By Jeff Murphy, April 29, 2022
From left, University of Central Missouri alumnus and former Warrensburg resident
Grant Curtis, as an executive producer, and actor Ethan Hawke, who portrays Arthur
Harrow in Marvel Studios’ six-part “Moon Knight” series, were part of a production
team that was excited to introduce their project on Disney+ streaming service this
WARRENSBURG, MO – While Moon Knight first appeared in a comic book in 1975, this character may not be on the tip of the tongue in comparison to superheroes like Captain America, Spider-Man and many others who went from the printed page to the big screen. With help from a production team that includes University of Central Missouri graduate Grant Curtis, a new spotlight is shining on this unique character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Curtis, who earned a master’s degree in mass communication from UCM in 1997, serves as one of the executive producers for Marvel Studios’ new six-part “Moon Knight” series. He worked with individuals such as prominent Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Diab, who is making his U.S. directorial debut, and a cast that includes Golden Globe® winner Oscar Isaac in the title role, Ethan Hawke as Arthur Harrow and May Calamawy as Layka El-Faouly. The series was introduced March 30 exclusively on the Disney+ streaming service.
“It’s different, which continues to be the success of the Marvel Studios brand,” Curtis said about the series, which he describes as “a bit spookier, a little bit darker and a bit grittier” than most MCU presentations.
In the series, the audience follows mild-mannered museum gift-shop employee Steven Grant, played by Isaac, on a trek that unfolds into a psychological thriller after he experiences blackouts followed by memories of a life that far exceeds the mundane existence he has known. Steven, who has Dissociative Identity Disorder, discovers that he shares a body with his exact opposite, Marc Spector, a former marine and CIA operative who became a mercenary and ultimately the earthly avatar of Khonshu, the Egyptian god of the moon and vengeance. Steven and Marc learn how to navigate their complex identities and become part of a battle waged among the powerful gods of Egypt, with many enemies converging upon them.
Curtis’ work on this project is part of a long history of involvement in film. The author of two books, his background as a movie producer has included movie projects such as the widely acclaimed “Spider-Man” trilogy with director Sam Raimi for Columbia Pictures, “Oz: The Great and Powerful” for Walt Disney Pictures and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” for Paramount Pictures. He also directed, wrote and produced “Delaney,” a documentary for ESPN Films “30 for 30 Shorts” about a former Kansas City Chiefs player who drowned saving a child, and was an executive producer on Disney’s “Let’s Be Tigers.” These are just a few of many projects in which he has been involved.
Curtis said he was excited about the opportunity to introduce “Moon Knight” to a new audience. The main character appeared for the first time nearly 50 years ago in the comic book “Werewolf by Night” (Issue 32). Development of this superhero has taken various iterations over the years, although the relationship between Khonshu and Moon Knight has remained consistent. Working hard to stay true to that relationship, Marvel Studios’ production team creatively pulled together for its screen presentation several character attributes, gleaned from decades of written materials, to create one of the most unusual superheroes of all time.
“One of my first tasks was going through and reading every comic book Moon Knight ever appeared in, whether that was ‘Werewolf by Night,’ or whether that was his [comic book] run that started in 1980 with ‘Moon Knight’ No. 1,” Curtis said. He added that he and the writers on this project were intrigued by the intense character study the film series offered.
The series combines adventure, drama, mystery and a bit of comedy to keep the audience engaged in each new episode. True to the comic book tradition, the screenplay weaves plenty of unpredictability into this multipart story.
“One thing the writers always do very well, just when you think you’ve got everything figured out on page 22, you turn to page 23 and realize that nothing you thought is as you expected, and it always keeps you on your toes,” Curtis said. ”It’s never a gimmick. It’s always through the character’s point of view as he’s going on these adventures and having to try to figure out what’s going on.”
In addition to creating a fast-paced adventure that keeps the audience guessing, there are many other reasons the creators of “Moon Knight” are excited about this project.
