‘Ex Machina’ Actor Oscar Isaac Talks Growing Beards, Dancing & Lying to the Press About ‘Star Wars’

by Stacy Lambe 4:55 AM PDT, April 08, 2015
Photo: Getty Images

Oscar Isaac is a name you need to know -- even if he has a face that you can’t recognize. Often hiding behind a mustache or beard, the actor has garnered critical acclaim for his starring roles in A Most Violent Year with Jessica Chastain and as the title character in Inside Llewyn Davis, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination.

Following such buzzy roles, the 36-year-old actor has joined two massive franchises. The first, a starring role as a Rogue Squadron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, will be followed by X-Men: Apocalypse as the film’s titular villain.

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But before he hits the big screen in those unavoidably huge tent-pole films, he’ll be seen -- if maybe not identified -- in another indie, Ex Machina, out April 10.

Isaac plays Nathan, an isolated genius intent on developing artificial intelligence. He invites Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to spend a week in his home to administer the Turing test -- a method of determining if a machine has intelligent behavior that is indistinguishable from that of humans -- on his latest robotic creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander).

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Over the course of seven days, what is real and what is manufactured becomes a complete blur as Caleb tries to process Ava’s intentions and Nathan’s reclusive paranoia -- a personality Isaac says is based on the real-life chess master, Bobby Fischer.

ETonline sat down with Issac at New York City’s Crosby Street Hotel to discuss his evolving facial hair, standing out in two major star-studded film series, and the inevitable questions about Star Wars spoilers.

ETonline: In Ex Machina, Nathan is quite isolated. Do you think he mixed advancing technology -- in this case artificial intelligence -- with distracting himself from his own loneliness?

Oscar Isaac: I played with the idea that comes from a deep misanthropic feeling. I think he doesn’t think highly of humanity at all. That’s why I think someone like Bobby Fischer was an inspiration for me -- someone so smart but so insular in his mind. He was so trapped in his own brain that he became paranoid about everything else… Many of the choices he does make are definitely because of isolation.

One scene that was totally unexpected -- but amazing -- was your drunken disco. Is dancing a secret skill set of yours?

If you get me a choreographer for a couple of weeks, I’ll bang out a real good dance for ya -- but on my own, maybe not so much. 

So there’s no Saturday Night Fever remake in your future?

[Laughs] No.

The other very noticeable thing about Nathan is his beard. How long did it take you to grow it out?

Not that long, a few months, maybe three or four months.

Your facial hair has had quite the evolution on screen. How much of that is you and how much of it is the film?

Generally, it’s part of the film. But I guess I’m one of those faces where facial hair changes it drastically as well. With this, Alex [Garland, Ex Machina’s writer and director,] did say, “I see him with a beard.”

And shirtless.

Very shirtless. That’s another Bobby Fischer thing too. He had an Olympic trainer when he was preparing for his chess battles, which is wild because you think, ”Why would he need that?” But that connection between body and mind is fascinating. Also, Nathan needed to be such a formidable opponent for Caleb, not only intellectually superior but physically superior as well.

Domhnall Gleeson, who plays Caleb, is also going to be in Star Wars. Did you know that while filming Ex Machina?

Nope, no clue… We didn’t know either one of was in [Star Wars] until we showed up for the read-through.

Now that you’re a part of two large ensemble franchises, do you worry at all about standing out among the sea of actors?

Not really. No. I can just do justice to the character and try to make it interesting for me, but how it comes across ultimately really isn’t in my control. That’s more about the nature of the story and how the character’s portrayed.

You’re getting so many questions about spoilers, how many lies have you told the press?

Not too many. I’ve been pretty forthwith I would say… You really can’t answer stuff. You can’t give away some stuff that I can, as honestly as I can.

Based on the trailer, your character, Poe Dameron, doesn’t have any facial hair. Is it safe to say Star Wars is your first clean-shaven role in a while?

I can’t even say. Maybe a beard suddenly appears -- maybe thousands of years go by, I don’t know. Maybe there’s flashbacks, who knows? Maybe I play my own dad. You never know! [Laughs] There are so many questions. Maybe I’m playing twins. I could be twins -- one with a beard or just a mustache or some alien hair, like I’m an alien of some sort.

It would be great if the twin was a bearded, shirtless guy who dances.

Exactly -- [Laughs] -- does disco dancing.

Ex Machina opens in theaters on April 10. Watch the trailer below: