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Moon Knight (TV Series)

Ethan Hawke came to the set of Moon Knight with ideas.

The Oscar-nominated actor stars in Marvel's latest Disney+ series as Arthur Harrow, the charismatic and almost cultish zealot who faces off against Oscar Isaac's hero. Isaac's Moon Knight is all chaos and uncertainty, but Harrow has an unsettling calm about him, moving through the world with an unwavering fanaticism and a single-minded eye on his goals — even if those goals lead to collateral damage.

Isaac himself pitched Hawke on Moon Knight when the two bumped into each other at a Brooklyn coffee shop, and after Hawke saw Isaac's enthusiasm, he started thinking about what excited him most about joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Once he signed on, he was surprised by how much Marvel and directors Mohamed Diab, Justin Benson, and Aaron Moorhead embraced his and other costars' ideas. It was Isaac and Hawke who suggested gathering the actors and filmmakers for a weekly Sunday brunch, where they'd talk out the coming week's scenes and rehearse together. It was also Hawke who helped come up with the idea for Harrow's unnerving introduction in episode 1, squeezing his feet into sandals filled with broken glass. And when costar May Calamawy had an idea for a scene later in the series, she came to Hawke, and the two actors sketched out a scene outline together.

With Moon Knight episode 2 out now, EW caught up with Hawke to break down his charming antagonist — and what surprised him most about joining the MCU.

Ethan Hawke in 'Moon Knight'
Ethan Hawke in 'Moon Knight'
| Credit: Marvel Studios

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I know you signed on to Moon Knight after getting calls from Oscar Isaac and director Mohamed Diab. What was it about those conversations that hooked you?

ETHAN HAWKE: I've kind of just followed my gut my whole life. One of the biggest jobs an actor has is once you're in a position to have jobs offered to you, [you have] to figure out which ones to do and which ones not to do. It's often a trial and error, and sometimes you make the wrong decision. But in general, when an actor who's really talented has a fire in their heart to play a character, it doesn't go that badly. It turns out pretty interesting.

I think back on different things in my life — like [Philip Seymour Hoffman] had a fire in his heart to make Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. At that moment in time, everybody had turned their back on Sidney Lumet and thought his career was over, and Phil really believed in him. That fire in him translated into a lot of good things happening in the rehearsal room and on set, and Sidney kind of bloomed again and gave his best. I had a feeling that if Oscar was this convincing to me [about Moon Knight], he might be that convincing to the world as this character. He really wanted to play this part and his reasons were sound and he was dedicated, and I just felt right about it immediately.

Plus, I'd already been in talks with Mohamed. I'd been working on another project with Mohamed that he had to drop out of to do this, and so it seemed like such synchronicity that both these guys would come at me with a Marvel job. I felt like, well, if I was ever going to jump into this playground, the time is obviously now.

Arthur Harrow has this soft, reassuring charm to him and this delightful physicality. How did you want to approach that?

I always feel like in some way, the villain has to be the opposite of the hero. He has to be the hurdle that the hero needs to realize himself [and] become fully actualized in the hero's journey. When you think about these things on a metaphoric level, the villain's job is to create the hero, right? So, if you have a mentally ill hero, what's the opposite of that? Well, one version would be a doctor, right? Somebody trying to alleviate the pain of the world — that's what doctors do. So, I kind of saw him as a doctor, and at the same time, I saw him as a kind of spiritual entity. I started visualizing him kind of as a monk.

I remember reading a bunch of Tolstoy, and at the end of his life, he became a little megalomaniacal in a benevolent way. He kind of thought he was smarter than anybody else on the planet, and he could teach the world what the right way to be is. I'm always nervous when people think they're smarter than everybody else — it's generally creepy. But I thought that was a good place to build from. If [Moon Knight] has this fractured mind, I would be whole. If he was the moon and inconstant, I would try to be the sun and constant. If he's going to have all these sharp edges as a broken thing, I should be soft and gentle — and that's how I built him.

