Oscar Isaac seems really excited about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Now, that might not come as much of a surprise, but countless actors before him have tried to “play it cool” when asked about an upcoming biggest movie of his or her life. You know, an iteration of, “Hey, it’s just another movie,” or some other bullshit line that is obviously not true. Every time the subject of Star Wars — in which Isaac plays an X-Wing Fighter pilot named Poe Dameron — is discussed, Isaac was beaming, so much so that I felt compelled to point this out to him.
Isaac had his breakout role in 2013’s beloved, but little-seen Coen brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis. (Perhaps it’s Llewyn Davis’ “too cool for school” attitude that makes Isaac’s glee so surprising.) He followed that up with J.C. Chandor’s acclaimed slow burn, A Most Violent Year. Following the release of his current film, Ex Machina (in limited release this weekend), Isaac will all of a sudden be in two upcoming franchise films, Star Wars and X-Men: Apocalypse, with Isaac playing yet another title character.
In Ex Machina, Isaac plays Nathan, a bearded genius alcoholic who invented the world’s greatest search engine, Bluebook. Nathan’s next project is an attempt to create a truly conscious artificial intelligence, which he has named Ava (Alicia Vikander). To prove this, Nathan needs an independent observer to determine if Ava is truly sentient – that independent observer turns out to be Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee of Bluebook who is flown out to Nathan’s secluded home and has absolutely no idea what he’s gotten himself into.
When you meet Isaac – as I did this week at his New York City hotel — he disarms you by being “cool.” He has a genuine talent at making you feel like you’ve been at least casual friends for years. Ahead, Isaac talks about his dancing prowess in Ex Machina, his history as a Star Wars fan, and debates the disposable nature of media in 2015 (he’s not really a fan of the convenience of technology). Oh, and remember those “Please Mr. Kennedy”/ “Outer Space” jokes that went around the Internet after both Isaac and Adam Driver were cast in Star Wars? As it turns out, Isaac and Driver were making the same jokes.
Before we start, there’s something I have to know: What’s the relationship between Llewyn Davis and the Gorfeins? There’s an Internet debate that the Gorfeins are Mike’s parents.
That’s not Mike’s parents. They were people that would come down to the Village and watch and were fans.
I’m glad this is settled.
I mean, look, there’s no explicit reference that they’re not Mike’s parents, but, for us, we never saw them as Mike’s parents.
I enjoyed Ex Machina quite a bit.
Yeah, it’s a cool one.
You’re becoming an actor that, if I see you’re in a movie, I feel confident I’m going to like the movie.
And you’re not too cool to do Star Wars.
[Laughs] I’m sure I’ll fuck it up soon for myself.
You really are on quite a run of good movies in a row.
So now you’ll go see Star Wars.
Right. Sure. Only for that reason.
No one was going to see Star Wars until this run of movies for you.
You’re welcome, world.
When I spoke to J.C. Chandor for A Most Violent Year, the Star Wars trailer had just hit and he was relieved because he said you told him you were an X-Wing pilot and he was afraid he was going to spill the beans.
[Laughs] Freaking J.C. — Loose Lips Chandor, that’s what I call him.
That’s going to stick now.
Yeah, I do call him that. Let it stick. “Loose Lips Chandor.”
Your dance in Ex Machina gets asked about a lot. I’m just glad it’s on the Internet for everyone to see.
I will say though, it’s such a crazy moment in the movie as a surprise.
It doesn’t work as well out of context.
No, it doesn’t. Within the film, it’s such a disco non sequitur that it’s pretty awesome.
When watching the film, it really does come out of nowhere.
Oh, you’re dancing aggressively at me!
How many takes was that?
That was, I think, three takes.
That’s not bad.
But it was twice as long though. It was like a three and a half minute dance.
Did you know how to dance like that?
No. You need a choreographer to do that. At least I did.
Do you have any dance experience?
At Julliard they make you do some dance.
Llewyn Davis would look at this and shake his head.
