Oscar Isaac had a pretty damn fine 2011, working with Madonna, Ryan Gosling and Zack Snyder. That’s a year nearly anyone in Hollywood — and certainly those trying to leap into its shark-infested waters — would kill to have.
The crazy thing is that Isaac is poised to top himself in 2012. He’s starring opposite Jeremy Renner in “The Bourne Legacy,” a franchise that has grossed almost a billion dollars since its debut in 2002. And the Coen brothers cast him in the lead role in “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a film focusing on the 1960s-era folk music scene in Greenwich Village. No doubt, Isaac is One to Watch this year, which is why we hopped on the phone with the actor recently to discuss everything he has coming up over the next 12 months.
MTV News: We’ve been following your career for a while here. First of all, you should know there’s a lot of huge “Drive” fans in our office.
Oscar Isaac: Nice! I remember going in to see a very early cut of the film and thinking, “I cannot believe I am in this movie!” I was so stoked when I saw it.
MTV: Does it feel like you’ve recently hit a groove with respect to what’s going on with your career?
Isaac: Yeah, I think once I got the Coen brothers film, I could definitely feel a bit of a shift. The dream is definitely in full effect. I just got back from a meeting with the CoBros and it was amazing, man. It was just the three of us sitting around going through the script and showing each other different movies. Plus, I’m a musician — I’ve been doing that for years — and I get to play lots and lots of music in the film. I’m going to record an album of it in January in New York with T-Bone [Burnett].
MTV: Wow, that’s amazing.
Isaac: Yeah, man. If I were to describe the exact perfect scenario for me it would be what’s happening for me in January and February in New York. I’m beside myself and can’t believe my luck.
MTV: How did you get the part?
Isaac: I found out about it way early on that they were putting together a movie based on the folk scene in the ’60s in New York. As soon as I heard that I was like, I’ve got to get in there. I sent in a tape of me playing one of the songs. It’s based on Dave Van Ronk who was known as the “Mayor of MacDougal Street.” They really liked what I sent in and they brought me in to audition. Then they made me wait for about a month. I was thinking about it nonstop and then they called and offered it to me. It was unreal to get that call from Joel [Coen].
MTV: Is the stuff you’re singing in the movie original music or will it be familiar?
Isaac: It’s not overly familiar. They’re older folk songs. I don’t think anything is being written for it. T-Bone and I have gotten together to do some new arrangements of some of these old songs. There is lots of music in the movie.
MTV: Would you call it a comedy?
Isaac: Oh yeah, most definitely. There’s a nihilistic quality to it. It’s filled with a wry absurdist sense of humor.
MTV: Who is this guy you play?
Isaac: He’s a working-class guy from Queens. He’s just trying to make it in this scene. A lot of bad sh– happens to him. [Laughs.] He’s just resilient as f—. He keeps going forward in a slightly Buster Keaton-esque way.
MTV: The put-upon man is definitely a Coen brothers specialty.
Isaac: Yeah, exactly! Going through all their films there is something about that guy who has real heart but is always a couple steps behind. If a pigeon flies over and sh–s on someone, it’s going to be that guy. [Laughs.]
MTV: I know you just wrapped on “The Bourne Legacy.” I’ve heard you were in the mix to get the lead role, right?
Isaac: Yeah, I had never done a screen test before. They brought me in and I gave it a go at trying to look cool with a gun. [Laughs.] It was great. I really like Tony [Gilroy]. He’s so smart, and he runs a really inclusive set for such a big movie. It felt like an indie movie because all of the conversations were out in the open. It was one of the best shooting experiences I’ve had.
MTV: How did you end up getting the part you did?
Isaac: After the screen test I got the call saying the studio was not quite ready to pull the trigger on me. But a few weeks later, I got a call from Tony saying we’ve got this part and we’d love you to do it. I jumped at it, of course. I have to say they definitely got the right guy for the job. I would have acted the sh– out of it but Jeremy [Renner] is the real deal. The dude has incredible skills. Not only is he a great actor but he’s tough as nails.
MTV: Did you have to do some physical training?
Isaac: Believe it or not, my part actually required a great deal of actual acting, not just action. It’s a really cool sequence in the film. It’s a Western standoff kind of thing going on.
MTV: Do you actually have a name in it? On IMDb you are listed as #3.
Isaac: [Dramatically] I am #3.
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Check out everything we’ve got on “The Bourne Legacy.”
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