Moon Knight Star May Calamawy Talks Becoming Scarlet Scarab

Moon Knight Star May Calamawy Talks Becoming Scarlet Scarab

WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for “Moon Knight” on Disney+

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” isn’t the only Marvel property that introduced fans to a new hero this week. Over on the season finale of “Moon Knight,” Layla El-Faouly made her debut as Scarlet Scarab — and series star May Calamawy is still processing it a bit.

“When I first joined this, I laugh about it, because the role description was like ’20s to 30s Egyptian, strong woman, two steps ahead.’ That’s what it was,” Calamawy told TheWrap. “And I remember telling one of my close friends, I guess I’m just never gonna be a superhero, which is a bummer, because I would have loved to, but it’s fine. I’m happy to just be an Arab woman in the Marvel Universe.”

But now, Calamawy is the screen’s first Egyptian superhero. And according to the actress, becoming Scarlet Scarab marked “a point of freedom” not only for her character but for herself as well. As “Moon Knight” progressed, Calamawy found herself discovering her own voice and her own standing.

“I came into it being super intimidated. There were a lot of men that I was working with, there were much fewer women,” she explained. “And I saw how I didn’t know how to really take the space. And then by the end of it, the more I allowed myself to just be me and really interrogate the parts of me that were intimidated, and question why, and hold that side of me and just kind of let go, I was able to be more myself and to just come out more and be more free.”

Where exactly “Moon Knight” will go from here is still anyone’s guess — but Calamawy has a few ideas of what she’d like to do. Read our extended interview with May Calamawy below.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Here we are, post-finale. Is it weird to have it all out in the universe now? That you can talk about things and you can just be open about what happened and what you filmed?

Yeah! It’s just like, it feels like ages ago that I booked it, that we created this, developed it and filmed it. And now it’s all out. And I’m just like “It’s done?” All of that, and that’s it. And the responses have been so great. I watched it with my — a few people came over and we saw it together. And I have to say, I think I need to see the whole thing again. Because I’ve always been with people and there’s always a level of attunement to what everyone around you is going through. So I haven’t fully taken it in myself.

Yes, the reactions have all been wildly positive because Layla’s finale, I mean, wow! I need to know everything about it. Let’s start with the suit. Tell me what it’s like to suit up, not only as a hero in the MCU but as the first Egyptian superhero.

We filmed the moment of her entrance last. That was actually done in our reshoots that we added. And that felt really cool to go through that and just know, “Oh, this is going to be an establishing moment for Scarlet Scarab.” We filmed a lot of the costume work out of sequence. And one day they were just like, “Oh, the costume’s ready, put it on, you have this one scene to do” and it felt a little anticlimactic. I was like, “OK, all right, cool,” and quickly rushed to set and do the scene. But then when I was on set, everyone was like, “Whoa!” because no one had seen Scarlet Scarab. And I had a bit of a moment with it.

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For me, it’s all such a blessing and so much fun to just be involved. When I first joined this, I laugh about it, because the role description was like “20s to 30s Egyptian, strong woman, two steps ahead.” That’s what it was. And I remember telling one of my close friends, I guess I’m just never gonna be a superhero, which is a bummer, because I would have loved to, but it’s fine. I’m happy to just be an Arab woman in the Marvel Universe. And then a month later, I got a call after I booked it, and they’re like, “Yeah, OK, we need to get a body scan.” And I was like, “Why do you need a body scan?” And then they’re like, “Oh, you’re gonna be a superhero.” So I just laugh about it. Because from what I thought this could have been, and what I was happy with doing, to where it went? That’s more of the excitement.

And then now seeing the fan reactions, because it’s all about the fans, and how people feel and especially how a lot of women have been responding to Layla having curly hair, and Scarlet Scarab having like, just curly hair out. There have been such wonderful posts with girls taking photos of themselves with their curls, writing comments like “I’m throwing out my hair straightener.” And that, to me, is what makes me excited more than anything. To have an impact like that, especially in a society that we’ve grown up with, that has really told us what beautiful is and has almost forced us to want to, even if we have to erase who we are, just to fit into that. You know, it has that effect on us and to feel like we’re breaking out of that and that a role like this can make women out there feel that way or young girls? That’s like the superpower for me.

Absolutely. Now, you mentioned that you watched the finale with loved ones. What were their reactions in the moment?

I made the mistake of telling everyone in the room ahead of time that it was gonna happen. Because it was my nephews, seven and 10 years old, and then one of my best friends. Obviously, my brother and sister-in-law knew because I told my nephews and then my manager was there with her partner, and they knew, so everyone just kind of knew. And when it happened, it was like, “Whoa, look at the wings!” It was more like, “Wow, the costume is really cool.” It wasn’t so much. “Wait, is this really happening?”

I ruined it! And I learned! I honestly have learned from that mistake. But they were still happy and excited. I hadn’t seen it with the wings because they’re VFX. Spoiler.

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You mean you don’t actually have giant wings?

(laughs). Imagine. No, no, no. I wish! How cool would that be? But to see that, it was really cool. With the music and with the whole spectacle, it’s overwhelming.

I want to ask about the scene leading right up to it. It happens because Layla is now an avatar for Taweret. And I don’t think I’ve had as much joy in a long time as I did watching you snap back and forth between this hippo deity and yourself as Layla. So tell me about filming that scene, how hard was that to switch back and forth like that?

