Mohamed Diab is not the first person you would think would be behind Marvel Studios’ latest superhero, “Moon Knight” (the first episode just premiered on Disney+). Diab is an Egyptian filmmaker known for his small-scale dramas that blur the line between truth and fiction. “Moon Knight,” on the other hand, is a horror-tinged fantasy adventure about a nerd who works in a museum gift shop (Oscar Isaac) who discovers he has multiple identities – and one of them is a masked vigilante possessed by the spirit of an ancient Egyptian god. (It gets wild.)
TheWrap spoke with Diab about the 200-page document that he prepared for “Moon Knight,” how his aesthetic meshed well with the tone and spirit of the character and the challenges of introducing a new hero to the already overstuffed MCU.
You said that you created a 200-page document that you had prepared going into this. What was in there? Did any of it make it into the show?
First of all, the 200 pages are all pictures. It’s not something that you need a year to read. It’s just like … you can look at them. Once you see them, it’s very fast. But I moved three years ago to Hollywood. I was offered so many jobs. But this is the first one that I connected to that much. Usually I work with my wife, Sarah Gohar, who is my producer and co-writer. We put together this pitch, and the pitch covered everything. We felt, okay, this story is written for us. As drama, it’s very similar to the things, the themes that I’m playing with in my small movies. The action and the comedy and the horror is exactly everything that I want to try and play with.
And the Egypt part of it, Egypt in the past, the Egyptology, and the present Egypt, which is something we always felt seen through an Orientalist point of view, which is that always you see people from the Middle East or people Egyptian, very exotic, very dehumanized. It was very important to portray them just like a normal people. And even the locations themselves sometimes dehumanizes through showing us as the savages, which is not true. Like when you see the pyramid in the middle of the desert, it’s true. But if you turn the camera this way, just a tiny bit, you’re going to discover that the pyramids, it’s in the middle of the city. And it’s one of the biggest urban cities in the world. That’s 20 million people, skyscrapers and everything. I’m not ashamed of who we are, but I’m just saying we are a blend of a lot of things. I want to introduce all that. Everything that I mentioned was in the pitch – the locations, how I want to develop the character, the way I want to show the horror, the way I want to show the comedy, the tone, the edits, references for the action, references for the music, references for the score. Everything you can imagine. An actualization of how are we going to direct the whole show.
And I want to tell you, the moment we’re done, I told Sarah, “We’re going to get this job or something is wrong in the world,” because we clicked with it, with the story, and we felt like we brought something so unique. And after two years, that pitch is the show.
The show has these wonderful Egyptian rap songs, oftentimes over the closing credits. Were those in the pitch too?
Absolutely. Some of those songs, Kevin Feige was humming them through the two years. He remembered them from the pitch. But I can’t steal the credit from Sarah, my wife, is the one who’s responsible of all the songs. Every day she comes up with a crazy song and she lets me hear it and suggests it. She’s the music expert in the family.
What were some of your action movie touchpoints in that deck and how did they affect how you ended up shooting the show?
I definitely used the new movement of shooting action with less cuts and how grounded it is. And I used “John Wick.” I used a lot of different stuff.
All my movies are very grounded in reality. I would love to capture reality. If I’m going to do action, if I’m going to do comedy, if I’m going to do anything, it has to come from a grounded reality. That was the main thing about it. And definitely what a lot of movies are trying to do right now… 10 years ago, the action was all about cutting so much, the effect of Paul Greengrass. And he does it better than anyone else. And now the new effect on action is less cuts, seeing the real action happen. But that’s harder, by the way, to capture it and still have the same dynamic. That needs a lot more work. I was pitching that I’m going to try to do that as much as possible. And I’m happy that we brought some brutality because the brutality is not a gimmick to our story. It’s part of the struggle of Moon Knight.
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Well, you had to cover all this ground including having to introduce a new character to the MCU that is very tonally different than anything we’ve seen before. Could you talk about what that was like?
Well, I have to commend Marvel for hiring me. If you hired me, when I’m someone who’s making ultra real movies and very dramatic movies, then you would want something different. definitely I was part of their intention of doing it different. Marvel had an intention of pushing the envelope. Hiring someone like me, they took a risk. And I used every opportunity that I had to push as much as I can, be as brutal as I can. Again, for the story, not as a gimmick, and for the drama to get dark as possible, for the look to be different.
The best thing I would say that I was given the opportunity to make it a standalone project, a project that is not connected to the MCU as much as possible. There’s no references. And a standalone project when it comes to the way it looks. A lot of people are giving me the comment that when they see the pilot, if there was no Marvel logo, you wouldn’t know that this is a Marvel show, which is something I’m so proud of. And I think it worked for the show and worked for Marvel. That’s why after 13 years Marvel is [still a] success. When everyone thinks, “Okay, this is the year of the superhero fatigue,” that they know how to reinvent themselves. And I think “Moon Knight” and the whole world that we created is something that is a testament to that.
“Moon Knight” is streaming now on Disney+.