Trying to work on this interview with Oscar Isaac and Lupita Nyong’o talking about their roles as Maz Kanata and Poe Dameron after seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens yesterday, and well, it was hard. Since no one but the cast got to see the film prior to Monday’s premiere, this along with all the other interviews with Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Kathleen Kennedy and an upcoming one with J.J. Abrams, they were all done prior to me seeing the film. I would have had so many more questions. The good thing is, this makes this post SPOILER SAFE! Since the interview happened while everything was still embargoed, the questions and answers are safe, yet still gives you what you need to pacify you just a little longer.
Lupita Nyong’o was raised in Kenya and eventually graduated from the Yale School of Drama’s acting program. In 2013, she impressed cinema audiences in her film debut, as brutalized slave Patsey in acclaimed director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. It won her the Oscar and from there she’s now here. She shares how she auditioned the same week of the Oscars and taking on a role as a CGI character, Maz Kanata. As EW.com shared, Maz seems to serve as this movie’s wise, ancient alien with connections to the mystical side of the galaxy. “I wanted to do the creature as a puppet originally, but once we figured out the things that she was required to do, it felt like [performance capture] was the way to go,” Abrams said.
Oscar Isaac was born in Guatemala and raised in Miami, Florida. Before he became an actor, he played lead guitar and sang vocals in his band the Blinking Underdogs. His list of acting work was also short. Incredible how perfectly J.J. Abrams put the dream cast together with actors that didn’t have much work to go by. Issac has been acting since 1996, yet until 2015, all the roles were small, and well nothing even close to Poe Dameron, a leader in the Resistance’s fight against the evil First Order.
Oscar Isaac and Lupita Nyong’o Talk
Maz Kanata and Poe Dameron
So obviously none of us have seen the movie yet. What can you tell us about your characters?
Lupita: I can tell you that my character’s name is Maz Kanata and she is a pirate and owns a bar.
Oscar: I can say that Poe Dameron is a pilot, not a pirate and he is committed to the Resistance and to defeating the First Order. He believes in the Force and he can be a little reckless in wanting to prove that he is a leader and a hero and I think he also has that swagger and confidence that comes from people that can soar above everyone else and do all these things at once like, like fighting a fighter jet and getting into these dog fights and be so close to the edge of death and that definitely influences how he operates in the world.
What’s it like stepping into and becoming part of the most iconic series probably of all times? Did you grow up with the Star Wars movies?
Lupita: I was born into Star Wars. I feel it was a very normal part of my childhood. It would come on public holidays on the national television. We only had two channels so Star Wars was on and everybody watched it and everybody was familiar with it because it was all there was to watch on TV. We all loved it and so it was just a very normal comfortable, cozy part of my imaginative folklore. It wasn’t until being cast in it that I realized what it meant on a meta level to the world and how big the fan base is, how dedicated, how enthusiastic people are about this world that George Lucas created. And I mean I felt it dawned on me for the first time I think stepping onto the actual set that I was a part of it because I looked around these and these were these very expansive sets and there was so much detail taken into the creation of every single thing, the textures, the colors. You really did feel like you were on another planet and I think that was the time when I realized wow, “I’m a part of something that has and will continue to go down in history.”
Oscar: The first movie I ever saw in the theatre was Return of the Jedi, amazingly. It’s pretty crazy so now that I’ve done this one I’m gonna stop doing movies now ‘cause I feel like I’m really into a symmetry so I think it definitely changed my mind, my life. It kind of blew my little kid brain and yeah I was a huge fan ever since (I was a kid) and my family were very big fans and every time a new film would come out we’d throw themed parties and memorize the fight scenes to a T and terrorize my family with them. And so for me Star Wars always represented and meant quite literally coming together as a family and having a great time and it was an excuse to do that. And then at the same time it’s like that thing where there’s this ownership over it and there’s an intimate relationship with it and then also it just is something completely outside of anyone’s real reality and then suddenly to actually be asked to join that and not only be in it but to contribute something and create a new character, which it really was that. It was an evolution. The character changed so much from what originally was there when JJ and I first met to what ultimately ends up on screen. So it really did feel like creating something. It’s kind of hard to process because you start and you really feel that receding of all the water ‘cause the tsunami’s about to hit. You know, that’s kind of what this moment is really where it’s just about to crest over and so yes, it’s not just a film. It’s a cultural phenomenon and it’s just hard to process.
What’s the best advice you received about stepping into the Star Wars universe?
Oscar: I didn’t get too much advice about it. I mean for me it was less about advice and I guess it was self-advice just to try to do what I was hired to do which is not worry about that stuff so much and just try to make an interesting, compelling, hopefully truthful character and not get too overwhelmed with all the other stuff around it.
What was the first thing that you did when you found out that you actually got the part?
Lupita: I took out my suitcase. Yeah, ‘cause I did. I really did. I got my suitcase. Time to pack. Yeah. No, I literally found out like two days before I needed to be in London so I had to pack.
