He’s the GIF that keeps on GIF-ing. He’s the Internet’s new boyfriend. He’s bringing the intergalactic sexy to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in ways that not even Billy Dee Williams’ smooth operator Lando Calrissian could provide. Just don’t pretend that you knew all along who Oscar Isaac was when he showed up onscreen as the dashing X-wing pilot Poe Dameron, sporting an Errol Flynn-class matinee idol smile that has been flashing all over your friends’ social media accounts of late.
Judging by the numbers, you and countless others failed to heed the critical hurrahs and didn’t see Isaac in “Inside Llewyn Davis” (box office: a mere $13.2 million), “A Most Violent Year” (box office: an underwhelming $6 million) and HBO’s summer miniseries “Show Me a Hero” (average rating: a measly 422,000 viewers). But you can make up for your late acknowledgement of Isaac’s abundant gifts and show your devotion by inquiring about this huggable body-length pillow case featuring Poe that is available HERE.
What a difference one super-sized year-end blockbuster can make. Isaac was nominated for his first major acting award, a Golden Globe, back in 2013 for his slinky self-defeating ‘60s folk singer in “Inside Llewyn Davis.” But after he sashayed through the red-carpeted celebrity gridlock at this Sunday’s event, he wound up taking home the Globe best actor in a TV movie or miniseries for his ‘80s-era Yonkers politico in “Hero.” Now he’s arrived as a legitimate sensation.
In a little more than a decade, this Guatemalan-born, Miami-raised actor who has been dubbed both the next Al Pacino and the reincarnation of Cary Grant by the media has suddenly become the man that many dream of each night and muse about during the day – a path that recent eye-candy actors such as Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch have tread before him. Some of the not-yet-sated Oscar fixated have even been known to watch and re-watch the bare-chested disco prancing that his mad scientist performs with a lady robot in last spring’s sci-fi hit “Ex Machina.” If you want a measure of his sway over his devoted admirers, consider that his @realOscarIsaac Twitter account has over 10,600 followers – and he has never posted a single tweet since joining in 2011.
How did Isaac, 36, go from a relative unknown in supporting parts to the It guy of 2016? Very smartly, judging by these choices.
1. Appear in a buzz-worthy breakout.
The Juilliard grad bided his time doing small roles, including a detective curiously named Fartman in 2004’s “Lenny the Wonder Dog” and a 2006 episode of TV’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” But it wasn’t until Catherine Hardwicke, who had already proven to have a sharp eye for fresh talent after her 2003 directorial debut “Thirteen” and 2005’s “Lords of Dogtown,” cast Isaac as Joseph in 2006’s “The Nativity Story,” that he first found himself attracting attention.
As Hardwicke – who propelled Rob Pattinson to teen-idol fame after casting him in “Twilight” — told me this year while promoting her latest movie, “Miss You Already”: “I was laughing when I saw Oscar in the new “Star Wars” trailer. When we had a premiere of “The Nativity Story” at the Vatican, 2,000 nuns had crushes on him.”
2. Acquire mucho musicality.
Isaac wisely increased his versatility quotient as an actor when he got an early taste of showbiz by performing in punk bands after high school. As he told The Telegraph while promoting “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “My dad was a bit of a frustrated artist so we grew up listening to Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, all the singer-songwriters.” While avoiding the drugs and alcohol side of rock and roll, he became the frontman in a ska-punk group called the Blinking Underdogs that once opened for Green Day.
That training would come in handy for a number of film roles besides “Inside Llewyn Davis,” primarily in 2011. He would duet with Carla Gugino on “Love Is the Drug” in Zach Snyder’s far-out brothel fantasy “Sucker Punch.” He played a musician in the Channing Tatum-Jenna Dewan high-school reunion comedy “10 Years,” performing Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” with co-stars Kate Mara and Chad Fischer as well as a song he wrote, “Never Had.” And in “W.E.,” Isaac had to learn to perform two piano pieces as a Russian auction-house guard who becomes involved with Abbie Cornish as a married woman obsessed with the romance shared by King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.
3. Brush up your stage chops.
It is one thing to impress Hollywood studio honchos. But it never hurts to also wow the New York theater crowd by acting before live audiences. Before his film career truly took off, Isaac tackled Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet” and Proteus in the rock musical version of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” for the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park series. He also appeared in actress Zoe Kazan’s play ‘We Live Here” for the Manhattan Theater Club in 2011.
4. Butter up Madonna.
When the pop superstar — who has never disguised her attraction to Latin men — directed Isaac in “W.E.,” the British gossip hounds had a field day. They proclaimed she had a crush on the actor and reported on their flirtatious interaction together on the set. The actor told Ocean Drive Magazine that Madonna was exacting in her direction with just a tease of a suggestion that there might be something there. “She’s definitely a formidable person, and was very determined to get things right – a very detail-oriented director. She was calling every day, always asking for updates, and making sure I was working out and getting prepared for the love scene. I mean, this is Madonna directing me to make love better.” He laughed before adding, “But I had an ‘in,’ because I knew she likes Latin boys.”
5. Steal the lead’s thunder.
We are sure Russell Crowe thought he was the main attraction of Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” in 2010 and Ryan Gosling believed that his driver-for-hire was central draw of “Drive” in 2011. But they didn’t count on Isaac undercutting their macho presence, first as a lust-driven, tax-mad tyrant of a King John and then as Carey Mulligan’s distractingly hunky ex-con husband who convinces Gosling to help him pull off a heist.
6. Be a man of many faces.
Isaac has taken measures to avoid being typecast as a Latin lover (he dropped his actual last name, Hernandez, specifically for that reason). He is quite capable of adapting his appearance to suit a variety of character types just by adjusting the density of his naturally dark curly locks and facial hair. You can see his range simply by pitting Llewyn Davis look against “Ex Machina’s” software company CEO Nathan Bateman and Poe Dameron.
7. Work with the Coen brothers.
Isaac has done two Ridley Scott outings (besides “Robin Hood,” he was in 2008’s “Body of Lies”). He also had a secondary role as a U.N. interpreter and the film’s narrator in Steven Soderbergh’s “Che: Part One” from 2008. But when aligning yourself with A-list filmmakers, nothing beats collaborating with the Coen brothers when it comes to raising your profile.
According to the actor, the impact was felt even before “Inside Llewyn Davis” started shooting. “On a practical level, as soon as Joel and Ethan cast me, the doors opened for more parts. Basically the next day.” His agent told him, “We got these offers now. Now you’re bona fide, kid.”
8. Keep your private life private.
9. Maintain a mix of popcorn titles and arthouse fare.
One keeps you honest. The other keeps you solvent. Isaac has two projects coming out this year – one small, the other enormous. There is no release date yet for “The Promise,” a drama by “Hotel Rwanda’s” Terry George in which Isaac’s medical student and Christian Bale’s journalist vie for the love of the same woman during the final days of the Ottoman Empire. But there is already great anticipation for Isaac’s debut appearance as comic-book supervillain Apocalypse in “X-Men Apocalypse,” which opens May 27.
10. Attach yourself to a sure thing. That would be the “Star Wars” saga, of course. Some actors would be averse to being second fiddle to George Lucas’ pre-existing universe and the enormous expectations that come with it, including endless rounds of publicity. But no one, save for Carrie Fisher and dog Gary, seems to be having a better experience promoting the seventh adventure in the series than Isaac, as witnessed here. If he isn’t having fun, however, then Isaac is even better at acting than we think.The only thing Isaac seems to lack at this point is a nickname for his worshipers to call themselves, a la Cumberbitches or Fassinators. Perhaps the Poe Patrol might do.