He would not be happy with that. He would not be happy, no.
Was Nathan based on anyone? He’s eccentric, but in an overly, “I’m just a down to Earth fella,” way.
All that “bro billionaire” stuff.
It’s off-putting and appealing at the same time.
Exactly. It’s made to disarm someone. “Give me your privacy, give me your rights, dude, come on.” So there is that thing happening. He seems to have some street awareness, he’s kind of a tough guy a little bit.
And an alcoholic.
Yeah, and an alcoholic. So, I like the idea of looking for someone like that as inspiration and that’s when I stumbled across Bobby Fischer. He’s self taught, he’s from The Bronx – a very dark, misanthropic individual. And on the other end of the spectrum, Stanley Kubrick is someone that I thought of – from The Bronx, self-taught, genius also at chess, and very mysterious. His mind was such a command of things.
Kubrick is an interesting comparison. I find myself more obsessed with Kubrick himself than his movies. He’s fascinating.
Yeah, he is fascinating! I just read a collection of all of his interviews.
I spoke to Vincent D’Onofrio recently and brought up Full Metal Jacket, he said he hadn’t seen it since the premiere.
I assumed since it was Kubrick, he watched it like anyone else would.
I also get it. I remember back with Llewyn Davis I was like, “Man, it would be perfect if I wasn’t in this because then I would really love it.” You can’t be objective about it.
I feel sorry for you now.
[Laughs] Yeah, thank you!
Because you can’t enjoy that movie as much as I do.
Because you’re in it! It’s just hard not to see the things that you’ve done wrong.
Can you ever take yourself out of that?
No. I saw it a couple of time when it first came out, but I’m not going to see it again because it doesn’t symbolize the thing it symbolizes to everyone else – you just see all the other stuff around it. It’s just not enjoyable, or you’re thinking, “Why are you watching this again?”
Well, I wouldn’t publicize you’re just watching your own movies over again.
Yeah, it’s a whole mind minefield, so it’s a psychological minefield.
Ex Machina seems to know what the audience is thinking. Every time I had a “theory,” the movie would address that theory and disprove it.
I think that’s Alex Garland thinking moves ahead. And he also sets that up a little bit, there’s a few little misdirects.
How important are directors to you? The Coen brothers, Chandor, Garland, J.J. Abrams – that’s a pretty good list.
It’s a mixture of being incredibly fortunate with the right thing at the right time.
And then possibly Rian Johnson for Episode VIII, there’s another one.
Yeah, exactly. It would be amazing. But that’s the thing, a lot of it is luck and a lot of it is also taking leaps of faith. Like, “Oh, this seems really good, but I’m going to wait until the exact thing I want to do comes along.”
You were quoted about the Star Wars rumors that some of them are true and some of them aren’t. You read Star Wars rumors?
I have. I’ve read some of them. And a lot of them come from my family and friends.
Why do you read the rumors?
Someone will send them, like my cousin will be like, “Whoa, whoa, look what they just put up.” And I’ll be like, “What? No.” Sometimes I’ll go on Dark Horizons and be like, “What’s going on with this?” Occasionally you’ll see something that comes up and be like, “What?” Or, something and be like, “Whelp.”
Did you read the spoilers when the Star Wars prequels were released?
No, I don’t tend to look up spoilers. I’ll look at trailers and stuff, but the best experiences I’ve ever had at the movies have almost always been when I didn’t know a damn thing about what I was watching … it’s just so much fun to be taken somewhere you didn’t expect to go. But, we are in a bit more of an immediate gratification state. Everything about us now, I think for awhile now, is that the most important thing in the world is about convenience and comfort and immediate gratification.
Is that always a bad thing?
Yes. I think that the idea that the most important thing in your life should be convenience?
Sure, that aspect, but the immediacy isn’t always a bad thing. Being able to look something up without going to the library isn’t a bad thing.
Then forget it immediately. I mean, I just think things become way more disposable: Food, music, knowledge. Look, I think there’s great things about it as well, I’m not going to be like a curmudgeon.
