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Moon Knight directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, collectively known as Moorhead & Benson, can’t help but wonder if Anthony Mackie played a role in their Marvel Studios hiring. The celebrated directing duo have thrived in the indie space for the last decade, and their 2019 sci-fi thriller, Synchronic, starring Mackie and Jamie Dornan, is seemingly responsible for their first foray into the major studio system. While Moorhead and Benson have yet to confirm whether Mackie put in a good word for them or not, they’ve definitely asked themselves if the new Captain America pulled a string or two.
“We actually don’t know if Anthony Mackie played matchmaker here at all, but we like to think so. We’re still really good friends with him,” Benson tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Obviously, we made a movie called Synchronic with Anthony Mackie. And it’s just funny because I remember that movie getting released, and people being like, ‘You have an Avenger in your movie?!’ And we were like, ‘Yeah! We have an Avenger in our movie!’ And now, to be working in the MCU, we wonder, ‘Is this all the doing of Anthony Mackie?'”
Moorhead and Benson helmed the second and fourth episodes of the Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke-led Disney+ series, and the pair are already teasing the bold choices they were able to make in their latter episode. From this writer’s perspective, their fourth chapter feels more akin to the television work of Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, Lost, Watchmen) than anything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date.
“As you say, there’s a big, mind-bending swing in episode four that makes you reconsider some of the stuff that you’ve seen,” Moorhead shares. “Being able to do stuff like that — which pops up all over the comics, and also do great service to the tone and feel of the comics, the excitement of opening something up and seeing something you haven’t seen before — was one of the reasons that we wanted to do this.”
Benson adds: “When you look at the 50 years of incredible content that’s been generated for Moon Knight and Marvel, the best of it is defined by taking big swings, by being bold. So in that way, we were empowered to continue that, to be bold, especially with [episode four]. Visually, something that we were really drawn to, especially for that episode, was the [Jeff] Lemire and [Greg] Smallwood run [of Moon Knight].”
In a recent conversation with THR, Moorhead and Benson also discuss location scouting in the Jordanian desert and why they were discouraged from shooting at a particular location. Then they address their future at Marvel Studios as they’re set to helm the majority of Loki season two.
So did Anthony Mackie play matchmaker between the two of you and Marvel, or am I just reaching for a connection?
Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson: (Laugh.)
Benson: We actually don’t know if Anthony Mackie played matchmaker here at all, but we like to think so. We’re still really good friends with him. Obviously, we made a movie called Synchronic with Anthony Mackie. And it’s just funny because I remember that movie getting released, and people being like, “You have an Avenger in your movie?!” And we were like, “Yeah! We have an Avenger in our movie!” And now, to be working in the MCU, we wonder, “Is this all the doing of Anthony Mackie?”
Moorhead & Benson: (Laugh.)
Moorhead: By the way, while we were making [Synchronic], he kept his lips so sealed [that he was the new Captain America]. And right before we released Synchronic [in the fall of 2020], we found out he was not just Falcon; he was the new Captain America. And that was such a big deal. We were like, “You never said a thing!” (Laughs.) It was incredible. [Writer’s Note: Mackie’s Sam Wilson debuted as Captain America on April 23, 2021’s finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.]
Your films have a very distinct look and feel, so how was the process of adapting to an aesthetic that Mohamed Diab established in the premiere?
Moorhead: You know what’s funny, when we signed on, we were so happy to find out that our aesthetic almost completely aligns with Mohamed. So that was a very pleasant surprise. It was things like letting the shot linger a little bit, wider lenses, a dustier look. That sort of thing was exactly what he was after. So we sat down in a room with a whiteboard and a big TV, and we watched a bunch of movies and talked it out. It was just a bunch of people agreeing with one another, so it was actually pretty easy to match our aesthetics.
If episode four is any indication, it seems like you were still able to do Moorhead and Benson things while working with a major studio. Was the transition from the indie world pretty seamless for the most part?
Benson: Yeah, that’s never been an issue for us. Something we always say is that once you walk past all the big trucks on a bigger budget set, everything else is the same. It’s the same kind of problem solving; it’s the same job. And hopefully, your instincts are a good match for this content, but in our case, we’ve been really lucky. It’s been a match made in heaven.
