Oscar Isaac's 'Moon Knight' Accent Is Good, Actually
His British accent doesn't have to be accurate to be entertaining.
As soon as the first trailer for Moon Knight, the latest Marvel series, was released there was immediate hubbub over one central element. What was that British accent Oscar Isaac was doing? Isaac, who hails from Miami, is obviously not from the UK, but he is a Juilliard trained actor. And, yet, something about the voice he was affecting sounded askew, slightly over the top, almost like a serious version of Paul Rudd saying “you sound like you’re from London” in Forgetting Sarah Marshall or a misguided Michael Caine impression. Was Isaac doing a parody? And, if so, for what purpose? And yet I am here to tell you that, actually, Oscar Isaac’s Moon Knight accent is good.
Now, this is probably worthy of a disclaimer that I am in the tank for Oscar Isaac. I think he’s not only extremely handsome, but also one of the best actors working today, and Moon Knight is just more proof of both of those things. The limited series, created by Jeremy Slater, finally finds the inescapable superhero studio attempting to make a television series for Disney+ that doesn’t feel intimately connected to the ongoing movie franchise.
In its initial episodes, Moon Knight tells an entirely independent story, which starts by focusing on Isaac’s Steven Grant, a socially awkward gift shop employee at the British Museum in London. Grant is chirpy, but troubled. He chains himself to his bed every night and pours sand around the perimeter to make sure he doesn’t sleepwalk. He desperately wants to be a tour guide in the Egyptian artifacts exhibitions, but is relegated to selling toys. He speaks, of course, in a high and pronounced dialect, which plays up a sort of Brit nebbish quality. He says things like “bloody hell” and “cheers.”
The trick of Moon Knight is that Steven, and his accent, are just one facet of our hero's personality. Blasted in and out of consciousness, Steven eventually learns that he himself is an alter of Marc Spector, a mercenary with dissociative identity disorder, who is an avatar of an ancient Egyptian god named Khonshu, voiced by F. Murray Abraham. As the series goes on, the Marc version of Oscar Isaac starts to supplant the Steven version, giving us a more typical version of a Marvel hero, complete with Isaac’s standard American accent. But the more the Steven persona stays trapped in a mirror, only appearing when Marc gazes inside, the more we start to miss him.
The accent is catchy. It’s almost like an earworm in that the more you listen the more you start to enjoy its particular rhythms. It’s also, very clearly, not an example of an actor doing a quote-unquote bad job of trying to approximate something from real life. In an interview with Empire, Isaac explained: “That voice is about where Steven's from, where he's living now, and some of his believed heritage. It's not an idea of what Brits actually sound like.” But even if he weren’t so consciously filtering the accent through his character’s complicated psyche, Isaac’s performance would still be impressive.
Accent work has been the subject of some hand wringing lately with armchair critics analyzing whether Julia Garner really captured scammer Anna Delvey’s hybridized brogue in Inventing Anna or whether Lady Gaga’s Patrizia Reggiani could have emerged from Italy or the Mushroom Kingdom. But acting is also interpretation and as long as it doesn’t veer into the offensive I relish when talented people take big swings. I’ve already argued that Gaga is great in House of Gucci simply because she’s not naturalistic. It’s the kind of ham sandwich movie star splashiness for which I long. If her accent had been dialed down, “father, son, and house of Gucci” would have nowhere the same punch. Now, Gaga, as she reiterated, was trying very hard to get Patrizia’s patterns of speech right in a way Isaac clearly isn’t when it comes to Steven. And yet the performances hold similar appeal.
I assume as Moon Knight goes along the audience might learn more about how Steven’s persona developed, but even if it doesn’t I don’t really care. Isaac’s having fun and that fun is infectious whenever Steven is on screen. Accuracy is overvalued in acting, innit? I’d much prefer watching Steven Grant destroy a loo.