Category: Interviews

Oscar Isaac On His ‘Powerful, Flawed’ Latino Character In ‘A Most Violent Year’

HuffingtonPost.com — At the height of his struggle to survive in the lucrative but cutthroat heating oil industry during the most violent year in New York City history, Abel Morales exclaims: “I’ve spent my whole life trying not to become a gangster.”

Morales, the lead character in J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year,” is a Latino immigrant who makes the comment as his family life and business spiral out of control. Oscar Isaac, 35, (“Inside Llewyn Davis) portrays the righteous Morales, who faces the dark side of the American dream as his moral compass is set against his own ambition.

The Guatemalan-born, Miami-raised Isaac has been busy with a diverse array of roles, including X-wing pilot Poe Dameron in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” a young artificial intelligence programmer in Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina,” and a powerful villain in “X-Men: Apocalypse.” “A Most Violent Year” is the first to hit theaters, with a nationwide release on Friday.

Isaac spoke with The Huffington Post this week about the importance of portraying emotionally complex Latinos on the big screen and how he thinks “Star Wars” fans will react to J.J. Abrams’ upcoming installment of the franchise.

“A Most Violent Year” starts without much context on the characters or what’s going on. For most of the film, I couldn’t really figure out if Abel was as righteous as he pretended to be or not. What are your thoughts on Abel? Is he truly the same man he sets out to be in the beginning?

I kind of don’t want to spoil it for you. It’s the kind of movie where you bring a lot to it as an audience member. In a way, I don’t want to limit it by interpretation of it. I think, that’s exactly the right question. That means I think the movie succeeded for you because that’s exactly what the whole movie is about. It’s about how do you navigate this system, this capitalist system. We’re all told, ‘In this country you gotta hustle to make it.’ So there’s hustling, cutting corners, doing things the other guy, your competitor, won’t do. And what you’re trying to do is navigate this crazy train particularly in a troubled time in New York’s history — it was one of most violent years on record. So he does have this sickening ethical dilemma, where he wants to do things in certain way. He doesn’t want to be seen as a gangster, but I think that you’re right to question whether it’s really a moral thing or whether it’s actually just pragmatic.

I also spoke with J.C. Chandor, who directed and wrote the film, about Abel and his American dream. He mentioned that Abel made it a point to “sand away” his heritage to achieve his dream. He perfected his accent and changed his clothes, for example.

That’s an interesting thing. I remember J.C. told me that with Henry Ford’s workers, one of the things that they would do is they would come in their Sunday’s finest, which was their ethnic clothes. They would come into this little melting pot and they would come out with a suit. And it was a way of [saying], ‘And now you are an American.’ You wear a suit and you go after the American dream.

I think it’s a very good thing and it’s a modern thing that we try now to incorporate our culture. We try to make that just as much a part of America, as opposed to totally hiding it or denying it or turning your back on it.

On that note, I recently saw in your interview with Vogue UK that you changed your last name from Hernández to Isaac because you wanted to avoid being typecast in stereotypical roles?

That was my given name: Oscar Isaac Hernández. I felt that was little long for the marquee. [laughs] In Miami, that is an incredibly common name, Oscar Hernández. There are like 10 pages of Oscar Hernándezs in the phone book. And I was starting off in theater, there were actually a couple of other Oscars auditioning for parts as well. That was more of a differentiation from the people that were down there.

At the same time, in Miami starting out it is difficult. You do get cast if you’re a Latin man, because you look a certain way. Casting directors, often — it’s easy just to see people of a certain ethnicity as just one thing. For me it was important to be an actor, first and foremost. To me it was the most important thing, I wanted to be able to play anybody, and where I’m actually from to be secondary.

There’s actually been a lot of contention in recent weeks in terms of diversity in Hollywood, and it was triggered by the fact that no actors of color were nominated for an Oscar this year. What are your thoughts on the subject?

As far as awards distribution and why people get some and why they don’t — for me, it’s just not something that I’m interested in pontificating about. I don’t really know or how you rectify that, other than people that make movies should make more of them. That’s one of the things that I loved about what J.C. did with this film, which is he made his hero an American of Latin American descent who is completely idiosyncratic, who is not a cliche, whose identity although much made up of where he comes from is just as much made up of who he is emotionally and psychologically and spiritually. The fact that he presented a Latin man not as a gangster, not as a sidekick, not as a villain, but as a powerful, flawed individual — that’s a great thing. That helps audiences look at Latinos as more than just one thing.