I don’t think movies are disposable. It might be the opposite, that our reliance on nostalgia drives movies. A movie like Back to the Future is still as popular today as it was 30 years ago.
Well, that’s true. It’s funny, the people our age are now the people making movies.
But in the ‘80s, people weren’t remaking movies from the ‘50s at quite this pace.
People in the ‘80s weren’t remaking movies from the ‘50s? Yeah, they were.
Not like today.
Not like today, but there’s way more content today. Everyone is hungry for content and there’s a much bigger market now today, wouldn’t you say?
There’s wasn’t an ‘80s reboot of To Kill a Mockingbird.
But that has to do with fashion. It’s the fashion of the day to make remakes. It’s the fashion of the day to be more franchise-worthy.
Movies of the ‘80s were certainly influenced by movies in the ‘50s. Indiana Jones was influenced by the serials of the ‘30s. But I feel now it’s just a lot of the same thing.
Yeah, yeah, I’d say you’re right. It is more now. And you think it’s just nostalgia? I think it’s a money situation. But why is it a money situation? Why do people want to go see it again?
It depends. If it’s Star Wars, that’s something millions of people like and they make a lot of money. If something like Goonies gets remade, that’s nostalgia.
Right. I guess what I’m saying – maybe movies are less disposable to a certain extent. But I would argue that they are more. I would say there isn’t as much of an interaction with films nowadays. I think the fact that when a movie comes into a theater, everything is about how it does on opening.
Then it gets out of there quickly to go to on demand, or whatever it is, I think by the nature of what that is, that is more disposable — on to the next, on to the next, on to the next.
A hit movie doesn’t play in theaters for six months anymore.
And I get it. I understand the business implications and all that. We tend to find on the other end of it, when it kind of comes back around, it’s like, “Why did we ever think we should only eat canned foods?” For a while, it’s like, “That’s what you should do, see!” Why are we listening to canned music? It’s like, MP3s? Are you fucking kidding me? MP3 and their compression rate, that was for dial up modems. But we’re like, “It’s fine.” It doesn’t matter.
Well, it was fine, at first, when you just needed some songs to listen to while exercising.
I know. Yes. Clearly you’re someone who enjoys the convenience – everybody does. People enjoy convenience. But, for some reason, that became the Holy Grail.
Is there a moment when it hits you, “Oh, wait, I’m in Star Wars.” Was it that cast photo of the first table read?
Yeah, that was definitely a moment of excitement and there was something that as definitely iconic of that photo.
I didn’t know if there’s one moment, “Oh, I’m actually in this world.”
[Laughs] Well, I think it’s when I was there on set.
Good answer. I think seeing a life-size Millennium Falcon would get me.
Yeah, that definitely was one of those moments.
When you and Adam Driver were cast, the Internet started making “Please Mr. Kennedy”/”Outer Space” jokes. Did you two ever reference that on set?
Yeah, we threw a few “outer spaces” to each other. For sure! I saw one that was really funny, “Please Kathleen Kennedy.” That was very funny.
You seem genuinely excited.
I am, man! I am genuinely excited.
Were you a fan growing up?
Looking at your background, someone who attends Julliard doesn’t always scream “Star Wars fan.”
No, I grew up a very big fan. I’ve talked a lot about my family as well, who are big fans as well.
Was Ex Machina easier for you to watch than your other movies?
Like I said, watching stuff is very difficult, but it’s one of the few times I’ve seen something, even the very first time, and been like, oh, that’s what I was intending. We were intending to do this.
So it was easier?
Yeah, actually it was.
What’s the difference this time?
I was able to forget myself a little bit more.
Being vague, I feel bad for what happens to one of the characters at the end.
Yeah, one of the interesting things about Nathan, when you watch it a second time, it’s very hard not to be on his side about everything.
Because he’s not lying.
Everything he says is true! You think he’s doing this, or doing that, then you realize that he’s kind of telling the truth the whole time.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.