Star Wars to propel Guatemalan actor Oscar Isaac into celebrity stratosphere

Cast members (from left) Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega of Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the kick-off event during Disney's Star Wars Celebration 2015 at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Cast members (from left) Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega of Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the kick-off event during Disney's Star Wars Celebration 2015 at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Oscar Isaac attending the premiere of Ex Machina at Crosby Street Hotel on April 6, 2015, in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Oscar Isaac attending the premiere of Ex Machina at Crosby Street Hotel on April 6, 2015, in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP 

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Rising star Oscar Isaac is already well known from movies like the Coen brothers' quirky hit Inside Llewyn Davis - but he is set to soar into the Hollywood firmament in the new Star Wars film.

The Guatemalan actor's name and face will go global with the December 18 release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, in which he plays Poe Dameron, "the best pilot in the galaxy". Detailed information about the new trilogy directed by J.J. Abrams is a closely guarded secret. It is only known that Poe is sent on a mission by Princess Leia, and that he will see his "fate changed forever". While awaiting the media maelstrom, Isaac calmly recalls the moment when J.J. Abrams called him to offer him the once-in-a-lifetime role.

"It was totally surreal, like a dream that you can't explain," the 35-year-old actor told AFP in an interview.

Working with veterans including Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, his silver screen heroes when he was young, was deeply emotional.

"I would never have been able to imagine, when I was small, that one day I would be with Harrison Ford and Chewbacca. It was difficult because I had to restrain my emotions and control myself to be able to do my work. But it was a real dream to be part of this phenomenon," he added.

Millions of fans around the world are counting the days until the release of the seventh episode in the iconic franchise, which has already made more than US$4.5 billion (S$6 billion).

Isaac, whose mother is Guatemalan and father is Cuban, prefers to take things calmly, even as pressure and expectations mount ahead of the movie's release.

- Career-changing moment -

Isaac, who studied at New York's prestigious Juilliard School for the performing arts, welcomes the fact that he is already able, in part thanks to Star Wars, to work with directors he likes and above all to "choose different roles". For years he had supporting roles in films including The Nativity Story (2006), The Life Before Her Eyes (2007) and 2010's Robin Hood. His career really took off when he met Joel and Ethan Coen.

The brothers, famous for their dark and often absurdist movies, offered him the leading role in Inside Llewyn Davis, in which he plays a young musician in New York in 1961.

His performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination and put him on the radar of Hollywood's top producers and directors.

Since then he's also played in The Two Faces Of January alongside Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen, and shared the limelight with Jessica Chastain - a fellow Juilliard alumna - in A Most Violent Year, written and directed by J.C. Chandor.

He can also be seen in science fiction thriller Ex Machina, which came out in the United States last month, and will be in next year's blockbuster sequel X-Men: Apocalypse. Now that he's made it into the Hollywood stratosphere, Isaac dreams of working on the other side of the camera, as a director.

"I haven't done it yet because I haven't had the time. But I've still got lots of time ahead of me," he said.