Khonshu Speaks! An In-Depth Interview with F. Murray Abraham About ‘Moon Knight’
"The idea that these creatures that keep appearing out of mythology seem absolutely plausible. I think that's part of the magic of the piece. It's all vaguely possible."
He’s big, he’s bad, he’s boney, he’s got a beak, and only Marc Spector/Steven Grant can see him, it’s everyone’s favorite Egyptian deity: Khonshu!
The god of the moon and vengeance is introduced early on in Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight, as viewers — alongside Steven Grant — learn that Marc Spector actually serves as Khonshu’s avatar. What does that mean, and why does Khonshu keep asking Marc (and/or Steven) to kill everyone who gets in their way? It’s a twisty, winding road trying to figure out exactly what Khonshu wants at any given time, and when he doesn’t get his way, he’s been known to overturn some trash cans here and there.
The character, voiced by Academy Award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham, was always written as a little bit of a jerk, as Head Writer and Executive Producer Jeremy Slater tells Marvel.com.
“Khonshu was always this lovable, cranky self, right from our very first drafts. He has an attitude. He's a little vain. He's snotty. The version of Khonshu that seemed like he had his own moral failings and weaknesses always felt more interesting to me than a god or deity who was just always right, and impervious to mistakes. Right from the beginning, it was, ‘What's the most fun version of Khonshu that you could pair up with Steven Grant? It's the one that hates Steven Grant's guts.’”
Abraham joined the show towards the end of production, and as Slater continues, he didn’t realize the actor was voicing Khonshu until he saw the very first trailer.
“That's just every writer's dream to have someone like that saying your words,” the writer continues. “He’s got the best voice in the business. It's just one of those things where you write these voices in a vacuum. Then you hear the actors bring them to life, and you hear them put their own spin on it. For someone like Khonshu and F. Murray Abraham, it feels exactly like the voice you've been hearing in your head for the last two years, to the point where it's, wow, that feels like it was plucked right out of my subconscious.”
Now, we could spend all this time talking about Abraham bringing the character to life, or we could hear it directly from Abraham himself. In a long conversation with Marvel.com, Abraham phoned in from Sicily (after some back and forth technical issues) where he’s currently in production on another project to chat about all things Khonshu, Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight, and how much fun he’s having playing the cranky old bird.
Marvel.com: Hello. I am so sorry for whatever technical confusion we all just went through.
Abraham: Do you have any idea where I am?
Marvel.com: Aren't you in Italy?
Abraham: I'm in Sicily, and I'm in one of those lovely, extravagant suites and I'm overlooking the Ionian Bay. It's one of those rare, beautiful days, which is— I just feel like, when our life is good, it's really, really good. I wish you could see it, but I can't show it to you. Anyway, it's nice to finally talk to you.
Marvel.com: Yes, it is wonderful to talk to you, too. I am a huge fan, I love your voice. I'm hearing your voice in my head all the time now, and I'm so excited to talk about Khonshu.
Abraham: Me too. Isn't it neat? I love what they've accomplished. Oscar [Isaac] is an old friend. We've done Shakespeare together. It's a pleasure to see this— because I think it's a success. What can I tell you? What do you want to hear?
Marvel.com: I would love to start at the very beginning of your journey with Marvel Studios. How did you get involved in a project like this? Did you audition for it, or did someone approach you to say, hey, we've got this role for you?
Abraham: They approached me, they called me. I don't know how they got around to it, but I was delighted because I thought it was fun.
But the other thing is that it's so far-reaching. It's full of surprises! The idea that these creatures that keep appearing out of mythology seem absolutely plausible. I think that's part of the magic of the piece. It's all vaguely possible. Going to Egypt and going to the tombs and to the pyramids, it makes it kind of a reality, I think. What do you think?
Marvel.com: [LAUGHS] I believe all of this is completely possible. And who knows? Maybe Khonshu is hiding around a corner waiting for me. When you joined the show, how much did they tell you about Khonshu up front? Did they tell you, ooh, he's a big, cranky bird who basically torments this one guy?
ABRAHAM: No, what they did was show me what they had done and ask if I was interested in trying to come up with a voice for it. And, of course, I was. It's an outrageous character as far as I'm concerned. I hate to say this, because, well, it's an actor's ego, but I think he's just one of the very loveliest characters in the whole piece. [LAUGHS] He's outrageous. He's capable of doing anything and charming his way out of it. I love that.
