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Oscar Isaac talks ‘The Promise,’ ‘Star Wars’ set life, ‘Hamlet’ at Public Theater and more

Oscar Isaac stars as an Armenian medical student

Oscar Isaac stars as an Armenian medical student in "The Promise." Photo Credit: Jose Haro

Oscar Isaac’s career is soaring. With the skill of an ace X-wing pilot, the actor is darting from “Star Wars,” to World War I epics, to Shakespearean tragedies and back again.

The 38-year-old’s latest project is “The Promise,” a drama-romance in which he plays an Armenian medical student in Turkey during the Armenian genocide that took place near the end of the Ottoman Empire.

amNewYork recently spoke with Isaac about the film, now in theaters, as well as his upcoming off-Broadway play and, of course, “Star Wars.”

“The Promise” shines a light on a rarely discussed atrocity. What drew you to the film?

To my great shame, I didn’t know anything about the Armenian Genocide. So it was a real education for me and a real opportunity to be educated and to delve into the history of what happened, to speak to relatives of survivors, to go to a small museum that’s in [Los Angeles], in Little Armenia. And to try and take up this responsibility of telling the story honestly and in a just way.

When I read the script, whenever I’d get to one [particularly upsetting scene] it would get to me every time. So I knew this was something that I wanted to be a part of. And knowing that Christian [Bale] was going to be involved, and the work that Terry George has done in the past, it was all reasons for me to jump onboard.

You star opposite Oscar-winner Bale. What was it like working with him?

It was fantastic. He’s a consummate professional. And he’s a great person to talk to about this wild field that is acting in movies. And really I’ve admired him so much. So I was very fortunate to finally get a chance to actually be on screen with him.

Was there anything specific that you learned from him?

More about a way of working. You know, you might find this hard to believe, but he had such a way of letting things roll off his back. Not ever getting bogged down with the little silliness of things that can happen on a set, or even when working on a scene, or letting insecurities dictate mood. He was almost like a kung fu master. ... It looked like a really freeing way of working.

You’re starting rehearsals soon for “Hamlet” at The Public Theater. Have you and Keegan-Michael Key worked much for that yet?

We did a workshop together. And just the other day, we were doing some fencing and talking about some scenes. And I sent him stuff and he sends me things. So, I’m very very excited for him to be my confidant, my consigliere.

Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play?

Well, right now it’s “Hamlet.” [laughs] But, I’ve always had a real affinity for “The Winter’s Tale.” It’s always one that I’ve really loved and found very, very moving.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” hits screens in December. How has playing Poe Dameron impacted your career?

Well, look, it helps with getting things offered to you. I’m not even sure how it works, but ... suddenly putting you in a movie doesn’t hurt [film makers]. So you get a few more things coming your way, which is great. You just have more opportunities to do interesting things. I mean, I’m not 100% sure that I would have gotten this role had it not been for “Star Wars.”

Who is the funniest “Star Wars” cast member?

Well, the guy that makes me laugh the most is Domhnall Gleeson. He’s one funny [expletive], that guy. But everybody’s great. Rian Johnson is great. Daisy [Ridley]’s great. They’re all really fun-loving, enthusiastic people. But, if I had to choose one it would be Domhnall.

Do you have a favorite person to hang out with on set?

You know, it’s funny on set because you’re just kinda going back and forth to your trailer, so there’s not too much hanging out that goes on. But I really enjoyed playing pingpong with Adam [Driver]. That was fun, we really got into that on the last one.

What emotions do you get when you sit inside the X-wing?

Well, it’s funny, ’cause we are creatures of habit. And we can adapt to things very quickly, even something as crazy as being in “Star Wars” and playing a pilot in an X-wing. So, it’s kind of funny, just like anything it becomes a job. But then when a little kid comes to set — which happens often — people bring their kids, little six-year-olds or seven-year-olds, and they’re like, “Hey, you wanna meet Poe?” And then I step down, and I look at them, and I see them with their little brains just exploding. Seeing me in this pilot get-up and seeing me next to the X-wing, I think that’s when it elicits such an incredible feeling. And it’s a great reminder of how it moves, particularly kids, so much. And not just kids but everybody, adults obviously. But for me, whenever they come to visit, it’s just a great reminder of how much bigger it is than yourself.

Finally, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is one of your most lauded performances. Could you talk a bit about working with the Coen Brothers?

Best experience of my life, even to date. They’re great American folk artists and really I kinda owe everything that’s happened really to that moment. It was like a stamp of approval from the Coen Brothers. And just everything I learned being there with them and the friendship I developed with them and continue to have. It’s one of my most prized things in my soul, is that.

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