MOON KNIGHT E2 Directors Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead Talk Steven Grant's "Waking Nightmare" (Exclusive)

With Moon Knight episode two now streaming, we caught up with directors Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead to talk about their experience helming two installments of the acclaimed Oscar Isaac series.

Interviews Opinion

Moon Knight episode two is now streaming, and ahead of the premiere, we were able to catch up with directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (SynchronicThe EndlessSomething in the Dirt), who also helm episode four. We spoke about their incredible experience working with Marvel Studios and the one-and-only Oscar Isaac, who plays the titular hero and his numerous personalities: Marc Spector, Steven Grant, and Mr. Knight. 

With the series primarily following Grant's journey for the majority of the first two episodes, we learned more about why they wanted to keep the spotlight on him rather than shift it over to the undoubtedly badass Marc Spector. They also revealed a few behind-the-scenes details about how Isaac was able to pull off such a masterful performance acting opposite himself.

Plus, they explain how Moon Knight' not being quite as well-known as some of his Midnight Sons brethren actually helped them reinvent the hero for a modern time. 

Check out the full interview below!

ROHAN: Episode two continues to keep the focus on Steven Grant rather than Marc Spector, and we see him start to get better acclimated to his new normal. Did you ever discuss switching between the two more frequently or did you find the relatability of Steven a better way to ease the audience into this world?

JUSTIN: The reason we focus so much on Steven in the first few episodes is that he is our fish out of water, audience surrogate, in a way. Of course, he has no idea what's going on, and what's happening to him is a nightmare. It could seem like the coolest thing in the world, you wake up, and suddenly you're a superhero. I mean, that's the wish-fulfillment that Marvel's been delivering on since they started, but what the two of us and Mohamed really wanted to do was actually treat both the condition that he has, but also just the idea of the absolute horror of people trying to kill you and having a life that you can't hold together. 

No matter how hard you try, to treat that is actually a waking nightmare and, so we felt a lot of empathy for him, and he's the person who's so vulnerable and the human vulnerability of Steven was something that was very easy to penetrate, you feel it almost immediately for him. Whereas, if you start with Marc Spector, especially with the comic from the comic books, he's somebody who's so gruff on the outside, he's so hardened, so emotionally unavailable, his vulnerability takes a little bit longer to get to. So, you find the vulnerability by exposing it through this brotherly relationship he has with Steven.

ROHAN: You're working with Oscar Isaac, an incredible actor and such a chameleon on this series. What was the process behind crafting those scenes where he's acting opposite himself as Marc and Steven as unique as possible? 

AARON: It was a lot of doing everything we could photographically to make the story feel like, this is from the point of view of the characters that Oscar was playing. In terms of trying to do something different, what's interesting is that we have, I guess, sort of a visual or filmmaking style that we've developed over five feature films prior, and we were really empowered by Marvel to bring those instincts into this. The hope is that it is bringing something new to, I guess, you might call it the superhero genre, the Marvel Universe, whatever it is. So much has been done and so much has been done beautifully, it's so hard to bring something new to that, but luckily, we could bring our own instincts in and hopefully that was something new and thank you for noticing.

JUSTIN: It's funny though, using Oscar having conversations with himself essentially, sometimes it's as simple as just a split screen. It is quite literally that simple and, I mean, my very first film in sixth grade was called Mirror Mirror about a guy talking to himself in the mirror, so it’s a very simple effect and then, sometimes you just shoot it like traditional coverage. You have a double, which was often Oscar’s brother in the foreground and you shoot it against Oscar, because you realize that it doesn't really blow people's minds anymore to show two of the same person in the same shot. It's just, I mean, maybe once, maybe twice, but not for six hours and so, at a certain point you realize like, “Okay, let's just shoot this as empatheticlly as possible. Let's just shoot it using our most human instincts. How would you do it if it were just two people? Two regular people without tricks?

ROHAN: The music, the humor, the setting, everything is so fresh. Can you tell me more about working with Mohamed Diab and the creative team to craft the most authentic Egyptian experience we've seen in, not only a Marvel movie, but in almost any sort of film or TV series?

JUSTIN: We were very lucky to have Mohamed guiding us through the day and May Calmawy as well, she’s also Egyptian, she was awesome. Having them to guide us to the cultural aspects of it, in terms of, the humor of it specifically. Oscar is actually a really, really funny guy, so you have that treasure. Actually, his relationship, in real life, with Ethan was really helpful too. I don't think there are that many funny scenes between, especially Steven, but really any of Oscar's characters and Harrow, Ethan's character, but seeing them, in real life, reinforce the tonal humor. That is kind of a left of center version of Marvel humor, that actually I think really helped.

Another thing that really helped actually with the humor of it is having Oscar's brother, Mikey, around quite a bit, having obviously him and Oscar spending a lot of time together, they just have one of those, they appear to have one of those brotherly relationships that are full of good little, like salty, sometimes childish jokes among each other. We don't know what happens in private between those two in the trailer. *laughs* But, they were coming up with all this funny stuff, and it felt like when they got to set, those two always had some little new thing cooked up.

AARON: We very much felt like our job was to spend a whole lot of time with the actors before we got to set, to just kind of figure out what everyone's sensibilities are, and hone in on what makes it so good. Then, once we got to set, we really just wanted to chase them around with the camera and chase their best instincts and follow that lightning and that actually became our approach, strangely enough. 

ROHAN: Since Moon Knight isn't necessarily as well known as some of his frequent collaborators like Daredevil, Blade, and Punisher, did that help in any way to help realize this story since you were able to take more liberties with his origin?

JUSTIN: Yeah, obviously, Jeremy Slater adapted this material and there's something about being tasked with giving a comic book character's origin story. It’s so interesting, in the sense of, Moon Knight’s been around for 50 years, that's actually a relatively young superhero, but it still requires, in 50 years, that the origin story be retold several times. That's just comic books, that's how they work. They don't work in direct continuity. Can you imagine if Batman, created in 1927, is still alive somehow? *laughs* But, it really felt like Jeremy Slater really took the greatest hits of those 50 years and assembled something very special and very meaningful and very of our time. We became giant fans of every run of Moon Knight, but especially the Limire/Smallwood run, which we tried to capture the spirit of visually as much as we could.

When Steven Grant, a mild-mannered gift-shop employee, becomes plagued with blackouts and memories of another life, he discovers he has dissociative identity disorder and shares a body with mercenary Marc Spector. As Steven/Marc’s enemies converge upon them, they must navigate their complex identities while thrust into a deadly mystery among the powerful gods of Egypt.

Moon Knight is now streaming!

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