You know, I found out that I had to do it 30 minutes before we did it. Because initially, Antonia Salib, who plays Taweret, was on set. She was going to be in the chamber with Layla. And then Mohamed Diab comes to me in the trailer while I’m getting ready, and he’s like, “You know, I thought about it, and actually, she has to come through you.” And I really didn’t know what that meant. I was like “You want me to mimic, like, suddenly be possessed by Taweret?” And he’s like, “Yeah, cool,” and he leaves me. And so Antonia came, we went to my trailer, and I told her, just do whatever you would have done as Taweret. I’m just going to keep copying your body language. And kind of her facial expression, she does that so well. And that’s just what I took.

And I had to just bring it. I didn’t have time to think. And I sometimes wonder what it would have been like had I had that time to sit with it. But I just threw myself in and it was probably the most freeing experience of the whole show for me. Because I had Mohamed just giving me some notes and then I would go and I didn’t have time to look at myself. And also with everything that had gone on that day, I felt this totally makes sense for Layla. She’s like, having this break right now, a moment.

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And I broke the wall of the set. Because I kept throwing myself back onto it whenever — I don’t remember if it was like when I was coming to as Layla or when Taweret was taking over. I didn’t have control over myself because I was giving 100. And the set designer came and was so nice and was like, “Can you just take care? Just don’t touch the wall.” And it’s like, “Of course, I’m not going to touch the wall. Sorry I did that that time, I won’t do it again.” I broke the wall literally the take right after. I smashed right into it with my back. And so we had to move, they had to fix it. We had to take time out. We had to move a little so that it wasn’t obvious. So it was a whole ordeal. But I was like, “I’m getting possessed right now, I can’t control what this is going to look like.” It was so fun. What am I supposed to do? When I watch it, I’m a little horrified because I’m like, what’s happening? It was crazy.

Well OK, so, initially Layla didn’t even want to be an avatar. But, now that it’s happened, she’s super. So, she has to want it now, right?

She sees what it’s done to Marc, and I don’t think she wants to have anything to do with it. And there’s this level of almost selling out and she has like a self-righteous — just, this personality that wants to do it all herself. Layla is a mystery, which I hope we can expand on one day. She hasn’t had the easiest upbringing. And if her father has taught her anything, it’s to stand up for herself and to learn to fight for herself, and not to give her power away, which I think as women, we generally have to pay a bit more attention to because we do it subconsciously as well.

And I feel like her experience has been troubled with the loss of her father. And then finding Marc, it was almost a breath of fresh air and you find a partner in crime who metaphorically holds the strength maybe between the two of you. And then she loses that, and there’s a bit of trust that’s broken there. It’s almost a journey of realizing she doesn’t really need a man, but she can find it within her, that strength. And so there is a necessity and there’s also a surrender of like, “I don’t know what this is, and maybe I have to just let go and see what comes,” which is what happens.

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Then she definitely is capable of much more with the power so I don’t foresee her being like “Take this away.” But who knows. You don’t know with Layla, but I do think that journey of, especially me personally, I came into it being super intimidated. There were a lot of men that I was working with; there were much fewer women. And I saw how I didn’t know how to really take the space. And then by the end of it, the more I allowed myself to just be me and really interrogate the parts of me that were intimidated and question why and hold that side of me and just kind of let go, I was able to be more myself and to just come out more and be more free. And so the whole Scarlet Scarab is — it feels like it’s almost a point of freedom for Layla.

I’m glad that you mentioned that there were a lot of men around you in the series. They are wonderful, wonderful, beautiful men, but I do want to ask — the MCU is very woman-oriented right now. We have Kate Bishop, Yelena, Captain Marvel, and then America Chavez in “Multiverse of Madness.” Where would you like to see Layla fit in with the women of the MCU? Is there one you’d like to work with?

There’s just too many! I love “WandaVision.” I love Agatha, I get drawn to the cheek, you know? Like anyone who has kind of a darker side, I always love to examine that because it’s so much more complex than just bad and good. I love Yelena. It’s hard! I loved “Hawkeye” too and seeing Kate Bishop. I just love complex women and exploring that. And we are in a time when women are really — by “stepping into power,” sometimes I hate using that term. But it’s just like, stepping into our truth and accepting all parts of who we are, and not necessarily trying to be anyone else. And I think that’s a really special place. And that’s what I see with all these women is they’re their own people.

They’re their own person, they have their own fight. And I love that. I love vulnerability. So anyone who can live with that, and work with that, I’d love to work with as well. Because that’s really what makes a full-rounded, powerful — if we want to use that word — woman, in my opinion. When you start this and you think of oh, she’s gonna be superhero. She’s strong. She’s a fighter. I have to ask myself, like, what does that look like? And a lot of times we go “How would a man do it?” but we don’t want to do what a man would do. Because that’s not what a woman would do. And we’re finally giving that space, and I think Marvel is giving that space, to women, to be like “What is a woman?” And there is not one woman.

‘Moon Knight’ Director Mohamed Diab Wants to Make a Moon Knight Movie Next

Mohamed Diab recently told us that he’d like to see a “Moon Knight” movie. Where would you like to see Layla and Scarlet Scarab go next? Would you do a spin-off series?

I’ve never been in a movie. Well, at this iteration of my life where I’m at now, I haven’t been in a movie and I would love to experience that. A “Moon Knight” movie would be wonderful. Now, if they are open to a Scarlet Scarab spinoff I’m not going to say no. (laughs).

Or not even a Scarlet Scarab spinoff, even a “Moon Knight” Season 2. But my hope is that Moon Knight does jump into the film world.

All episodes of Marvel’s “Moon Knight” are now streaming on Disney+.

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