‘Moon Knight’: The Creative Team on Marc and Steven’s Fractured Relationship
“His biggest fear, his biggest problem in his life, he shielded himself from the memory of him being responsible for what happened to his brother."
Marc Spector’s origin story didn’t start the moment he became Khonshu’s avatar, it actually began much earlier — the moment Steven Grant entered the picture.
In Episode 5 of Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight, “Asylum,” viewers learn Marc’s troubled backstory goes back as far as his rough childhood, and he’s been carrying the pain and trauma with him ever since. In a freak accident, his younger brother, Randall, is killed after the pair go exploring in a cave and the water from sudden rain quickly floods the area. As if this isn’t traumatizing enough for young Marc, his mother Wendy blames him for Randall’s death and takes her anger and depression out on her remaining son.
In order to cope with this, Marc looks to one of his fictional idols, Dr. Steven Grant from Tomb Buster, to try to compartmentalize his mother’s aggression. In doing this, Marc creates his own “Steven Grant” alter — the one viewers have come to know as the meek British gift shop employee with a one-finned goldfish.
“Episode 5 is my favorite episode, and it's Oscar Isaac’s favorite episode. It's the episode that you delve deeper into who he is and how he got [Dissociative Identity Disorder],” Director and Executive Producer Mohamed Diab tells Marvel.com.
“His biggest fear, his biggest problem in his life, he shielded himself from the memory of him being responsible for what happened to his brother… I think it's one of the most emotional things that people are going to see in a Marvel Studios TV show,” Diab continues.
Diab and Sarah Goher, Diab’s creative and real-life partner, who served as consulting producer on the series, were also interested in not only showing Marc’s internal struggle, but also the ongoing struggle with the larger-than-life gods meddling in his life, too.
“One of the bigger challenges that we had was that you have this ongoing battle of the gods in this great, epic world, and then you have Marc Spector's internal trauma and his battle with himself,” Goher explains. “How do you connect it so you don't feel like you have two stories that have just been cut together? What if that great battle was really a reflection — it was the duality of his internal battle?”
Episode 5 introduces viewers to a character that has been talked at a lot, but who we haven’t actually seen on-screen, Wendy Spector. Marc confesses to Steven that their mother actually passed away, and following her passing, Marc and Steven’s worlds blended together in an unexpected way.
So, while Steven certainly always had a good relationship with his mum, Marc, on the other hand, did not.
“We wanted to be super respectful about how grief could turn someone into a monster but it also [needed to reflect] that she's not a bad person,” Goher says. “The smallest things can affect a child, and then it could set off a domino effect of things. I remember we were talking with Oscar and Mohamed, it just felt like having the whole thing with the mom felt so real. You could easily connect it also to the whole greater world of the gods [battling for power].”
There’s also a major turning point for Marc and Steven in the episode, as the two are no longer working in opposition of one another but rather are working together. When first meeting the effervescent deity Taweret, she asks if the two are twins, with Marc quick to say “no,” and Steven responding with an uneasy, “sort of.” At the top of the episode, the two are very much still emotionally separated, but as they go on a journey of self-discovery, they learn to rely on each other.
In a triumphant moment for Steven, he has the illuminating realization that since he and Marc are one and the same, concluding “If I’m you, that means I’ve got this, too.”
“Marc and Steven are brothers, in a way,” Diab continues. “Marc and Steven are a fraction of the same person. But you feel like Marc is the older brother and there is that dynamic.” Isaac’s real-life brother, Michael Benjamin Hernandez, actually stepped in to help film some scenes that required a double, creating a very familiar and very brotherly atmosphere that translated to both Marc and Steven on-screen.
“Maybe it was just because him and I have such a familiarity, that it eventually felt that way, where it eventually felt like Marc and Steven really do become brothers,” Hernandez adds. “You really feel like they really connect, and these personalities really integrate.”
A true moment of clarity happens after Steven finally sees what led to his initial emergence as the dominant personality for the last few months. Marc has a breakdown outside their childhood home after refusing to attend his mother’s Shiva, and sobs in the street. Once again, hoping to cope with these emotions, he brings Steven Grant to the forefront to help.
Focusing solely on Marc switching over to Steven, viewers see firsthand just how the two became so intertwined. It was a difficult scene to film, as Moon Knight’s cinematographer Gregory Middleton explains, and there were many moving parts to capturing it. He mentions, “The one thing about having the camera close to him, in general, is that there's such incredible depth to what he's doing. At that point, I just know I want to be close enough that I'm going to feel every little quiver.”
However, it’s not just Marc in this scene, but also Steven, and an additional memory of Marc, creating a challenge to capture each one of their individual emotions, while also tying it all together. “In this case, we also had the added problem of him watching himself, then him watching his younger self, and then him watching himself walk away. We discussed it with Mohamed and Oscar to work out, where do you want to go? If we're using three cameras to get all of Marc’s past [moments], we needed something to make sure the shots still work, and also would be true to the way we know how Oscar wants to behave.”
This emotional scene wasn’t actually the most challenging one to accomplish for Episode 5. That distinction goes to the moment when Steven races into the cave after young Marc and Randall. Thinking he might be able to save Randall, Steven forges into the dark, cramped cave, hoping to reach the boys before it’s too late.
To achieve this, the creative team used one cave as just an exterior shot, and then built another cave to actually submerge Isaac in a controlled tank. However, the creative team realized that less was more, and the less viewers saw, the better.
“It's a very difficult thing, storytelling-wise. I want to see what's going on, but I don't want any light there…. To create a mood and make it seem appropriately dark. It's a feeling of mystery,” Middleton continues. “When you go in the water, sometimes you go under it and you may never come out. Hearing [Steve] panic and call out to his brother is like — I’m tearing up just thinking about it now. You just wanna make sure you capture that.”
It's a hard scene for everyone to watch, made even more stressful by the fact that — just like Steven — no one can see what's going on deeper in the cave. The scene was difficult for another reason for Diab, too, as the director is actually claustrophobic himself. As he jokes, “Usually, I'm a very hands-on director. If I'm pushing the actor into water, I jump with him. But I couldn't in that case. It was very hard for me to even watch it.”
“It was shot in a way that you're not going to see what happened to kids,” Diab adds. “Yes, I want to push you as much as we can, but we're not going to go there. But you're going to feel it through what you see Steven goes through. The way he is stuck there and screaming to those kids. It's such a haunting moment. And then you don't see what happens, but you see the aftermath. I love the storytelling in that [moment], the cuts and what you leave and what you see. That's scene is one of my favorite scenes, for sure.”
Moon Knight is now streaming exclusively on Disney+.
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