Dan Fogelman’s directorial debut “Life Itself” faced a tough crowd from the moment it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to a barrage of negative reviews, which followed the movie into its release a few weeks later. The ensemble drama from the creator of “This Is Us” hit another speed bump after Fogelman attributed the pans to “white male critics who don’t like anything that has emotion” even though several women reviewed the film. (Fogelman backtracked on that argument in another interview.)
However, Fogelman’s movie has left at least one of its main actors content with the end result: Oscar Isaac, who plays the oft-suffering male protagonist reeling from the loss of his wife (Olivia Wilde), said in an interview that the backlash to the movie caught him off-guard.
“I was surprised that there seemed to be a full-on critical narrative to it,” he said, speaking to IndieWire a few hours before appearing at the New York Film Festival to promote “At Eternity’s Gate,” in which he stars opposite Willem Dafoe as painter Paul Gauguin. “It’s some of the better work that I’ve done.”
For Isaac, the role of a beleaguered man struggling with personal loss resonated with him in powerful ways during the production, which took place shortly after his mother’s death. “I’m really proud of the places that I went and being able to sustain it, really dealing in a personal way with grief,” he said. “It was insane that I even decided to do that, considering what I was in the middle of during that moment of my life.”
Isaac added that the emotional intensity of the performance was also affected by his recent marriage and the impending birth of his first child. “Considering all those things that were happening to me, I’m proud of the work I did,” he said. “I feel like I channeled some of that stuff.”
He was unfazed by the response. “Having the reaction be overwhelmingly negative, there’s something for me that’s comforting about how it doesn’t really matter whether I think what I’ve done is great,” he said. “My personal experience of what it is won’t reflect on how people see it. So the pressure’s off, man.”
Isaac has some experience addressing these questions, having previously contended with stories surrounding negative fan response to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which he said taught him to have thick skin. “There’s nothing you can do to control it, now matter how skillful you try to be with what you choose,” he said. “Will it speak to somebody else? I don’t have to do that.”