If you don’t yet know who Oscar Isaac is, you’re about to. Not only does the Guatemalan-Cuban-American actor star in this month’s highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens as X-wing pilot Poe Dameron, but he plays the famed supervillain Apocalypse in next year’s X-Men: Apocalypse. He’s about to blow up, is all we’re saying, and it really has been a long time coming.
Born in Guatemala and raised in Miami, Isaac graduated from Juilliard in 2005 and soon found himself thrust into the spotlight playing Joseph in Catherine Hardwicke’s The Nativity Story opposite Academy Award nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes. That faith-driven film raised his profile and he soon found himself working with some of the best directors in town, from the Coen brothers and J.C. Chandor, to Ridley Scott and Steven Soderbergh. Those prestige projects have earned the actor two Golden Globe nominations, one Independent Spirit Award nomination, and last year’s National Board of Review Award for Best Actor.
Ahead of Isaac’s surefire rise to worldwide stardom with these two tentpole films, here’s a look at five roles that showed what this talented actor is truly capable of, from a menacing ex-con in Drive to a soulful folk singer in Inside Llewyn Davis.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters on December 18, 2015.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s stunt driver 2011 film was all about its leading man, Ryan Gosling. But that shouldn’t keep us from appreciating Isaac as Standard, Carey Mulligan’s recently freed from prison husband whose heist gives the film its most riveting car chase sequence. In his short scenes with Gosling, you can already see an actor capable of a quiet menace that was all the more terrifying for the charisma masking it.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Many had heard of Isaac after starring in The Nativity Story, but Isaac’s critical breakthrough role came courtesy of Joel and Ethan Coen, who gave the actor the titular role in their 2013 film. The film follows a struggling folk singer living in Greenwich Village in 1961, and has Isaac singing alongside Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake, as well as brooding quite convincingly alongside his furry co-star. Singled out as “compulsively watchable,” Isaac all but carried the Coens’ melancholy take on the 1960s folk scene, earning him the strongest reviews of his career, as well as his very first Golden Globe nomination.
A Most Violent Year
Isaac’s most celebrated role to date was one of only a handful of times where he got to play a Latino character. Abel Morales is an immigrant hoping to keep his oil-heating business thriving amidst threats of violence courtesy of a crime-ridden 1980s New York City. It’s a great entry into the ever-growing canon of the danger and allure of the Big Apple, with a whopping dual central performance. Acting opposite Jessica Chastain, Isaac earned rave reviews, and was singled out by Variety as “one of the essential American actors of the moment.”
Alex Garland’s sci-fi sleeper hit gave Isaac his most devilishly bonkers character to date. As Nathan, the CEO of a search engine corporation who lives in seclusion hoping to perfect his AI creation (played by Alicia Vikander), he got to rehearse the charming intimidation we know he can play so well while also giving us what’s perhaps the most GIF-able moment in 2015 cinema. God bless Garland for getting a semi-shirtless Isaac to utter the line, “I’m gonna tear up the fucking dance floor, dude, check it out,” and then deliver on such a promise, getting him to groove to Oliver Cheatham’s disco tune “Get Down Saturday Night.” Isaac may indeed be able to do it all.
Show Me a Hero
From David Simon, the creator behind the critically acclaimed series The Wire, Show Me A Hero is a six-part HBO miniseries centered on a white middle-class neighborhood in Yonkers, New York battling a federally mandated scattered-site public housing development. Isaac played Wasicsko, a former police officer who later became the youngest big city mayor in the nation, and who was a fierce advocate for desegregation even amidst vocal dissent from the mostly white Yonkers population. The role just earned Isaac his second Golden Globe nomination for his anchoring performance in this densely rich, socially conscious project.