UPDATED: It looks like Moon Knight’s head writer has taken to Twitter to clarify that “Marlene was never part of our show.” While Layla’s character so far seems to have virtually the same background as the classic love interest from the comics, Jeremy Slater emphasized that the character (though not originally named Layla El-Faouly) was created in the first week of writing and it seems as though he is implying that the written character was never Marlene due to the team wanting a more diverse character. Previous reports (and May Calamwy’s interview) have said that the character was intially written as white, but perhaps there was some confusion as to whether they were referring to the comcis character being white.
Either way, the way Layla has been written clearly conjures up Marlene given both their fathers being archaelogists and killed in the process. At the same time, both are Marc Spector’s (and his alter’s) primary love interests from all we have seen so far. Slater seems to want readers to understand that the long-running comics character in her exactness was not intended for Moon Knight. You can read Slater’s statement in its entirity below:
While Moon Knight is being led by Oscar Isaac’s phenomenal performances, an undeniable breakout character is May Calamawy’s Layla El-Faouly. Layla is a character not found in Moon Knight comics, but her role has always been reminescent of comic book Marc Spector’s classic love interest, Marlene Alraune. Calamawy’s character is also arguably a much-improved version of the traditional character in a lot of ways.
Now, the actress confirmed in an interview with ELLE that the original script was in fact written to include Marlene prior to Calamawy being cast opposite Isaac. In particular, she described how the series creators and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige worked to transform the original character into an Egyptian heroine:
It started even on the page as a white woman and when we came on board, me and [Moon Knight writer Sarah Gohar], she was then changed into half Egyptian and we pushed it. Let’s make it into an Egyptian character and they welcomed that.May Calamawy
Calamawy praised Moon Knight writers, director Mohamed Diab, and Feige for working to rewrite the character in order to avoid stereotypes and create an authentic take on the Eyptian actress’s Layla:
Anytime I felt uncomfortable, I would go talk to [Diab] and his wife and I love how Kevin Feige gave us the freedom to share that, let people know, ‘This is not what it’s like, if we do that it’s gonna be a stereotype.’ I realized quite early on this is a space where my voice was going to be heard and that’s the best feeling.May Calamawy
Also important to the actress was for Layla to stand apart from other similar and well-known female characters of the past. Calamawy noted how important the “soft strength” of Middle Eastern women is to the character:
I was careful not to draw inspiration from someone in the West because they want me to bring my side. In the Middle East, I find women have such a soft strength to them. And I was like, ‘How can I bring this to her? Why should I sit and copy what I think Angelina Jolie would do?’ Every woman I know is a bunch of dichotomies, and I wanted to bring that.May Calamawy
The series’ decision to cast Calamawy and rewrite Marlene’s character into Layla is surely one of Moon Knight’s strongest decisions. While it is unknown just how Marc Spector’s love interest was originally written, it is undeniable that Layla’s presence is a far cry from the fairly bland and often outdated damsel in distress in the comics. The fact that the series originally intended to feature another classic character from the comics, though, begs the question as to whether it has bigger plans for the iconic Moon Knight characters we have seen in cameos going forward in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The first four episodes of Moon Knight are now streaming exclusively on Disney+.