May Calamawy got her Moon Knight audition through Instagram
Moon Knight (comic book)
It's hard to be Moon Knight. Marvel's latest Disney+ series follows reluctant hero Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), who discovers that not only does he have dissociative identity disorder and share a body with a personality named Marc Spector — but he's also serving as the human conduit to an ancient Egyptian moon god. And if that wasn't enough, he's also inadvertently found himself tangled in a global conspiracy, headed by a very creepy Ethan Hawke.
Fortunately for both Marc and Steven, they have an unexpected ally in their adventures. May Calamawy plays Layla El-Faouly on Moon Knight, a brilliant Egyptian archaeologist who also happens to be Marc's wife. The Bahrain-born actress is perhaps best known for playing Ramy Youssef's sister Dena on Ramy, but Moon Knight marks her biggest role yet, inducting her into the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe.
With Moon Knight episode 3 now streaming, EW caught up with Calamawy to talk about bringing Layla to the screen — and how a surprise DM led to her audition.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What do you remember most about the Moon Knight audition process?
MAY CALAMAWY: [Director] Mohamed Diab's wife Sarah [Goher, who also served as a consulting producer on Moon Knight] messaged me on Instagram, like, "My husband's interested in you for this Marvel show." I asked my manager if it was real — because you get a lot of weird stuff on Instagram! She did some fishing, and she's like, "Okay, it's real, and I got you an audition. There wasn't much information about it."
For the audition itself, I was really nervous, and I really wanted to do well — because I cared, but I also didn't have that much information. So, I had fun with it. Two weeks later, I had a chemistry read with Oscar, and then three days later, my manager called me. She was like, "Have you heard anything?" I was like, "No." She says, "Alright. Well, I have. You got it." And then we both cried on the phone. [Laughs] My boyfriend was also there, and he cried. It was really cute.
You've talked before about how you weren't sure what to expect, joining a project of this scale. Was there anything that surprised you about joining the Marvel world?
I didn't know how much free reign we were going to get to be able to collaborate. I thought I was going to be handed a role, like, "They've written this Egyptian role, and I'll take it." But I realized that Mohamed and his wife Sarah were huge champions of Layla. She was the channel for which we were representing Egypt.
When I got there, I was so intimidated working with Oscar and Ethan. They have such a certainty about them, and they trust how they feel about something. They have all these ideas, which I'm sure they pull from other things they've done. And I'm just like, "Ahh!" because this is really new for me.
I did beat myself up in the beginning because I was like, "I want to be like Ethan. I want to be offering all these ideas." Finally, I was like, "You know what? I haven't been in 50 movies. I haven't done what they've done. I'm here to learn from them." So, I started sharing more, and they really wanted to take everything I was saying into consideration, which was really amazing because I was not taking up space.
What was your most memorable day on set with Oscar Isaac?
In the beginning, I was very intimidated, and I was just trying to act cool. It's not good for your acting when you're trying to act anything. You should really just be honest about where you are at every moment. Finally, I started to admit, "Yeah, okay, I'm a little scared. Okay, fine, I'm very scared. And I don't want to mess anything up."
I loved this one moment, where Mohamed was filming a really simple scene, and it looked like I was just doing nothing. I looked at Oscar and told him, "I really don't know how to do this scene right now. There's a lot going on in this split second." He walked me through it, like, "Okay, this is what's going on, and then you're seeing this and feeling this." He completely directed me in that moment. It just came out so easily, and it felt so nice and effortless. I always thank him for that, like, "You're doing this incredibly intense scene, and yet you took the time to help me." It was just very generous.
The desert was also unreal. I'm lucky: I'm half-Palestinian, but my mom's family are all in Jordan, so I grew up going to the Dead Sea and going to Jordan. There was a sense of pride, like, "I can't believe I'm filming this huge production here." The desert doesn't get old, but it was a familiar space.
That's so cool. I'm sure a lot of the cast and crew were there for the first time, and you're like, "Yeah, I already know my way around."
I definitely didn't know my way around the desert! [Laughs] But I know what you mean. There was a sense of like, I know this land, and I'm so grateful to be here sharing it with everyone. Usually, I'm on the flip side. I'm usually in the West, filming over there.
You share scenes in episode 3 with Gaspard Ulliel, who sadly passed away earlier this year. What stands out to you the most when you think back to working with him?
It's still such a shock. It's the true definition of a tragedy when I think of Gaspard. He was so friendly and warm. We had a week together where we filmed this one scene, and he had a really quiet demeanor to him. But when you'd talk to him, he was really funny, and he was really committed to every moment that he was in. It was fun to work off of him because he gave so much. He spoke about his family a lot, especially his son. So my love goes out to them.
Thinking about Moon Knight overall, what do you think was your biggest challenge?
I had to really learn to trust myself in this space. I wanted to always ask for help, and I would challenge myself to just sit with it and wait to figure things out. I feel like towards the end, I was stepping into myself more, and I felt confident about that — even confident about what I didn't know. That was a really great space to be in.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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