When newly-crowned Emmy nominee Oscar Isaac was first approached by writer, director, and producer Hagai Levi about possibly being husband Jonathan in his HBO reimagining of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage (1973), Dune, The “Star Wars” and “X-Men” star wrote to his longtime girlfriend Jessica Chastain – with whom he had studied at the Juilliard School some two decades earlier and with whom he appeared as husband and wife in 2014’s “A Most Violent Year”. If the project did indeed benefit Isaac, she was the person he wanted as his Mira.
With Chastain initially unavailable, the role went to Oscar winner Michelle Williams. Scheduling problems ensued, Williams said goodbye and Chastain – now unencumbered – stepped in. Had Williams stayed connected, the entire limited series would have had a very different tone, both to audiences and to Isaac himself.
“It would have been a lot more work, of course,” Isaac says during a video call recorded from the tiny coastal island of Tisvilde, Denmark, north of Copenhagen, where he has a home with his wife, Danish writer and director Elvira Lind. “I do not know [Michelle]. Getting to know someone, understanding them as a person, as an actor and so on. We didn’t have that with Jessica as we have so much history together.”
In what has been a roller-coaster ride at work, mutual trust has been paramount for both parties. “Sets are crazy places,” says Isaac. “The whole job is madness. It can breed many bad habits, bad behavior, carelessness and selfishness. People get so ambitious that they just want to do their thing, no matter the cost. The fact that she and I trusted each other, our kids played together, you know, it’s just a totally – for better or for worse – totally intertwined relationship.
That’s why Isaac claims he never envisioned the couple having separate roles. “It’s not really two performances, it’s one performance,” he says. “We play the character of a marriage. I wasn’t even that interested in the character. It was the situations that were really upsetting for me. So I didn’t even put too much stock in, ‘Well, how does he sound? What’s he doing?” The essence was just being in those situations and then getting synchronized with another human being, as characters but also as performers. It was like music, just total synchronization. Micro expressions. Every slight movement they “If I did, I would counter emotionally, physically. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It was also scary because you’re kind of operating on a really subconscious level.”
In this five-part two-handed sword full of achingly raw moments, Isaac says Episode 2 was his hardest. “Many just had to listen to earth-shattering news for days,” he recalls. “The kind of attention that is required, the mix of focus and trying to allow spontaneity but not force things. It was a balancing act when she comes home with the news that she’s having an affair and she’s leaving. In terms of energy, those were probably the biggest challenges.”
His favorite scenes? “I really loved riding her around in the car,” he says. “Because we finally took to the streets. We would just make music and drive around together.”
The parity in the pas de deux these friends performed extended to the nudity shown, which has to do with Chastain asking her co-star for something in return for this piece of the production. The condition never upset Isaac.
“It was always in the script,” he says. “I’ve always assumed that nudity exists because they’re having sex, and people are usually pretty naked when they’re having sex. At least that’s how I did it.”
For the same reason, Isaac says he understands other male actors’ reluctance to bare their bodies. “I’m okay with people being squeamish about showing their genitals,” he says. “I’m not that squeamish, but I understand. America is funny with this stuff. You can cut off a lot of heads, you can shoot anyone, you can make all the blood spill, but you know, if you see a nipple, everyone freaks out. Because of this, it is a hypersexualized society. The suppression of it just breeds so much over-sexualization of children. And yet, the more mature, real bodies – what bodies actually look like – that’s what drives people crazy. It is strange.”
While Isaac and his family are taking a well-deserved break in Denmark — “I’m just in heaven up here,” he says — Mad Gene Media, the production company he and Lind recently started, has some film and television projects in development. In September, of course, he will be back in the US for the Emmy ceremony.
Isaac says it’s “lovely and fun” to be nominated, especially with much-admired contributors. It definitely puts a smile on his face. Still, “I’m not too keen on being there because there are so many reasons why some people make the cut and some people don’t,” he adds. “That’s absurd [Jessica] not nominated, and it’s also absurd that I’m nominated. It’s all a bit absurd, and that’s okay. So life is.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-08-09/oscar-isaac-scenes-from-a-marriage-emmys Why Oscar Isaac saw ‘Scenes From a Marriage’ as one role