Moorhead: We used a Technocrane for the first time. There was that. (Laughs.) But we shot it just like we normally shoot our movies.
Your hiring made even more sense to me when I saw the aforementioned episode four. Can you talk about the big swing that is that episode without actually revealing anything?
Benson: When you look at the 50 years of incredible content that’s been generated for Moon Knight and Marvel, the best of it is defined by taking big swings, by being bold. So in that way, we were empowered to continue that, to be bold, especially with that episode. Visually, something that we were really drawn to, especially for that episode, was the Lemire and Smallwood run [of Moon Knight]. And it’s funny because looking back, I couldn’t tell you if anything specific from that run made it into the episode, but at least on some unconscious level, that’s what was oftentimes inspiring us, visually.
Moorhead: Story wise, Moon Knight is at its best when it’s mind-bending, and that’s one of the big reasons why Justin and I jumped on board. As you say, there’s a big, mind-bending swing in episode four that makes you reconsider some of the stuff that you’ve seen. Being able to do stuff like that — which pops up all over the comics, and also do great service to the tone and feel of the comics, the excitement of opening something up and seeing something you haven’t seen before — was one of the reasons that we wanted to do this.
Moon Knight is Oscar Isaac’s third high-profile project to shoot in Wadi Rum [Aqaba, Jordan]. Did you have to reference Dune and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to avoid any overlap? Or is that going too far?
Moorhead: (Laughs.) When we were scouting, there was a location where they said, “Wait, no, that’s from Star Wars. Don’t do that.” Right? Am I crazy?
Benson: Yeah … I mean, when you’re location scouting there, so many of those locations are attached to beloved films that you’ve seen. There was very little that was off-limits to us in that way, but I will say that as an Oscar Isaac superfan who’s gone to see all his movies in a movie theater, do I recognize some of those locations? Absolutely! Is it distracting? Yes!
Moorhead & Benson: (Laugh.)
Moorhead: I was watching The Martian the other day, and when I saw that special rock that they shot with [in Wadi Rum], it was like the Leonardo DiCaprio meme [from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood]. I was like, “There it is!” (Moorhead mimics the DiCaprio meme.)
Decades from now, what day on Moon Knight will you tell your families about first?
Moorhead: It’s interesting because it wasn’t a day on set; it was actually scouting in Jordan. They put us in the back of a car, which already was special. Someone was driving us somewhere, and we were just bombing down this highway in the Jordanian desert. And our driver pointed to this body of water out the window and said, “That’s the Dead Sea.” And I had this weird thought pop into my head, which was, “I’m just a boy from Florida. I thought the Dead Sea was like Shangri-La, this mythical place.” Of course, I knew that the Dead Sea actually exists, but I never ever thought my own two eyes would see it. So I got a little teared up because I realized the unbelievable scale of the adventure that Justin and I had just started on. I think that was day three of starting to work on this project.
Benson: In truth, it would literally be every day on this set. It was so special, and obviously, it was such a huge opportunity for us. But there was this one evening where we were shooting in the old world, and you look around and see all these buildings and statues from myth, whether it’s a gargoyle or otherwise. And here we were among that, telling a story about the great myths and legends of our time. When people look back at this centuries from now, or a millennium from now, it’ll be almost like the same thing as us staring at one of these statues that represent the great myths of our time. So the fact that we were there — saying something thoughtful and respectful about mental health, as it relates to myth and these things — was extremely special.
Kevin Feige and the Marvel Studios parliament clearly took a liking to you guys. Can you say anything about what you’re directing next for Marvel? [Writer’s Note: They are directing most of Loki season two.]
Moorhead: Not really. (Laughs.) But we can’t be more superlative about how wonderful the experience of working with Marvel has been. There’s no one with a gun telling us to say that. It has been amazing. They are the greatest collaborators. It would be weird to say that it’s like having a great boss because we didn’t feel like we had a boss. It was just a bunch of friends getting together to make something as cool as they possibly could. So we’re just incredibly happy that we get to continue that. Of course, we’re still going to keep making independent films as well. We’re going to be going back and forth, but it’s just so wonderful to play around on this playground. Coming to work is very, very nice, and the people are good people. They’re all really smart, and they’re all just trying their absolute best to do one thing: to tell a story really well.
Moon Knight‘s first episode is now streaming on Disney+.
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