'Ex Machina' Actor Oscar Isaac Talks Growing Beards, Dancing & Lying to the Press About 'Star Wars'
By Stacy Lambe
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’stitular villain.
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).
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
The other very
noticeable thing about Nathan is his beard. How long did it take you to grow it
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.”
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
Domhnall Gleeson, who
plays Caleb, is also going to be in Star
Wars. Did you know thatwhile 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
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
Ex Machina opens in theaters on April 10. Watch the trailer below: