LOS ANGELES — Oscar Isaac is one of the next generation of “Star Wars” stars, along with Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Lupita Nyong’o, and Adam Driver. Isaac plays Poe Dameron, a Resistance fighter, in the J.J. Abrams-directed “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” opening Friday.
The role caps an impressive couple of years for the Guatemalan-born actor. Isaac, 35, played the title role in the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013), a beleaguered business executive in “A Most Dangerous Year” (2014), and, this year, a no-less-beleaguered mayor in the HBO series “Show Me a Hero” and an Internet mogul in “Ex Machina.”
Q. Does the “Star Wars” phenomenon seem different from the inside?
A. Yes and no. To work on something, no matter what it is, particularly when it’s something of this size, one has to downplay all of that stuff to do your job. In some ways you need to be even a little subversive and disrespectful [smiles] to feel ownership over it. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was aware of the size of it and the amount of eyes that would be on me.
Q. Is there a feeling of extra responsibility?
A. There isn’t. And if some of those feelings come up, there’s the same process of pushing those aside.
Q. How would you describe Poe?
A. Well, he’s a daring pilot. He is eager to prove his allegiance to the Resistance. He’s completely committed. He’s a military man. He soars above others and lives at the edge of death, so that does give him a sense of invincibility.
Q. Which felt more unusual: the Coens’ ’60s Greenwich Village or a galaxy a long time ago, far, far away?
A. Unusual? I’d say galaxy long time ago and far, far away. The Coens, that’s more my everyday sensibility.
Q. Did that unusualness mean you had to stretch?
A. Absolutely. I’ve never played a role even remotely like this. The powers of concentration and imagination that you have to employ to be able to do these things are a challenge. To be in this cockpit, on a gimbal, moving around with the camera attached to it, and have J.J. saying, “React to this to your right, and this to your left”: You feel a little ridiculous. But the challenge is to try to get to that place of childhood where you can play that and believe it completely.
Q. In some ways, being in that cockpit must be harder than playing a Shakespeare hero.
A. That’s right. You have a lot more tools of expression [with Shakespeare]. That’s why it’s a process of finding simplicity. There’s really nothing simple about simplicity [laughs]. It can be the hardest thing to do. You have a limited amount of colors to choose from. That’s the thing. You impose a limited number. As opposed to a whole palette, you just have these primary colors, so you work with those. The other analogy is: This is really like a symphony. It’s an opera. So what is the instrument? Am I the oboe that comes in, soaring above everything else for a moment?
Q. What was it like working with J.J. Abrams?
A. I’ve never met anyone so enthusiastic or energetic. His commitment to infusing everyone on set with the sense of awe and wonder at what we were doing: There was not an ounce of cynicism.
Q. In an interview earlier this morning, John Boyega called him an actor’s director.
A. I think for me what makes him so great for an actor is you know that every little nuance, every micro-expression, is being registered. He’s watching it all. He’s got an incredible eye for detail. He’s seeing what it is and he’s putting that into this symphony that he’s orchestrating.
Q. You’re in the next “Star Wars” movie. Will that be easier or harder?
A. Am I going to be in the next one?
Q. IMDb says you are.
A. Yes [pumps fist]! Woo-hoo!
Q. Well, assuming you are —
A. I would hope that it’ll be a little easier. We were creating it, just figuring it out as we went along, to a certain extent. It evolved a lot from the first conversation I had with J.J. to what ultimately ends up on screen. It was definitely a process of evaluation and changing things and trying this and taking things away.
Q. Which is not what most viewers would expect.
A. Right, there’s this sort of rigid idea of what it is. But he’s pretty fluid. “Let’s try this, put this here.”
Q. When you were a kid did you ever fantasize about someday being in a “Star Wars” movie?
A. No! I wouldn’t even have known what that meant. I fantasized that I was in “Star Wars.” Oh, I was in that world when I was a kid. I had the toys, I would watch the movies. I was part of it. So it’s just nice that others can now see I’m a part of it [laughs].