Surely it can’t be too long before Oscar Isaac lives up to his name.
Already one of Hollywood’s most highly sought leading men since that cat-clutching performance for Inside Llewyn Davis, few would have grumbled had his recent performance in A Most Violent Year (out this Friday), playing a beleaguered fuel supplier in an ill-tempered eighties New York, brought him his first Oscar nomination last week.
In his latest film, Ex_Machina, his classy ascent to stardom continues, co-starring alongside Domhall Gleeson as the multi-millionaire genius internet search engine owner who invites Gleeson's young coder to fly out to his private mountain retreat to help test out a new project he’s working on: artificial intelligence.
In one early scene we see Isaac’s character taking his nerdy new recruit into a windowless room to sign some weighty non-disclosure forms. Having been sworn to secrecy about his role in J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Wars film, and now signed on to play the villain in the next X-Men film, we imagine it wasn't too far from reality for Isaac.
So practicing our best Jedi mind tricks, we phoned the actor for a chat about his career so far.
Your character in Ex_Machina uses technology to shut himself off from the world. How private are you with your technology use?
I think we all have to be. Everything is run by technology these days, at least those who live in metropolitan areas. And I’m in New York right now, a city almost reliant on technology, so it’s interesting to think where it goes from here. Email, social media, it all seems to be about convenience and we’re always told we should sacrifice privacy for it. Soon we’ll no longer be able to compete with our own technology.
Does it scare you?
To a certain extent because it’s that’s happening - we’re not able to compete with our own industry – we’re destroying the Earth by doing it. Our own creations have gone past us, and that’s an inevitability from a robotic stand point too. And artificial intelligence of course.
Have the Sony hacks made you more privacy aware? Has your agent implored you to start using a pen and paper?
[Laughs] No there hasn’t been too much of that, but it has made us realise that we assume a lot about technology. When things like that happen you wonder why we thought it was so safe, or that some camera can’t be turned on by an outside source. We believed it wouldn’t happen and that’s blind faith.
You’ve also recently starred in the critically acclaimed drama A Most Violent Year. Do you believe it was snubbed at last week’s Oscar nominations?
To try and pontificate about awards distribution is a very silly thing to do, on my end. So I’ll leave that to the bloggers and those guys to discuss. Whatever gets people to see the movie more is a good thing and very often getting awards recognition helps the box office, which is a good thing, but as for asking why this didn’t [get nominations] it’s not for me to say.
You’ve filmed both Star Wars and Ex_Machina here in the UK. Did any of the cast and crew on those films help you develop a taste for anything British?
I’m very rarely not in a restaurant when away from the set, so my tastes are really for the food - not British food in general, just the different restaurants you offer. In London, there’s a Peruvian restaurant called Lima which I really like, with one branch in Covent Garden and another on Charlotte Street. The other good one is Hawksmoor. Seriously, for me, they do one of the best steaks in the world.
What’s been your strategy for dealing with Star Wars questions?
There’s no strategy, I just can’t talk about it.
What are your first memories of getting the part?
Oddly enough, I found out in London. I’d flown over to meet with J.J. [Abrams] and he gave me the part. Before I knew it I was at Pinewood studios, still thrilled and excited even though I had no idea what to expect. To see the way he was approaching it with so much love and enthusiasm, wow, it was a great thing to be a part of.
You’ll soon be appearing in X-Men: Apocalypse, too. Now you’re more versed in dealing with fanboys thanks to Star Wars, do you think it helps going into another beloved franchise?
No, not really - the only fanboy I’m interested in is myself [laughs]. I’ve been a fan of Star Wars and particularly of X-Men and Apocalypse the character for a very long time so I’m excited to attack the character and inhabit that space just as someone who’s a big fan.
Are there any comic book villain clichés you’re keen to avoid?
It’s not always helpful to look at things as the villain. With sci-fi and fantasy, the story is actually human. When someone writes about mutants in X-Men, it’s not really about mutants, it’s about us. I’m researching the character and trying to understand what was trying to be expressed when they created this character for Apocalypse, and people’s fear that comes with that, what does that encompass.
Can you reveal more about what makes him tick?
You have to look at why he’s called Apocalypse. Where does the word Apocalypse come from? It doesn’t mean destruction, it means to lift back the curtain – a Greek term. A lot of ideas came for this guy came from the Book of Revelation, the Four Horseman and all that stuff, so it’s interesting.
Did you read many comic books as a kid?
I did. Spawn is one. X-Factor of course another. It was X-Men for a while and then a separate team became X-Factor, which, ironically enough, is also the first appearance of Apocalypse.
Speaking of The X-Factor, are you a fan of any British TV?
Not that show! But I have been watching a lot of Black Mirror. People are really beginning to love that over here. So dark, so twisted.
Miles Teller recently told us he wants to play Elvis. If you could play any musician living or dead?
We’re talking fantasy here, because it wouldn’t happen, but I’d love to inhabit the role of Marvin Gaye. He’s my favourite singer, he oozed confidence and it’s an incredible story. In some other world that would have been fun to play.
And is there not a famous musician you look like?
I haven’t thought about it [pauses for five seconds] – actually, my friend Catherine Keener, who I have just finished working with for Show Me The Hero [a HBO miniseries written by David Simon and directed by Paul Haggis due out in September] is obsessed with wanting me to play Freddie Mercury. So I guess that is who I would look like.
Do you know many Queen songs?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, a few.
We look forward to hearing about that biopic. In the meantime, your workload has been unstoppable of late - how are you going to spend your time when you finally get a break?
Just sleep [laughs]. I’m moving into a new apartment and I’m going to try and shut off for a little bit. I’ll go out and see some music when I get the chance.
Who might that be?
TV On The Radio. That’s the band I’ve seen the most times. They played in Brooklyn recently and that was such a good show. I love their new album.
Finally, given Ex_Machina is all about mankind’s relationship with technology, will we ever see you dragged onto Twitter?
No. If anything, I need to be less connected to technology.
Ex_Machina is out 21 Jan
[Images: Rex Features]