That makes sense, structuring this story around two characters who have this dichotomy.

Yeah, it just made sense to my mind. It was interesting. I said this [earlier], but I was a little in shock about how open-minded Kevin [Feige] and the Marvel team were. They have a certain roundtable approach, where everyone has a voice, and that isn't the normal methodology. They have very unconventional methodologies to how they make this. Kevin has a vision of the show and what it should be based on the comics, and they kind of know what their world is and isn't — and as long as you operate inside those parameters, you're given an incredible amount of playfulness.

Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke in 'Moon Knight'
Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke in 'Moon Knight'
| Credit: Csaba Aknay/Marvel Studios

You've said that you were surprised by how collaborative the process was — especially on a big-budget project like this. Was there anything else that surprised you about making Moon Knight?  

Well, the limited series in and of itself is a relatively new form, as far as our industry is concerned. It's evolving and changing so rapidly. I mean, I've been working for 30 years, and in the last three years I did two limited series, after never having done one at all. And they both had bigger budgets than any of the movies that I've done.

The medium is changing. The way audiences are receiving stories and wanting stories to be told is changing, and you have to roll with it. One of the surprises to me was the process. We developed all the episodes, and we had Mohamed and this team of Justin and Aaron, and everybody was around at all the rehearsals. It was kind of wonderful. It wasn't like, "Oh, the director's in charge now." It felt like one thing, one breathing entity, and I'd never seen that happen before. Now granted, it's only my second limited series, but I'd never seen that happen. I didn't really know that was possible. It was like a band, and people took turns leading the band, and I really enjoyed that.

It sounds like Oscar really helped develop this project from the beginning. Was there a particularly memorable day on set with him?

Well, I think the event of Moon Knight is Oscar's performance. I felt that before I flew to Hungary, talking to Oscar and he's reading all these books. He was just so passionate about trying to create these different voices. In a lot of ways, my favorite Marvel film is the first Iron Man, and it's because of the depth of Robert Downey's performance. It's just an amazing performance in the middle of a superhero movie, and you'd never really seen that before. There's been good performances in superhero movies, but they're usually about servicing the plot and the story. This was a character study, and it creates a lot of possibility for the actor — and so [on Moon Knight], I felt that my job was to make sure that [Isaac's] performance was captured.  It was just obvious from the get-go, as soon as I saw him creating this Steven Grant character. I just thought it was hysterical and surprising and weird. Seeing Marc, this tough guy who has this tiny little English man inside of him, it was just endlessly amusing to me. As the series unravels, it gets even more complicated.

When Oscar first started, he was incredibly nervous about this and careful about it and unsure, and by the end, he was having so much fun. That was wonderful. It wasn't one day that was the event to watch; it was watching his confidence grow. His confidence with green screens, his confidence with the elaborate camera work, these elaborate costumes — and he's still willing to be silly and serious.

What do you think has been your biggest challenge throughout this whole process?

Working inside the collective teamwork of it all. I have a general apprehension towards show-boating stuff. I don't ever want to go see Hamlet because the guy playing Hamlet has some really great idea. I want to see a person playing Hamlet inside a production that has something new to say about Hamlet, for example. So the biggest challenge was telling an incredibly complicated story well. I wanted people to want to watch it twice and have it be better the second time around. That's the biggest challenge. The character itself I found really pleasurable and simple.

That is a challenge, especially with a show like this that has so many moving elements, and the tone has to balance all these elements of horror and comedy.

I don't know how in the hell we did it, but I do think they work. There's elements of romance, there's elements of outrageous comedy and action, and there's extreme drama and it's genuinely scary. It's a strange show, that way. All those elements are working in concert with each other. Part of that is just in the DNA of Moon Knight. There's something really cool about a superhero that's like the moon and keeps changing and shifting — and even he doesn't know if he's good or bad.  

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