Marvel.com: I've seen a ton of videos and reactions of people super-cutting all of his insults to Marc and Steven. How much play did you have there, saying these lines and coming up with them?
ABRAHAM: What I loved about the recording of it and the direction of it was that they allowed me to have a lot of latitude and they kept asking for input. We kept re-recording. We kept coming back and doing different things, over and over again, to get it so that everyone was satisfied. It was a treat to be able to record it, know what you had done, and then maybe a week later, come back after it had sat there for a while so you knew there was an improvement somewhere. It was very wise of them, by the way, to do that kind of thing, rather than try to do it all at one time. We did it over a period of time.
Marvel.com: I was going to ask what the recording process was like, because I assume it was kind of like recording an animated feature, how it's already done and you're just adding dialogue after?
ABRAHAM: Well, it's interesting that they did it this way but I kept coming back because primarily I'm a theater actor and I love it for many reasons.
One problem is that you really do get to come back the next night. I do a show eight times a week, for example. By the end of the week, I've done it so many times that I was able to think about improving or changing or adjusting. And that's what they did with this. They kept listening to it and asking if I had a different idea. And I felt like I was part of the process, which I don't think happens very often, frankly.
Marvel.com: Everyone I've talked to — and I've talked to all the directors, all of the stars — everyone has mentioned that it was a very collaborative process the entire time, that everyone was open to input and it was just a back-and-forth dialogue.
ABRAHAM: I don't know if that's very common, do you? I don't think so. Anyway, I was glad to be part of this. It seems to have worked.
Marvel.com: Oh, yes, it definitely has. Can you talk about how Khonshu's voice evolved from the first time you recorded to the last time you recorded?
ABRAHAM: That was funny. Before I went into the first recording, I had worked on several different approaches. I brought all of them in, each of them, because I wasn't sure how it was going to fit. I didn't know what the other people sounded like, so I didn't know if there was a balance to the form.
Anyway, the point is that I did present them with a couple of voices, and when we settled on the one that you hear now, they were very supportive and they were delighted. I was, too, because it was the one I wanted— I had hoped that they would like. It seemed, to me, the most right one, and it turns out that it was. It seems to fit that funny, strange character perfectly.
Marvel.com: I can't imagine any other voice coming out of him now.
ABRAHAM: Well, it's a lovely thing to say. Thank you very much.
Marvel.com: Do you have a favorite line of his? Because I am very partial to "kill him, break his windpipe" from Episode 2.
ABRAHAM: Isn't that interesting you should say "kill him." That was chilling. That offhand way to say it, it was better than I remembered doing it, by the way. It's funny you selected that one line, "kill him." But there was another line I liked very much which was, [IN CHARACTER] "the idiot is back." I loved that one.
Marvel.com: He's such a fun, unexpected character to throw into all of this Moon Knight saga.
ABRAHAM: One of the things that surprises me when I look at it — and I suppose when you look at it too — even though I've done it, I'm still surprised at the offhand violence. It's just such an easy part of his life. And at the same time, he seems— but because it comes from such a caring place, I don't know how you balance that.
I just think that he's charming, finally.
Marvel.com: Well, there actually is a fight scene in Episode 6 I'd like to talk to you about, where Khonshu does fight Ammit. Can you talk about recording something as intense as that, considering you're recording a fight scene just in a recording booth?
ABRAHAM: Do you know much about voice work? It sounds like you do.
Marvel.com: I am a big fan of behind-the-scenes information and I majored in film, so I know too much about this stuff.
ABRAHAM: Because you're right. That kind of thing always turns out, for me, anyway, to be one of the most difficult things to do, is to make those sounds plausible, acceptable, real, somehow believable. Because we've all heard those very bad recordings, people grunting and trying to be strained and everything. And it's not easy.
Those sessions, the ones that you mentioned, are the ones after which I'm most worn out because it really does take effort. You really have to try and put your energy and yourself into it. And sometimes you have to do it a lot. They're long sessions. And it wears you out.
That's interesting that you'd go right to that difficulty— I did work, by the way. But it wasn't easy. It never is.
Marvel.com: All of this is work to get it up on Disney+ in the end!
ABRAHAM: [LAUGHS] That's what's so funny. The idea that people think that it — that's the silliest thing. I don't think people understand what it takes to do that kind of thing and to do it well. I'm not suggesting that people who do it are heroes, not at all, but it is more difficult to do well than people think.
