Heads up everyone: Oscar Isaac's last day shooting “Star Wars: Episode VII” is this Friday, Sept. 26. The cast has another few weeks of filming, but Isaac is taking a well deserved four day vacation before moving on to his next project, David Simon's HBO mini-series “Show Me A Hero.” Somewhere during that production Isaac will fit in press and, likely, some awards season events for his December thriller “A Most Violent Year.” So anyone who was afraid Hollywood wouldn't find ways to utilize the “Inside Llewyn Davis” star needn't have worried. At this exact moment, however, Isaac is taking a few hours after a long day of shooting “Episode VII” to discuss a film he's quite proud of, Hossein Amini's “The Two Faces of January.”
An adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1964 novel, “Two Faces” finds Isaac playing Rydal, a twentysomething living in 1962 Athens, Greece. An expatriate pretty much getting by as a small time con man, Rydal's world changes after he meets an intriguing married American couple visiting Greece in the middle of a long European vacation. But Chester and Colette (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) are not what they seem and soon pull Rydal into their web of deceit and troubles.
The film debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival in February to positive reviews and by June had already opened in major markets such as Germany, France and the UK. In fact, this pundit first saw the movie on a plane back to the states over the summer. It's a slightly unusual release pattern for an English language production (although “Snowpiercer” is a contemporary example of the same extended release schedule) and Isaac finds it somewhat humorous.
“This is the first time that I”ve done a movie where it”s on a plane before it actually premieres [in the U.S.],” Isaac jokes. “But, you know, I think every movie that I watch on a plane — no matter what it is — I cry. So I think it”s OK, because, you know, your judgment”s a little bit impaired.”
“Two Faces” isn't necessarily a tearjerker, but it features strong performances across the board, a wonderfully dark Highsmith storyline, beautiful cinematography and classically tempered direction by Amini that suits the material. As you'd expect, it is very picturesque, having filmed on location in Crete, Istanbul and London. A good chunk of the film takes place in Athens (one scene has Rydal acting as tour guide at the Parthenon). You'd assume they were in the city for weeks, but it turns out they crammed in a tremendous amount in only two days. Isaac says the visit was certainly memorable, but not as a vacation spot.
“That was pretty wild because at the same time that we were shooting there were riots going on,” he recalls. “There were a lot of protests happening. And clashes between protestors and the police. And so it was a little bit of an intense environment. There was a lot of strikes happening as well. In fact, at one point after shooting [I was walking] from set and suddenly there was this huge cloud of tear gas coming towards me, and then a line of protestors running the opposite direction. I got back to the hotel and found that a lot of the workers from the hotel were out front picketing and on strike. So it was a pretty intense situation.”
None of that modern day conflict seeps its way into the film, but fans of Highsmith's novel should know there are some notable changes. In the book, Rydal is not a small time operator and is closer to Chester's level of corruption. “He's not skimming money off tourists,” Isaac says. “I thought that was an interesting choice on Hossein”s part because it further illustrates how similar [Rydal and Chester are], these two sides of one coin. At least this is someone who is aspiring to be what Chester is or Chester is a warning of what he could become. I liked that a lot.”
Isaac says one of his biggest inspirations for the character was a line from the book, which — paraphrasing — is that Rydal would scan every person that walked by him and see if there was an adventure in their eyes. He notes, “I thought that was a great little piece of information for an actor to play with.”
In the early moments of the film, Rydal could walk away from Chester and Colette at any moment, but Isaac says it's that spark that gets him sucked in.
“I think he sees two very beautiful people that are adventurous and something is different than the other tourists,” Isaac says. “And maybe there”s some money there as well. You know, I think it”s not a wholly conscious thing. He”s also in a place where he”s looking for a father [such as Chester]. He”s looking for some sort of male symbol of what he wants to be.”
Less than a year ago, Isaac transitioned from a massive publicity campaign for “Inside Llewyn Davis” to begin filming J.C. Chandor's “A Most Violent Year” opposite Jessica Chastain. A24 released the first trailer for the film this past week and it created a substantial and surprising amount of buzz online (it was also just announced as the opening night gala for AFI Fest 2014) . Isaac wasn't aware of the reaction, but he's glad the first preview didn't give too much away.
“I saw a very early rough cut of the movie and I know that it”s changed drastically since then,” Isaac says. “But I saw the trailer and I thought it was actually really strong. I think it does, you know, represent an aspect of the film very strongly. I always like teaser trailers because they don”t give too much away, you know? They give just a flavor of what the thing is.”
As for “Star Wars,” the film will no doubt change Isaac's life. He'll go from an actor you recognize from something to “the guy from 'Star Wars.'” That's a big life change for anyone, but Isaac reveals he's not feeling the pressure. It's no different from “Two Faces” or any other high profile projects he's worked on.
“I think that if I had any success in this field, which I have, I think it comes from a place that I”m able to find stillness within all the wildness of what”s happening,” Isaac says. “So regardless of whether it”s the Coens or whether it”s 'Star Wars' or 'Robin Hood' when I did that or whatever, it could be I”m able just to focus on what I”m hired to do, which is inhabit the psyche of a character. And so those thoughts don”t really come into it very much as far as like what it means or how it will come across. Because once you start going there I don”t see how you can do the job of acting at all, because those things have nothing to do with each other.”
Now, you might think, “But Isaac, you weren't even a little nervous even auditioning for a major role in a new 'Star Wars' franchise?” Again, Isaac says he's able to focus past it all.
“You just do the job part of it, which is like, 'What is this character? What does he want? Where did he come from? What is he trying to do here? What am I saying here? What”s the psyche that I have to inhabit,'” Isaac says. “Obviously when you really, really want something, you have to manage those things. You know, it”s like 'Llewyn Davis.' I wanted that more than anything I”ve ever been close to getting before. But that had to be managed with the fact that, who is the character and what”s the actual job, and finding stillness in that. So yeah, it doesn”t really matter the scale of it, to be honest.”
With that, Isaac had to depart, but we'll be asking what self-help books he's reading the next time around.
“The Two Faces of January” is opening in limited release on Friday. It's currently available on iTunes and On Demand.