“Another aspect that appealed to us is the Egyptology, and the backdrop. We all seem to be fascinated with all things Egyptian,” Curtis said.
The writers’ room was filled with numerous reference books on ancient Egyptian culture and deities, Curtis said. Experts in areas such as Egyptian archaeology visited with writers regularly to help ensure authenticity, and the same care was given to the backdrop. Much of the movie was actually shot at Origo Studios in Budapest, Hungary, where there were many sound stages and access to field-specific experts who had vast knowledge of ancient statuary, pottery and hieroglyphics. A team of sculptors from Italy was brought in and spent three months creating the statues of Egyptian deities that stand in the Chamber of the Gods, a prominent setting for action sequences.
Similar attention to detail was given to helping the team develop its main characters. Curtis noted, for example, because the series addresses a mental health issue through the character of Marc Spector, the writers and the cast wanted to approach this topic with sensitivity.
“We wanted to be very reverential and respectful to a very serious issue, so we brought in consultants to help guide us on that,” he said. “Our head writer, Jeremy Slater, always led the charge from day one about being authentic and respectful, and Oscar Isaac, our lead, had to act these parts on the screen in the same way.”
This is the first time Curtis has worked on a multipart series. He said it was a valuable opportunity to explore his craft as a producer, but it was not without challenges, particularly considering the way filming is scheduled.
“You don’t film in sequential order. You don’t start on page one and shoot that on day one,” said Curtis, who has devoted approximately three years to this project.
He noted that scenes are shot according to what is best for production, and sometimes a scene can be moved to a different place in the film. Such was the case for the opening scene in which Harrow is seen putting on a pair of shoes filled with broken glass. These images were actually intended for inclusion further into the film, but were moved to the front for a more powerful effect and to provide early insight into the character of Spector.
“That scene was not supposed to go there,” Curtis said. “As we were looking at the whole film in post, we realized if we put that scene up front then that would inform the audience about this character from the very first time you meet him in the Alps. You realize from the beginning that this guy is a little off center.”
Curtis, who grew up in the Warrensburg area, spoke fondly about his time at UCM, where his father, Dr. Dan Curtis, taught for years as a professor of communication and was a former department chair. Grant Curtis came to UCM, known then as Central Missouri State University, in the 1990s after completing a bachelor’s degree in marketing at the University of Missouri-Columbia. While working on his graduate degree at UCM, he developed close working relationships with faculty members who became his mentors.
“There were two influential teachers in particular – Keith Mellinger and John Graves. They were the reasons why I went back to UCM to get my degree. Keith was a screenwriter who got his MFA from UCLA, one of the top screenwriting schools in the world. Dr. Graves worked in Hollywood for decades on numerous TV shows. It was his knowledge and experiences in this whole community that I gravitated toward,” Curtis said.
As he was finishing his master’s degree, Curtis landed in Los Angeles in 1997 for an internship on “The Late, Late Show With Tom Snyder” and to finish work on a screenplay, which was a requirement in his graduate program. While residing in LA, a friend who lived next door told him famous director Sam Raimi was searching for an assistant. Curtis believed his opportunity to work with Raimi was a stretch, but the great director saw something in him. Curtis went from being an assistant to Raimi to much tougher decision-making roles on films such as the “Spider-Man” trilogy, “The Gift” and others. He built within five years after earning his graduate degree the kind of resume that gets noticed, leading to his selection in 2002 as a UCM Outstanding Recent Alumnus.
Adding “Moon Knight” to his lengthy film resume is a great source of pride for Curtis. He spoke enthusiastically about his role as an executive producer on the project and the opportunity to bring the main character to the forefront for the first time in many people’s entertainment experience.
“From 1975 until now, there’s been a lot of Moon Knight stories told by great artists and writers, and we think we reflected that in the Disney+/Marvel streaming episodes,” Curtis said. “We think we also brought a new thread to this tale.”