ESQUIRE – It is 1992 and a house built on hope is cracking under pressure. A frightened young family huddles in the living room, hiding beneath a torn roof, praying to survive. The floors are lifting, the carpet is flooding, and as one wall then another splinters, this family’s dreams start to collapse.
Outside, Hurricane Andrew: the sound like a freight train, loud and ominous, relentless and otherworldly. It is coming for them, this force of wind and rain and some other power that feels unstoppable and ungodly, spiteful even. A tree spins through violent gusts, snapped cleanly from its roots. Manicured lawns in the housing development explode. Sidewalks heave and ripple. Windows shatter. It’s impossible to know where inside ends and outside begins. Time has stopped, yet everything else is still in motion. The edges of the world have blurred. I’m going to die, thirteen-year-old Oscar Isaac thinks as he hunches beneath flimsy sofa cushions with his brother and sister, with his parents and their already fraying relationship. I’m going to be hurled into the air by this hurricane and disappear.
It is possible to be young and old at once. To be filled with both a child’s confusion and adult terror—and to still have room for some other wordless, ancient fear to thread itself through you and disrupt the sleep that comes at night, even years later. The hurricane will leave a trail of destruction behind, and though Oscar and his family will make it out alive, some things will not survive intact, like his parents’ marriage. Something else intangible will come untethered in his life. There is nothing certain anymore. There is no such thing as solid ground. And while it might not be free fall, the boy senses a shift in the balance of the world: The security that (if we’re lucky) childhood provides is gone.
He had a small desk, full of pages of the stories he had written. All of them were lost to the storm, to the encroaching sea.
As the years progress, as a burgeoning interest in music and film opens pathways and brings him great acclaim, certain uneasy dreams still persist: of the house, of walking through it, of remembering it and yearning for the promises it held.
“I’ve always felt like an outsider,” Isaac says. He is talking about the characters he feels drawn to as an actor—how they, too, are often outsiders, people grappling with their place in their world. The sun, bright and unusually warm for the time of year, spills through the window behind him. He is in the Brooklyn apartment he bought back when he felt he had made it and that he keeps for visiting family and friends. He is wearing an orange tie-dyed T-shirt and dark sweats, and he sits cross-legged on his bright-yellow sofa, drinking a glass of water. His curly hair is casually finger-combed off his forehead, his dark eyes warm. “Literally, and then emotionally, psychologically. I always felt like I was observing life and not actually experiencing it. There was a lot of guilt with that sometimes—feeling like I was a vulture of my own life.”
To be in conversation with Oscar Isaac, who is forty-three, is to talk with someone who has thought deeply about the course of his life—not out of narcissism or vanity but by necessity, a desperate desire to find what feels like solid ground. For him. For his family. For us, whom his art reaches. He has worked to wrest meaning out of his confusions and fears. His effort is ongoing, and his audiences have the privilege of following him in his relentless and shattering performances, in search of the firm footing he lost every time another of his dreams was interrupted.
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