Before Acting, Oscar Isaac's Job Was Transporting Dead Bodies

The 'Annihilation' and 'Star Wars' star tells us how working at a hospital got him into Juilliard.

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Feb 23 2018, 6:53pm

Oscar Isaac in Annihilation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance

In Early Works, we talk to artists young and old about the jobs and life experiences that led them to their current moment. Today, it's actor Oscar Isaac, who stars in the just-released sci-fi drama Annihilation. (You've seen him in Star Wars and Ex Machina too.)

We moved to Miami in second grade, which was interesting because we lived way out in Kendall, Florida, which is full of life now—but at the time it was way out. My father's a doctor, and he worked the graveyard shift for a long time, so we'd have to be very quiet around the house while he was sleeping until he went to work at night. He was also a musician and had a video camera that I would borrow. For my birthday, he got me a video equalizer, where you could run the camcorder through the VCR and add titles, music, and weird effects. I'd make a lot of movies with my friends, my little brother, and my sister—they were all cast in the movies. That was the beginning of my love for that form of artistic expression.

I was terrible at every part-time job I had when I was younger. I worked as a bag boy at a Publix, which lasted for about a week. One of the ladies who I bagged groceries for worked at a golf club, and she said, "I might have a job for you." So I worked as a waiter at a golf club that was down the street from where I lived. That lasted for about a month. They had weddings there all the time, and if I had to hear "We Are Family" one more time, I was going to shoot myself. I worked at a movie theater concession stand. That lasted two days.

The longest job I held was as a transporter at the hospital where my dad worked—taking people to do X-rays, bringing the deceased down to the morgue. My first day on the job, I had to do that. When I applied to Juilliard, they asked, "What other jobs have you done that qualifies you?" I put the hospital down, because you get to see the extremes of humanity there—life and death. People can get stuck when they're doing movies into focusing on what's probable, but at the hospital you focus on what's possible. It's possible that someone could start laughing when they learn that someone dies. Anything can happen.

In high school, I really fell in love with music in a big way. I had bands with different groups of friends. One of the bands got more and more popular, and that took precedent for me. But when I graduated high school, I was still auditioning at surrounding theaters in Miami, and I even got a couple of commercials. When I got accepted to Juilliard in New York, I had to make the decision to put the band on the backburner and focus on acting. But even to this day, I play music all the time. I occasionally play live, too.

I never had a moment where I stopped to think, What if acting doesn't work out? I couldn't imagine not doing it—finding some outlet for it. If I hadn't been given certain opportunities, I'm sure I would've found some way. I never got to the point where I thought, What if this doesn't work out? Nowadays, it's less about that and more about, Where do I go now that I don't necessarily have the same feeling? I have so much I want to say to the world now. I've had a lot of wonderful opportunities, and now that I have a family, the priorities shift a bit. It's more mysterious now—maybe the trajectory used to feel more certain. I've scaled the mountain, I'm looking over it, and there are many more mountains. It's just about choosing where to go now.

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