Oscar: That’s amazing. I was in a hotel room in London so I just blasted the Star Wars theme and I grabbed the shampoo bottle and started using it like an X-wing. That’s what I did.
Are you gonna start collecting the toys of yourself Oscar? I know Lupita’s aren’t out yet.
Lupita: I know. I know. Uh, I can’t wait, yeah.
Oscar: I have a very small apartment so I can’t get too much stuff but I am funneling things to the family. Yes, yes. Like sheets. There’s a cardboard cutout. There’s a gogurt.
Oscar: You can drink yogurt out of my head.
Lupita: That’s not true.
You’re also an emoji.
Oscar: And I’m an emoji on Twitter.
We don’t know much about Maz yet but we do know that she’s pretty up there in age. How does it feel to play someone so wise and a thousand years old, young?
Lupita: Well, I mean I can’t answer that because I didn’t say all those things you said and I’m not allowed to say any of those things. So those are basically speculations that I cannot confirm or deny.
What was the audition process like?
Oscar: I went in and I auditioned. I met JJ. And then a few weeks later I went in and I read with John and I took pictures, took some pictures next to Daisy. Just wanna make sure I wasn’t too decrepit looking. Apparently I am, next to the sunshine. And then I did a couple of scenes and then that moment when I found out at the hotel that was about an hour later when I went home.
Lupita: Wow, that’s nice.
Oscar: Yeah, it was nice. Pretty quickly, yeah.
Lupita: So I met JJ to audition for something that I believe may have been Star Wars the week of the Oscars – when I was nominated for an Oscar – so I was in quite a whirlwind and I don’t really remember much about that audition. Yeah, and then a few months after that, I was in Morocco and I received a call from JJ saying, “this is the character I’m thinking she’s CGI, are you interested?” And I said, “yes, I would love to see the script.”
So they flew someone to Morocco with the script for me to read and I read it over about for two and a half hours. I was immediately intrigued by it and motion capture was something that I was interested in doing because I think it offers the actor a unique opportunity to play something that’s not limited by your physical circumstance and especially after playing Patsy (in 12 Years a Slave) who was so much about my physical circumstances. I wanted to get as far away from that as possible so that I’m not trying to second that experience at all and I can learn something and be in a completely new turf and for me motion capture was that. And I was very interested and a few days later I got the call from my agent that I should pack up.
What was it like to see your character for the first time?
Oscar: It’s strange. It’s again it’s difficult to process. It’s a lot of mixed emotions because you’re seeing it as a fan. You’re seeing the new thing. You’re exhilarated by that. You’re understanding what the world is because it’s one thing to see it all put together. So I was being affected as a viewer and then also the memories of what shooting was like and what takes were used and what takes were not used and what was moved to another place and how it affects the thing. So there’s so much going on that it’s a very trippy moment.
Lupita: When I signed on to play Maz they were still developing the character and her role in the film and what she was going to look like and all that. They welcomed me into that conversation which was really cool to see (the process), you know, the early stages of her and how she’s evolved over time because she’s CGI they’ve been working on her for a long, a long time. And then to finally see the film and to see what became of her and somehow it’s me but it’s definitely not me it’s bizarre. I’ve never seen myself like that in, in another, another body all together. So it was just as confusing and bizarre and titillating like oh, my god there I go. You know, and then you see the whole film as well and it’s overwhelming. I mean it’s overwhelming and it’s beauty. My take away from seeing the film was that it is a seamless. It felt to me like a seamless continuation of the Star Wars saga and because what they’ve done is they have kept the integrity of the world that George Lucas created and somehow they have managed to integrate all this new technology and these new storylines and they work effortlessly together. It’s a beautiful, visual experience and a moving story and I think the fans that the franchise already has will be very happy and I think the new fans will be equally thrilled by this amazingly creative world.
What’s next for you?
Oscar: I’ll go back. I have to finish filming a movie called The Promise that I’m doing. Shooting it in Spain. The film takes place in the beginning of World War One in Turkey and I play an Armenian doctor in it so yeah, I’m finishing that up.
Lupita: I just finished a play called Eclipse that is by Dania Gurira who is an actress on the Walking Dead. She plays Michonee and we just finished that at the Public Theatre in New York and we’re moving to Broadway in February so very excited about that. It’s gonna be the first play on Broadway that is written by a woman, directed by a woman and starring just women. So that’s a great milestone. And then I have the Jungle Book coming out in April and Queen of Katwe coming out soon.
Another two to watch, for just like Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are names that will not just be with us because of Star Wars, but because they are so talented, you will be looking for them in other films.
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* I attended the press event to cover the #StarWarsEvent and then received an invitation to screen Star Wars: The Force Awakens to share my thoughts with my readers. If it’s not obvious in my writing, please know, all opinions are always my own.
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