Nominee Profile: Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
2014 may be the year of Oscar Isaac.
The 34-year-old Guatemalan-Cuban-American actor is finally being recognized for his many talents. He bagged the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor for “Inside Llewyn Davis” and the Toronto Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor for his role as a struggling folk singer in the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
The Juilliard-trained actor, who graduated in 2005, landed his first major film role when he played Joseph opposite Keisha Castle-Hughes’ Mary in “The Nativity Story.” The humble actor simply said, “I just got lucky.”
“I have been really fortunate,” he told us. “Right out of Juilliard, I got to do Shakespeare in the Park with a musical, actually – ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ that John Guare had written. Originally, they did it in the ’60s so I played the role that Raul Julia had played which was exciting. Then right after that, I got a film in Romania, ‘Pu-239,’ that Scott Burns directed. Then slowly but surely, I would just get work. It would come and I would audition.”
Pretty soon, Oscar found himself showing his versatility in a myriad of roles from portraying Prince John in “Robin Hood” to a musician in “10 Years,” from a Ukrainian security guard at Sotheby’s who’s actually a trained pianist in the Madonna-helmed film “W.E.” to a former inmate in “Drive.”
He said of working with Madonna, “She is definitely a determined lady and she’s gotten where she is because of that. She has impeccable taste. I was also really taken aback by her self-deprecating sense of humor. She is a very funny lady. It was a pretty great experience working with her.”
It is no secret that Oscar came close to bagging “The Bourne Legacy” lead role that Jeremy Renner got. Revealed director Tony Gilroy when we talked to him, “We went really far with Oscar. It is no secret. He came in to read for the lead, early on. Jeremy only became available toward the very end. Jeremy wasn’t in any of our lists. So when we were going through people, Oscar came in out of the blue. I did not know who he was at all. Oscar came in, auditioned, and blew us away. We screen tested him and he blew us away again. We went really far down the road with him. It was a choice that was a little too hard to make. But I fell in love with him. He’s just a great actor.”
Of his roots, Oscar said, “My grandfather was French in Guatemala and my father is Cuban but he grew up in the States as well. I came to the States when I was five months old and I grew up my entire life mostly in Miami, between Miami and New York.”
He is the third Oscar in the family. “My father and my grandfather were both named Oscar,” he revealed. “I am the third Oscar. It’s from the Academy Awards. Isaac is Jewish from my father side. I am definitely a big mix of many things.”
Very musical even when he was a kid, Oscar revealed that the first instrument he learned how to play first was the guitar. “My father is a guitarist,” he said. “He is a doctor but he was a frustrated musician as well. He was always recording and playing. So guitar was the first thing I started to play.”
Oscar also formed bands. “I was kind of a chameleon for a little while,” he admitted. “I would try industrial music and I would hear something that I like. Then I wanted to be in a band like that. But the first real serious band that I formed was a punk-ska band. We had a whole horn section. We played in Miami and we were sort of touring down there and that was great. At a certain point, I had to make a decision. We opened for Green Day. We opened for a bunch of bands and we were like well, what do we do, what do I do? Do I stay on this path or do I take this other path – that is, go to Juilliard where I had been accepted to, and become an actor. So I ended up leaving the band and pursued acting. But all throughout, I have always been writing songs, playing and recording.”
Nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for his role as a talented but unsuccessful folk singer in Greenwich Village in the ’60s, Oscar sang all his own numbers.
He admitted that he is happy that his two loves --- music and acting --- are now both part of his life. “Now, music and acting are crossing,” he said. “Things are starting to bleed together which is nice because in my mind, they were always together. Now, I have the freedom to do both again.”
Janet R. Nepales