was it for you to see him on the set, donning that iconic costume?

Benson: When you look at 50 years of a character off the page, you're looking at it, and you're witnessing how a superhero costume evolves over time, given the times you're in and what people's expectation is for that costume — to see what everyone collaboratively came up with for this costume, to see that, it's like, "Oh, it's not necessarily any of those things you've seen prior, but it's something very special." It's something that feels like it's the greatest hits of everything, yet also something entirely its own.

Moorhead: Mohamed used a very particular word to describe it earlier today that I couldn't agree with more. The costume is "beautiful," and that might be obvious to some, but I can't describe other Marvel costumes as "beautiful." They're very cool. They're interesting. They're kinetic. They're fun to look at, but there's something elegant about all of Moon Knight and Mr. Knight's looks that we really love.

Getting meta with a Moon Knight action figure

I won't reveal what episode or how it's involved, but a Moon Knight action figure is used in one of your episodes. I find that interesting because, A, I'm an action figure geek, but B, recently I heard the Russo brothers on one of the "Captain America" films actually used action figures to construct a scene. Do you guys do the same sort of thing?

Benson: We use them if they're available to us. We'll use action figures in the shot listing room when we're with our director of photography; in this case, Andrew Palermo, who's such a special guy, such an amazing talented guy. So much of what you all see on screen is his magic. Prior, he did "A Ghost Story" and he did "The Green Knight," and many other things, but [he's] such a genius. When we're working with him in a room, we'd oftentimes have several action figures out that you can play around with and make it easier. You also have little toy cars. It's all very, very childish!

In this thing you're talking about, what's so special about this action figure thing is the comic book is oftentimes at its most bold when it's being meta, and there is a meta-aspect to this action figure thing. That's like, "Oh, it doesn't feel forced, it doesn't feel low-brow," it doesn't feel like, "Look how clever we're being" or anything. It's a very elegant, simple meta flair.

Moorhead: Yeah. The comics that we really love play with the form as well. That's the whole legacy of comics, not just "Moon Knight." Any comic that plays with the form directly or indirectly, we really love. We tried to bring that same sort of idea to our episodes.

Also starring May Calamawy, "Moon Knight" debuts on Disney+ March 30, with new episodes every Wednesday through May 4.

This interview was edited for clarity.