And switching gears completely, congratulations are in order. You’re going to have a huge role in the upcoming “X-Men: Apocalypse” and you’ll be playing an X-wing pilot Poe Dameron in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Thank you.

There is a lot of mystery surrounding the new “Star Wars” film. You’ve said you’ve “signed your organs away” and aren’t allowed to reveal any details.

[laughs] Yeah, I can’t.

So I won’t ask you details about the movie, but I will ask you one thing: The last three films weren’t received with as much fervor as the first three. So is “The Force Awakens” a movie that fans of the original 1980s trilogy will be happy with?

Abso-frickin-lutely. Without question. I think particularly fans of the universe will just be in ecstasy. But I think that even people that haven’t — there are believe it or not still people that haven’t seen or are not fans. I think this will win a lot of new fans. I just think it’s been done with such love, such energy, that it’ll be really compelling for everybody.

Oscar Isaac Talks “X-Men” and “Star Wars” – David Letterman

“A Most Violent Year” star Oscar Isaac talks about his roles in the upcoming blockbusters, “X-Men: Apocalypse” and “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.”

Oscar Isaac on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

Massive thanks to my friend Jon, Oscar Isaac was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on January 28th, 2015. If you happened to have missed it, you can watch it below! He shows up at 14:38.

Oscar Isaac Interview 2015: ‘A Most Violent Year’ on Latest Film

The Golden Globe-nominated actor discusses his role in the crime drama set in New York City during the ’80s.

‘I still ride the subway’: Rising film star Oscar Isaac

NYPost.com — In October 2013, Jessica Chastain posted the trailer for “Inside Llewyn Davis” to her Facebook. “Yay Oscar Isaac!!!” she wrote. “When he was in the running for this film, we had dinner and he showed me his first taped audition. It blew me away, just like this trailer does . . . Can someone please put us in a film together?”

A little over a year later, the stars have aligned. Isaac leads this Wednesday’s crime drama “A Most Violent Year” as an immigrant oil man who longs to do business the right way, despite the unethical world around him in 1981 Brooklyn. Chastain plays his morally ambiguous spitfire of a wife.

“This country tells us hustle, hustle, hustle — ambition, man,” Isaac tells The Post. “But the [notion] that that doesn’t happen at a cost, that’s a lie.”

Born in Guatemala, Isaac grew up in Miami before moving to New York to attend Juilliard -— where he met Chastain — in 2001. “We were kind of nerds, that’s why we get along so well,” he says with a laugh.
Isaac had early roles in “10 Years” opposite Channing Tatum and “Drive” with Ryan Gosling. But it was the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” that ignited the red-hot run he’s on now.

Next December, Isaac will star in pretty much the most anticipated movie of the decade — “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — as an X-wing pilot of whom very little else is known. Isaac’s lips are sealed, of course, but he does say he felt like a badass flying the X-wing. “That’s a capital YES,” he says. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also set to play the titular villain in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” out in 2016. “I was a big fan of Apocalypse growing up, I really was. He’s going to bring the X-Men down to their knees,” he says.

Even with the blockbusters coming his way, the Greenpoint resident says life hasn’t changed too much.
“More opportunity for work — that’s definitely there. And sure, I run into other actors and directors that I haven’t met that are aware of me. That’s a nice thing. But there hasn’t been some sort of major shift as far as my day-to-day life,” he says. “I still ride the subway.”

A Minute With: Oscar Isaac on the hustle of acting and ‘Star Wars’

TodaysZaman.com From playing a struggling folk musician to an ambitious heating oil entrepreneur, actor Oscar Isaac is all about the hustle. After his breakout in 2013’s “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Isaac’s profile is on the rise with roles in the upcoming “Star Wars” and “X-Men” films. Isaac, 35, spoke to Reuters about the notion of ambition in his latest film “A Most Violent Year” and those pesky “Star Wars” questions.
Did Abel Morales’ ambitions in “A Most Violent Year” resonate with your own? These tales of ambition are fascinating, and the rise to power, what power means. For me, I’ve never been interested in that, although ultimately it’d be great to find a story and be able to make it and to some extent, you do need a sense of power to be able to have that happen.

But what I’m trying to do is not be so goal-orientated; Abel is very goal-orientated. For me, it’s less about a goal and more about a state of mind.