Marvel.com: And just for it to blend so seamlessly into the action that you don't even realize it's not really happening, it's all just movie magic.
ABRAHAM: That's right. That's exactly the problem. I wish there was a film, some kind of a video, of the actors who do that recording, that kind of thing, because they're going through gyrations. And it's pretty frustrating sometimes because I really am going— I'm bending over, and leaning in, and you hit the microphone a couple of times and you mess up your recording. You've got to do it again.
But it's necessary, at least it is for me. You can't just stand there and pretend. You’ve got to go through it.
Marvel.com: Now Khonshu has a very touch-and-go relationship with both Marc and Steven, and at some points, Layla too because there is the idea that he might want to take Layla on as an avatar as well. Can you talk about just figuring out how to form some of these connections with the actors you're not necessarily working opposite of?
ABRAHAM: Oh, that's interesting. That's another thing that was very— that was eye-opening for me, because I know Oscar. We did Shakespeare together. We've done work together— a movie we did together, and we happen to like each other, by the way. I know his family.
It was a different connection because I know him. So that when I was watching the footage and doing the voice, I had another, older connection with him. And that helped a lot because I felt like I was literally talking to him, a man I knew.
Marvel.com: Have you talked to Oscar at all lately? Even just to discuss reactions.
ABRAHAM: Well, I can say this and you can clear it, but the fact is he had something to say about— when he found out that I had accepted the offer, got in touch right away and said he was delighted and so on. He's a nice man.
He then offered some suggestions about how to do the recording. And they were good suggestions and I used them. So yes, he had some input, at least into my work. And he trusted our friendship enough to be able to give me some suggestions.
Marvel.com: Can you recall any of the suggestions he gave you?
ABRAHAM: Well, one of them was "act good," that kind of wonderful, old expression. But it was sort of— he encouraged me to be as grand and as outrageous as I felt like being. That sounds like a very broad note, but it was a very good note because the character is pretty broad.
Marvel.com: It definitely comes across on-screen. As I've said many times already, Khonshu is a fan-favorite. Everyone loves him.
ABRAHAM: Oh, is that so? Well, I promise you I was not aware of that. I'm delighted to hear that because I like the character a lot. I'm in Sicily, as I may have mentioned, and I've been working hard on [another production], so I haven't had a chance to do too much else. But I'm glad that people like Khonshu, because I do.
Marvel.com: Let's jump right to the end of the season because Khonshu is present for that. The final moments of the season do reveal that, all along, there has been a third personality that Khonshu's is aware of. How do you think this is all going to play into future stories about Moon Knight, that, no, Khonshu's actually been lying to Marc this entire time?
ABRAHAM: Well, that's part of the mystery. That's part of the excitement and the secret, isn't it? It's a mystery. I'm not going to tell you anything at all. I'm not about to. [LAUGHS, IN CHARACTER] Silly woman.
Marvel.com: Where do you think you would like to take Khonshu next? So let's say there are 10 more seasons of Moon Knight. Are you coming back as Khonshu? Like, day one, you're there?
ABRAHAM: Oh, Khonshu's a treat. He's fun. That's really one of the things that people forget about, in the work we do, is we talk about how hard this is and what we have to accomplish, but it's also fun. That's what people seem to forget.
And that's another thing about Khonshu— he's really fun. He's dangerous. Also, it's touching sometimes because he's really willing to sacrifice himself. That's something that you and I didn't talk about, but the fact is that that's very unselfish of him. He really cares.
I feel that that's one of the sources of his power, that he is willing to demand of everyone else the same thing that he's demanding of himself. And that's sacrifice. And I love that about him. It's honorable.
I don't want to make it more than it is, but I'm telling you I feel that strongly about him. I happen to like the character very much.
Marvel.com: I think you're actually Khonshu's Number One fan.
ABRAHAM: [LAUGHS] Yes, I guess I am.
Marvel.com: All right, one last question. We're almost done with Moon Knight. When all is said and done, what do you hope viewers take away from the show as a whole?
ABRAHAM: Oh, that it's positive, that in this poor old world that we're living in, finally there are truly Super Heroes. To use that old expression in other, modern terms, these Super Heroes really are trying to accomplish good. That’s so important. I can't tell you how important that is. It makes things a little more hopeful. And we could surely use some hope these days, don't you think?
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