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Oscar Isaac Interview For A Most Violent Year

What Oscar Isaac Has to Say About Starring in Star Wars and X-Men

Oscar Isaac is starring in this month's A Most Violent Year, a drama directed by J.C. Chandor that's already gaining award buzz (it was just awarded best film, best supporting actor for Jessica Chastain, and best actor for Isaac by the National Board of Review). We had a chance to sit down and talk about the film with Isaac and how he prepared to play Abel Morales, a South American immigrant who's trying to make a name for himself in the heating oil industry in New York in 1981, statistically the US's most violent year. Isaac talked about working with Juilliard classmate Jessica Chastain, who plays his wife, as well as the other exciting things happening for him, like starring in Star Wars: Episode VII and playing the titular villain in X-Men: Apocalypse.

POPSUGAR: What ultimately drew you to A Most Violent Year?
Oscar Isaac: I just really appreciated what an unclichéd look it was, what a unique look it was at the Latin American immigrant experience in this country. I thought that I had never seen a character like that on screen, at least not for a very long time. And also because it was so alien to me. I'm so uninterested in business and money and heating oil and all that. The fact that it dealt with all these things . . . all of that made it very exciting. And the fact that it was a chance to work with Jessica [Chastain], who's a classmate of mine who I've known for such a long time. We'd been looking for something to do together. I jumped at the chance.

PS: Is it true she introduced you to J.C. Chandor, the director?
OI: She didn't introduce me, but she told me about J.C. and she told J.C. about me, so she was kind of matchmaking behind the scenes.

PS: What other projects had you and Jessica looked at to work on together before this?
OI: We hadn't looked at any other projects; nothing had come around.

PS: And this was the perfect thing?
OI: Yeah, it was perfect.

PS: I read that you and Jessica did some work on your relationship before you started filming. Can you talk about that?
OI: Yeah, we went to school together, so we have a very similar approach to material because we went to the same school and we were trained the same way. So we loved rehearsing, and [in] rehearsing, we wouldn't just go through scenes; we would sit and we would talk, like 'when did they meet, when did they do this, how long have they been together, where did he come from, where did she come from, what's the family like?' And so we just created a backstory, a shared history together. I think what was so great too, because we knew each other so well, we trusted each other a lot. Often with actors everybody has a different process, so you don't want to step on anybody's toes. But with her since we have such a similar [process], we could just say whatever we wanted and not feel afraid that we were offending each other.

PS: Is she as lovely to work with as she seems?
OI: Yeah. It was one of the best experiences that I've had, because she would push me to go further and I would push her. When I saw [the film], I felt like you could see the real intimacy there.

PS: Abel wears lots of superficial layers — suits, hair, the way he talks. Can you talk about the process of putting on Abel?
OI: Everything was about presentation. Everything is a strategy for the goal. I remember I was just trying to figure out the character; I was like, 'J.C., what's he thinking here?' and he would say, 'I don't know, but his hair is going to be amazing!' And I was like, 'Yeah, but what does he want?' and he was like, 'I don't know, but his suits are going to be so nice!' Finally he said, 'Look, his suits have nothing to do with vanity. His suits are suits of armor.' Everything is about presentation, what is showing.

There's a threat of violence at every turn, yet Abel himself never really commits those acts of violence. Why do you think he's such a pacifist?
OI: Because it's the most practical thing to do. I don't think it's because he's morally superior. I think it's because it's the smartest strategy.

Where do you think Abel would be now, in 2014?
OI: There was some thought that he would be in prison — or he'd be like Donald Trump. Maybe have his own reality program. [Laughs].

PS: There's already award buzz for the movie, but you have other exciting things going on in your career, like starring in Star Wars: Episode VII and X-Men: Apocalypse. What's the next career benchmark for you?
OI: For me it's definitely more about finding roles that move me and getting to explore things I haven't explored before, working with people that I admire and love. Getting a chance to work with J.J. [Abrams] was unreal, doing something with Bryan Singer and Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence. Those are all exciting things, and not only that, but playing characters that are very interesting to me [that] have emotional resonance — I grew up reading X-Factor and X-Men. The chance to play Apocalypse is pretty cool.

PS: What would teen Oscar say about playing Apocalypse?
OI: He'd probably be like, 'Go to the gym! If you're going to play Apocalypse, you better put some pounds on!' No, look, it's insane. I could never have imagined that these particular two [franchises] would have come my way. I'm just pretty blessed.

Image Source: A24
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