Oscar Isaac is certainly having a moment. It was just last year that Isaac found himself coming off of an exhaustive awards season with his tour-de-force performance in “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Soon after, before his future as an independent actor was written in stone, he surprised everyone by signing up for one of the most anticipated blockbuster films, “Star Wars: Episode VII.”
Despite the newfound visibility of stepping into the legendary film franchise, he still has the attitude of an actor just starting out. It’s all about the work, but to deny that Isaac has a magical charisma of a matinee star would be a disservice to the actor. That same charismatic charm permeates his performance in “The Two Faces of January;” a moody and tense drama based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith.
In the film Isaac plays a well-educated man Rydal Keener, a conman waiting for an adventure, and instead is drawn into a high stakes situation with an expert conman Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his magnetic wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst).
Isaac spoke to amNew York about his whirlwind of a year, and the upcoming “Star Wars” film.
Did you read “The Two Faces of January” before filming?
I did read it. A lot of it had to be invented and Hossein [Amini] really did his own creation. In the book he’s really not a small time con man. I thought that was a really great addition that he added. He’s also conning people, so when he meets this other guy who ends up being the much bigger fish in the pond, there’s an interesting duality that happens.
How did knowing Kirsten prior to filming lend to your chemistry on screen?
I was so impressed with Kirsten. She does all this work, her script is filled with notes, and then she arrives and doesn’t hold on to any of it. It’s hard to let it all go and see it happens, and that’s exactly what she does. She doesn’t have any vanity, which is rare to find in young actresses.
How is shooting “Star Wars?”
It’s incredible. J.J. Abrams is such an amazing filmmaker and is so enthusiastic. Not only the fact that it’s “Star Wars,” but he’s building actual sets and shooting it on film. You walk on that set and say, “Oh my God. I’m living it. It’s here!”
Is your inner six year old freaking out?
Yeah, absolutely! You see Harrison Ford standing there and the rest of the characters standing all around. I’m like, “Oh my God. It’s happening right there before me.” The first movie I remember seeing was “Return of the Jedi” in the theater.
So because of that did you have any reservations about taking on a role?
No. [We] have a really great director and a really good story. I was excited to jump aboard.
There are rumors out there that your character is the captain of the Millennium Falcon.
I cannot say a damn word about any of that! [laughs]
By Hollywood standards you’ve had a very successful few years. How do you define success?
I think success is being able to do what you love without having to compromise yourself. In that regard I feel quite successful that I’ve been able to not be limited to other people’s ideas of what I should or should not be playing. I’ve had a wide variety of roles with filmmakers that I really love. It’s not doing something out of some career calculation.
Is it difficult to ignore those voices? They must become deafening during an awards season.
Yeah. In those situations it can get tricky because there’s a lot of noise. At the same time, it is an honor. So, it’s a psychological mind field. It was my first time going through something like that with “Inside Llewyn Davis.” I came out of it realizing that it’s a little bit of a strange situation that we’re in now with there actually being political campaigns. It’s not the most enjoyable thing to be a part of.
Well you may have to go for a second round with “A Most Violent Year.” An Oscar for Oscar is buzzing around.[Laughs] Well, I think for that to happen I much rather it be because people like the performance and not because I went to every mall tour.