May Calamawy is an incredible actor and her performance as Layla El-Faouly in Moon Knight sees a star in the making. Her character is incredibly complex and shares an emotionally layered on-screen relationship with Oscar Isaac’s Steven Grant/Marc Spector. Both actors give impeccable performances and are riveting to watch together, but Calamawy upstages Isaac in many sequences, most notably during the series finale, where her character becomes the Scarlet Scarab, the MCU’s first on-screen Egyptian superhero.
In becoming the first Egyptian superhero in the franchise, Calamawy expressed that “there are no words”:
“I’m so grateful to be in the Marvel Universe. There’s so much genius behind it. It’s so creative, everyone that has built these characters. And then the comics even before that. What’s really making me most happy are the responses that I’m receiving online from people and reading about how they feel seen, and how I might look like them, or especially how we might have the same hair. Suddenly the hair thing is becoming everything because I don’t know if there have been many superheroes with curly hair. So to have someone feel like they can accept themselves a little more because of a character I played, that feels like the superhero. That feels like the power.”
So, it was naturally an absolute honor and privilege for me to have talked to Calamawy after the series’ most surprising moment, where Layla became Tawaret (Antonia Salib)’s avatar and suited up as the Scarlet Scarab to help our titular character battle Ethan Hawke’s Arthur Harrow. In trying out the suit for the first time, Calamawy explained the process of doing so, stating that she didn’t notice it at first, until she saw the reaction from the crew:
“I didn’t notice it until I went into the studio and then saw everyone’s reaction to it. Because we were just like, “Quickly! Put it on!” And then over time, it almost became like a ritual putting it on because it was like leggings, the boots, the top kind of corset part, and then the little Scarab in the back and then the arm pieces, and it was really special. And nothing compares to when you see it. I definitely wasn’t carrying those wings around.”
In the interview, I explain that I went completely nuts once Scarlet Scarab’s wings (and swords!) came out of Layla’s suit. It was such an electrifying moment, on the same level as Captain America (Chris Evans) wielding Mjolnir in Avengers: Endgame. If Cap holding Mjolnir was the best MCU moment I’ve witnessed on the big screen, then Layla getting her Scarlet Scarab suit is definitely the best MCU moment on the small screen. And if Moon Knight had been released in theatres, it likely would top Cap holding Mjolnir. Not even exaggerating.
Calamawy pours her heart and soul into her performance, from beginning to end, that Layla’s transformation into the Scarlet Scarab is both emotionally investing and satisfying, as we learn to root for her during the series’ final moments. And in building an effective relationship with Oscar Isaac’s Steven Grant/Marc Spector, Calamawy stated that “Oscar was so good at embodying both characters”:
“I could just feel it off him. And my energy would change depending on who I was playing against naturally. So Marc has such a hard exterior, for his own reasons, but they’re there. And I would just work off of that. And then there were a few challenging moments with Steven, which turned out sweet. Like the “being honesty” moment [in episode four]. And I had to really speak to Oscar about those moments. I’d be like, “I’m feeling a little stuck.” And we’d work through it. And he said it so well. He was like, “when you love someone so much, there’s always some pain under that, right?” And in this situation, there’s a lot of pain, because of Marc and what’s going on there. And then there’s Steven and now, and it’s almost like it’s so complex. If this was just a reality TV show or a show just about them, we’d be able to dive in. But there’s no time to dive into the feelings now. Because we have to save the world.”
One of Calamawy’s biggest acting inspirations when shooting the Asylum scene, which happens at the end of episode four, was Helena Bonham Carter’s performance as Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter franchise:
“I love to use Helena Bonham Carter as inspiration, because I feel like she milks everything she’s given, especially in Harry Potter. Every time Bellatrix Lestrange is there I’m so excited. And I was like, “What would Helena do right now?” I didn’t live by that. But in that moment, I was just like, “I just feel like she’s so free.” And how can I bring out that freedom when Layla is generally held together in many ways, and she’s got these protective blocks or whatnot. And so I walked around the room and I noticed some marshmallows, and I grabbed one and then I was enjoying it myself. And then I’m just gonna keep it with me in the scene. I just had so much fun with that.”
When asked about where she thought we’d see Layla next in the MCU, Calamawy had no idea, but would love to be in Bassam Tariq’s Blade, starring one of her co-stars in Ramy, Mahershala Ali:
“I had an interview with Oscar and then he said Blade and then suddenly, I was like, “Wait, I would like Blade too, because I know Mahershala, we’ve acted together before.” That would be fun.”
You’ve heard her, Feige. The Scarlet Scarab needs to return in either Blade, Midnight Sons, or, better yet, a Scarlet Scarab-related spinoff in theatres and/or as a Disney+-related project. Please.
You can watch our interview below and stream all episodes of Moon Knight on Disney+:
[Quotes edited for length and clarity]