Moon Knight: Directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson on their Provocative Series

Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, who are also signed on for Loki season two, discuss their Marvel process.

 

 

Moon Knight directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson,  known as Moorhead & Benson, wonder if Anthony Mackie played a role in their Marvel Studios.The directing duo have thrived in the indie space–their 2019 sci-fi thriller, Synchronic, starring Mackie and Jamie Dornan, led to their first foray into the major studio system.

Moon Knight‘s first episode is now streaming on Disney+

“We don’t know if Anthony Mackie played matchmaker, but we like to think so. We’re still really good friends with him,” Benson says. “We made Synchronic with Anthony Mackie. And I remember that movie getting released, and people being like, ‘You have an Avenger in your movie?!’ And now, to be working in the MCU, we wonder, ‘Is this all the doing of Mackie?’”

MOON KNIGHT and Mohamed Diab
Oscar Isaac as Steven Grant in Marvel Studios' MOON KNIGHT.

Moorhead and Benson helmed the 2nd and 4th episodes of the

Disney+ series, which stars Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke.
Their fourth chapter is more akin to the TV work of Damon Lindelof (The LeftoversLostWatchmen) 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 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].”

Moorhead and Benson also discuss location scouting in Jordanian desert and why they were discouraged from shooting at a particular location.

They also address their future at Marvel Studios as they’re set to helm Loki season two.

Anthony Mackie as matchmaker between you and Marvel?

Benson: We actually don’t know if 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: 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 fall of 2020, we found out he was not just Falcon; he was the new Captain America. That was such a big deal. We were like, “You never said a thing!” It was incredible.

Mackie’s Sam Wilson debuted as Captain America on April 23, 2021’s finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

Lazy loaded image
Justin Benson, Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Aaro Moorhead. JEREMYCHANPHOTOGRAPHY/WIREIMAGE

Your films distinct look and feel?

Moorhead: 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.

Benson: 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. But we shot it just like we normally shoot our movies.

Lazy loaded image
Oscar Isaac, Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead on the set of Moon Knight. CSABA AKNAY/MARVEL STUDIOS

The big swing is that episode four is not revealing anything?

Benson: When you look at the 50 years of 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.

 

Lazy loaded image
May Calamawy as Layla El-Faouly, Oscar Isaac as Marc Spector/Steven Grant in Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight. COURTESY OF GABOR KOTSCHY/MARVEL STUDIOS

Moon Knight is Oscar Isaac’s third high-profile project in Wadi Rum, Aqaba, Jordan?

Moorhead: When we were scouting, there was a location where they said, “Wait, no, that’s from Star Wars. Don’t do that.”

Benson: When you’re location scouting there, many of those locations are attached to beloved films you’ve seen. There was  little that was off-limits to us, but as an Oscar Isaac superfan who’s seen all his movies in theater, do I recognize some of those locations? Absolutely! Is it distracting? Yes!

Moorhead: I was watching The Martian the other day, and when I saw that special rock they shot with in Wadi Rum, it was like the DiCaprio meme from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I was like, “There it is!”

What day on Moon Knight will you tell your families about first?

Moorhead: 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: 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.

The fact that we were saying something thoughtful and respectful about mental health, as it relates to myth and these things, was extremely special.

Feige and the Marvel Studios took liking to you?

Moorhead: Not really. But we can’t be more superlative about how wonderful the experience of working with Marvel was. There’s no one with a gun telling us to say that. 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 cool.  We’re just incredibly happy that we get to continue that. We’re still going to keep making independent films as well. We’re going to be going back and forth, but it’s so wonderful to play around on this playground. Coming to work is very nice, and the people are all really smart. They’re all trying their absolute best to do one thing: to tell a story really well.