Is there an aspect of “selling out” as you become more successful in your own career, and take on bigger roles? Between my Llewyn Davis and Abel Morales, the people tend to admire Abel a lot more, and it’s very telling that they pick the person who’s ambitious, goal-orientated, hyper capitalist.

I think there’s been a shift. I’m in “Star Wars” and going to be in “X-Men,” I believe people can say that I’ve sold out, but I think there’s a different feeling nowadays about ‘hey man, you’ve got to hustle.’ This country is based on the hustle, hustle for your dollar, whatever you’ve got to do, and you give props to the person that hustles the most. There is a sense of whatever you can get away with, more power to you.

How are you planning to dodge “Star Wars” questions for a year? Are you allowed to drop any tidbits to satisfy curiosity? No permission to satisfy curiosity. We finished shooting [in November], and there’s a trailer out already so that’s just a testament to J.J. [Abrams, the director] and how much he loves what we’ve made.
And it’s also how much he loves the fans, that after three weeks being done shooting, he releases a trailer and it’s so representative of what the movie’s going to be, which actually has an intimacy, a vitality to it.

Oscar Isaac Talks About Pragmatism, Morality and Putting Yourself On the Line in A MOST VIOLENT YEAR and Beyond

Oscar Isaac Talks About Pragmatism, Morality and Putting Yourself On the Line in A MOST VIOLENT YEAR and Beyond

IndieWire.com — Oscar Isaac is perhaps one of the most exciting men in film right now. After showcasing both his singing and acting chops in Inside Llewyn Davis, he’s since landed roles in Mojave opposite Mark Wahlberg and Garrett Hedlund, Apocalypse in X-Men: Apocalypse and then of course that tiny movie no one is excited about: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

But meanwhile Isaac has also been making quieter, if not more in-depth movies. J.C. Chandor’s (All is Lost) A Most Violent Year showcases Isaac in the title role, playing Abel, an ambitious businessman in 1981 New York City. Jessica Chastain, with whom Isaac attended Juilliard years back, plays his wife Anna, the daughter of a gangster and the Bonnie to Abel’s Clyde. Isaac plays Abel with a precision far different than messy Llewyn who loved cats and twiddled on his guitar. Abel is pristine, determined, and elusive in his motivations.

Press Play had a chance to sit down with Isaac in LA this week, just a few days after the Star Wars trailer set out to take down computer servers across the planet. But we were interested in getting into the details of Isaac’s incredibly crafted performance in A Most Violent Year. Sporting a mustache, with the charm of Llewyn and the introspection of Abel, Isaac chatted building character and the fine line between morality and pragmatism.

The last thing I saw you in was Inside Llewyn Davis, where you’re playing a character always asking other people for help. Abel is always fighting against that. Are you more like Abel or a bit of both characters? The thing with Llewyn was that he was not happy asking for help. But he’s in a What the hell else am I gonna do? Can I bum a cigarette? kind of situation. With Abel, yes, he’s going to do things on his own, but there’s that constant fear that all of ithis could fall apart at any moment as well. When you’re playing somebody, the guy’s a millionaire, clearly he’s affluent, he’s doing great, got a great little family, moving to a bigger house, it’s kind of hard to find a reason to root for the guy. J.C. said that often, with a lot of these dudes who end up growing so much, there’s at least two or three moments in their life when they just go all in. They risk everything. This movie starts with Abel being like, ‘We’re risking everything right now.’ That intensity, the pull between I’m risking everything, I could lose everything at any minute and at the same time the singularity of vision, I know what our goal is and I know how we can get there, being unflappable. Those two things happening at the same time.

Playing a character with that constant conflict must have required physical work. This man has this anxiety in his gut the entire time. His goal is not to show people that. How did you start building Abel? Did you manifest that anxiety and build on top of that? It was a very dense script. Obviously he’s very formal. He doesn’t use contractions. He speaks very formally. As an actor you have a choice, you’re like I want to make it more human and talk like I do. I chose to lean into the formality in a way almost like a memory of your grandfather. I would ask [J.C.] all these questions–“What’s he feeling here, what’s he going through?”–and he would say, “The hair’s going to be amazing.” And I’d be like, “What?” [Laughs] Then, “What’s going on inside…?” He’s like, “The suits, you got to take a look at the suits!” I would get so frustrated! I even wrote him, “I don’t care about suits. I don’t care about the hair! I need to know what’s going on inside!” And then at one point he said, “The suits are not about fashion, it’s a suit of armor.” Suddenly that hit me in a much different way. As an actor, that’s completely actable.

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