'Robin Hood' Star Oscar Isaac on Playing a Royally Mean White Guy

As the paranoid, self-indulgent King John in Robin Hood, Miami native Oscar Isaac steals every scene he’s in. We recently caught up with the sexy, rising Cuban-Guatemalan actor (you’ve seen him in Che, Body of Lies, All About the Benjamins and The Nativity Story) and asked about playing a mean-ass white guy and jamming with Russell Crowe between takes.

Your performance as King John was fun and scary at the same time. How did you prep for the role?

That was a challenge. He has the worst reputation out of all the kings in England. I went to visit his tomb. There’s a little plaque next to his tomb and even that didn’t have anything nice to say about him. I was trying to understand why that was, so I set out to not judge him, but try to understand him and where he was coming from within the confines of the script. It was a unique and fun challenge.

What did you like most about playing a bad guy?

Ridley allowed me to have fun with it and give me free rein. I tried to make some modern parallels, like maybe he’s the love child of Richard Nixon and Robert Plant. Like a rock star with a paranoid political mind.

What was it like on set with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett?

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any scenes with Cate Blanchett, which was a real bummer because I’m incredibly huge fan. But with Russell, I did get to interact a lot. I’m a musician, he’s a musicians and so were the actors who played [Robin Hood cohorts] the Merry Men were all musicians. There were a lot of nights where we played music and had a lot of fun.

You sang vocals with a band called The Blinking Underdogs and you’ve been on stage before—in fact, you starred opposite Rosario Dawson in a production of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona in New York’s Central Park. Are music and theater things you still want to pursue or have you totally gone Hollywood?

Oh my God! Two Gentlemen of Verona was something I did right out of college! Yeah, I would love to do both movies and theater, like [late Puerto Rican actor] Raul Julia, who I love. Theater is incredibly important to me. Oh, yeah. I’m constantly playing and writing songs. So music will always be part of what I do.

You are Cuban-Guatemalan and you’re playing the King of England. That’s a pretty awesome bit of colorblind casting.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate on that end. The first film I ever did [Illtown] I played a Russian. I’ve actually been able to play so many different types of people and been fortunate enough not to be typecast in anything. The first movie I did with [Robin Hood director] Ridley Scott was Body of Lies and I played this Iraqi CIA agent. The fact that he saw that and said, ‘King of England next!’, was pretty incredible and imaginative. And a Hispanic actor I felt to fortunate to be able to play that role and I really have to thank Ridley Scott. I definitely think that things are getting better for Hispanics in Hollywood.