Ethan Hawke and Oscar Isaac‘s collaboration on Marvel Studios’ latest Disney+ series, Moon Knight, began as a “meet-cute” of sorts at a Brooklyn coffee shop. The two acclaimed actors live only a few blocks from each other, and as soon as they first encountered each other at their neighborhood establishment, they quickly shared their mutual admiration. Isaac, who was already developing Moon Knight at the time, wasted no time and pitched Hawke on playing the series’ antagonist, which he immediately accepted. That role would later become the enigmatic cult leader, Arthur Harrow.
When they eventually started shooting together in mid-2021, Hawke and Isaac bonded over the fact that they were filmmaker Paul Schrader’s two most recent leading men in First Reformed (2017) and The Card Counter (2021), respectively. They also discovered that they both love to sort out their work while running.
“We both realized that we like to run. So it was a great way to talk and get to know each other and make small talk about the show and work out problems with our scripts,” Hawke tells The Hollywood Reporter. “That’ll probably be what I remember most about our summer. Just battling out the scripts as we ran around Budapest.”
Hawke, who has admittedly been critical of superhero films in the past, gained a whole new perspective on the genre when Marvel Studios welcomed his creativity with open arms. The opening scene of Moon Knight best exemplifies the creative freedom he was granted as Hawke pitched the idea of his character lining the insoles of his shoes with crushed glass, all while listening to Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand.” (The scene is reminiscent of how Billy Bob Thornton reputedly created his limp in Sling Blade, but Hawke believes the idea came to him from reading the works of Flannery O’Connor.)
“[Marvel Studios has] tremendous faith and belief in the actor’s ability to contribute. That opening scene is a great example of [Marvel] using your creativity to help get you to invest in the show and to come up with original ideas,” Hawke shares. “So I was really impressed by that. At one point when Oscar and I were rehearsing, I said to him, ‘You realize that they’re being so kind? They believe in us so much that if this doesn’t work, it’s our fault. We can’t blame anybody.’ But that’s really empowering as a performer. Yes, you have to work in their kitchen, but they’re going to let you work.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Hawke goes into further detail about how he arrived at Moon Knight‘s opening scene. Then he explains why he views Harrow as “Moon Knight’s doctor.”
Harrow’s opening scene reminded me of a story involving Billy Bob Thornton and how he supposedly put crushed glass in his shoes to create his limp in Sling Blade. Did one inspire the other? Or is Harrow’s act a form of self-punishment for past sins?
I love comic books. So I went to the directors and said, “If you were looking at a really good comic book, there’s usually one full-page drawing of the villain.” Whether a page has four drawings, eight drawings, every now and then, there will be a full-page drawing. So I was like, “What would the full-page drawing be that introduces Harrow? What is his secret that you want to let the audience in on?” And then they turned it back on me and said, “Well, would you tell us what you think it is?” I was always hypnotized by deeply spiritual people who were self-lacerating. You hear stories about all these saints and how they would wear hair shirts or whip themselves. So I always was like, “I thought we were supposed to love each other and be kind. What is all this self-immolation? What is that about?” So I had this vision of him pouring glass in his shoes and listening to Bob Dylan. And then I explained that to them, and they were like, “Let’s do that!” And I was like, “Alright!” But that’s how that came about, and I’ll be curious how Billy Bob came up with that in Sling Blade. Mine was more inspired by … I don’t know. I guess I was probably reading too much Flannery O’Connor.
So you probably had some preconceived notions about Marvel prior to working with them. How did your experience ultimately compare to what you once thought?
Through much of my career, the higher the budget went up, the higher the fear quotient went up, and from the people in charge, there was a lot less creativity on set because there was so much fear. But there’s something about the success that Marvel has achieved that empowers them to be confident and not be fearful. I’m only guessing here, but somehow in the DNA between Kevin Feige’s relationship to Robert Downey Jr., there’s something really good that happened between the producorial-actor relationship. They have tremendous faith and belief in the actor’s ability to contribute. That opening scene is a great example of them using your creativity to help get you to invest in the show and to come up with original ideas. So I was really impressed by that. Oscar poured himself into this part. At one point when Oscar and I were rehearsing, I said to him, “You realize that they’re being so kind? They believe in us so much that if this doesn’t work, it’s our fault. We can’t blame anybody.” (Laughs.) But that’s really empowering as a performer. Yes, you have to work in their kitchen, but they’re going to let you work.
Once your neighborhood coffee shop brought you and Oscar together for this show, did the two of you eventually bond over Paul Schrader?
Yeah, we did. Oscar is a big First Reformed fan, and he had just finished The Card Counter when we started. With Paul, that’s a certain experience. Card Counter, First Reformed and Willem Dafoe in Light Sleeper, those three films are all siblings. Taxi Driver, too!
When your buddy/neighbor Alessandro Nivola heard the story of how you and Oscar first connected at the aforementioned Brooklyn coffee shop, did he start going there more often?
(Hawke erupts with laughter.) He’s going to be in one now, too, right?
Yeah, J.C. Chandor’s Kraven the Hunter.
Yeah, he’s known J.C. for a long time, so I think he and J.C. go to their own coffee shop. But I’m going to tell him that you said that because I think that’s really funny.
I saw some footage of you and Oscar jogging through Budapest. Is that where a lot of your character discussions took place?
There was a quarantine going on, so we had very little access to do much of anything. That city is actually incredibly beautiful. And yeah, we both realized that we like to run. So it was a great way to talk and get to know each other and make small talk about the show and work out problems with our scripts. That’ll probably be what I remember most about our summer. Just battling out the scripts as we ran around Budapest.
From the Dalai Lama to David Koresh, you’ve listed a number of influences on your character, but is there one in particular that you leaned towards the most?
Definitely Carl Jung. When I started talking to Oscar, I realized how much he was investing in DID [Dissociative Identity Disorder]. He really wanted to fully explore this mental illness for his character, and I also realized how much that illness deals in dreams and symbols. So I started thinking about Carl Jung, and I started seeing Harrow as Moon Knight’s doctor. I started really exploring that relationship and thought, “What if Jung [went] to the dark side?”
Moon Knight premieres Mar. 30 on Disney+.