Guatemalan-American actor Oscar Isaac has swung between noble and damaged characters in films like ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ and ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ as well as in miniseries like ‘Show Me a Hero’ and ‘Scenes from a Marriage.’
Who Is Oscar Isaac?
Born in Guatemala in 1979, Oscar Isaac gravitated toward the arts while growing up in Miami, Florida. He set aside a promising musical career to attend Juilliard in the early 2000s and soon generated buzz with supporting parts in the films Robin Hood (2010) and Drive (2011). Isaac wowed critics with his performances in Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) and the miniseries ‘Show Me a Hero’ (2015), paving the way for his entry into Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and its sequels. The award-winning actor has since sparkled in big-screen features like Dune (2021) and the miniseries ‘Scenes from a Marriage’ (2021) and ‘Moon Knight’ (2022).
Óscar Isaac Hernández Estrada was born on March 9, 1979, in Guatemala City, Guatemala, to a native mother, María Eugenia Estrada Nicolle, and a Cuban father, Óscar Gonzalo Hernández-Cano. A medical student, Óscar Senior soon moved the family to Baltimore, Maryland, and then New Orleans, Louisiana, before they settled in Miami, Florida, in the mid 1980s.
While raised in a devoutly religious household, Isaac picked up on his father’s passion for music and enjoyed directing his older sister, Nicole, and younger brother, Mike, with the family video camera. Rebelling against his conservative community, he was expelled from Westminster Christian Middle School for disruptive behavior and began playing with a series of ska bands as a student at Santaluces Community High School.
After nearly joining the Marines, Isaac enrolled at Miami Dade College and split his time between acting and musical gigs. One theater role brought him to New York City, and the promising actor elected to remain in the Big Apple after earning acceptance into the prestigious Juilliard School in 2001.
Films, TV Shows and Theater
‘The Nativity Story,’ ‘Balibo’
Isaac hit the ground running after graduating from Juilliard in 2005, he parlayed his training into prominent parts in “Shakespeare in the Park” productions of Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo and Juliet. His screen career also caught momentum with the lead role of Joseph in Catherine Hardwicke’s The Nativity Story (2006), the first film to premiere at the Vatican. After appearing in the Ridley Scott thriller Body of Lies (2008), Isaac earned an Australian Film Institute best supporting actor win for his performance as future East Timor President José Ramos-Horta in Balibo (2009).
‘Robin Hood,’ ‘Sucker Punch,’ ‘Drive’
Rejoining Scott for a remake of Robin Hood, Isaac stole the show from headliners Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett with his oft-hilarious turn as King John. His sexy song-and-dance number with Carla Gugino was a highlight of Zack Snyder’s ambitious but disappointing Sucker Punch (2011). Meanwhile, his nuanced performance in what could have been the generic bad-guy role of Standard in Drive contributed to the film’s critical and commercial success.
‘Inside Llewyn Davis’
Isaac reached a new level of stardom when he was tapped to lead the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, a dramedy loosely based on the life of folk singer Dave Van Ronk. While his band background came in handy, the actor ultimately learned a new method of guitar picking to convincingly portray the film’s inspirational figure during its musical numbers. Critics were impressed by his ability to bring the otherwise dour character to life with his guitar and voice, and Isaac wound up with a Golden Globe nomination for his efforts.
‘A Most Violent Year,’ ‘Ex Machina,’ ‘Show Me a Hero’
The positive reviews continued for A Most Violent Year (2014), with Isaac earning praise for playing principled businessman Abel Morales alongside former Juilliard classmate Jessica Chastain. He then channeled his inner Stanley Kubrick for a winning turn as unstable and intimidating tech genius Nathan Bateman in Ex Machina (2014), punctuating his performance with another attention-grabbing dance number.
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Back on TV for the first time since a ‘Law & Order’ appearance in 2006, Isaac earned an extended showcase as the star of the Paul Haggis-helmed HBO miniseries ‘Show Me a Hero.’ Playing the real-life character of Nick Wasicsko, who became America’s youngest big-city mayor in 1987, Isaac delivered a clinic on how to show a man crumbling from life’s pressures, this time earning a Golden Globe win for best actor in a miniseries or TV film.
‘Star Wars,’ ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’
Leaping to blockbuster fare, Isaac joined the cast of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the role of dashing fighter pilot Poe Dameron. Although his push for what would have been a groundbreaking romance between male leads went unfulfilled, Isaac did manage to talk producers out of quickly killing off his character, guaranteeing Poe’s return for The Last Jedi (2017) and The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
Another major franchise installment, X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), failed to win over audiences despite Isaac’s best efforts as the titular villain. His enthusiasm to perform alongside talents like Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence was dampened by a heavy and uncomfortable costume. Isaac later admitted to GQ that he found himself just trying to survive through the grueling shoot.
‘Annihilation,’ ‘Spider-Man,’ ‘The Addams Family’
After enjoying a celebrated return to the stage in an off-Broadway production of Hamlet (2017), Isaac played a special forces agent affected by a mysterious alien power in Annihilation (2018) before pulling double duty as star and producer of the Nazi-hunting drama Operation Finale (2018). He also moved into the realm of voice work with his brief contribution to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) (with the promise of an expanded role for future sequels), and was the man behind creepy and kooky patriarch Gomez for the animated The Addams Family (2019) and The Addams Family 2 (2021).
‘The Card Counter,’ ‘Dune’
Making the most of his chance to work with Taxi Driver (1976) screenwriter Paul Schrader, Isaac turned in a typically layered, mesmerizing performance as a former military operative shouldering the burden of past crimes in the Schrader-directed The Card Counter (2021). Isaac also revived his big-budget bona fides by portraying Duke Leto Atreides in the sci-fi classic Dune, helping to turn the once-“unfilmable” property into a box-office hit.
‘Scenes from a Marriage,’ ‘Moon Knight’
Intrigued by the idea of exploring a lengthy relationship, Isaac signed on with Chastain to headline an updated retelling of Ingmar Bergman’s 1973 miniseries ‘Scenes from a Marriage.’ Shooting proved a challenge with its long takes and intimate scenes, but the co-stars relied on the trust built from two decades of friendship, and a particularly vulnerable showing from Isaac led to Golden Globe, Emmy and Screen Actors Guild nominations.
The next small-screen project brought Isaac back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for ‘Moon Knight,’ a role that required a multi-pronged approach for a character suffering from dissociative identity disorder (DID). Swinging from milquetoast museum employee to punishing crime fighter, the star forged a collaborative spirit with the cast and crew to find the best storytelling angles. “He came in every day hell-bent to make something worth watching,” co-star Ethan Hawke told Esquire. “And he transfused his energy to us.”
Wife and Children
After reportedly beginning their relationship in 2012, Isaac and Danish screenwriter and director Elvira Lind tied the knot in early 2017. Their first son, Eugene, arrived that April, and a second, Mads, was born in October 2019.
Isaac and Lind also enjoy a professional relationship: She directed her husband in The Letter Room (2020), which earned an Academy Award nomination for best live action short film. Together, they founded a production company called Mad Gene Media.