Happy birthday Oscar Isaac: ‘Star Wars’ hero went to Santaluces High


Editor’s Note: Oscar Isaac turns 38 today. Did you know he spent his high school years in Palm Beach County? Here’s the story, adapted from one published originally in the Palm Beach Post in May 2016. 

 It happened to Lou Lifson when he was watching a “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” rerun, saw a familiar face and “asked my wife to back it up.” Jodie Dixon had the same episode on, while at the gym running on the treadmill, and was so startled that she “fell off the back.” Shannon Colavecchio was sitting on a plane, waiting for the in-flight movie, “and there he was.” 

 They were all in different places, but in the end, it was the same story — the story of the first time they realized that Oscar Hernandez, that talented kid they knew at Lantana’s Santaluces High School, was now Oscar Isaac, up and coming movie star. 

 

“He had amazing technique. I knew he had something,” says Dixon, who taught drama. 

 Isaac is now the star of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Ex Machina”, “X-Men Apocalypse,” and the new “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which opens in December. The Golden Globe-winning actor moved to Boynton Beach from Miami in the 1990s, when his family was displaced by Hurricane Andrew. 

 While some press accounts have said that Isaac only attended Santaluces his senior year, those who knew him — and yearbook photos — confirm that he was there four years, from 1993, when he was a freshman with a glorious-enough mane to be asked how he did his hair, to his senior year in 1996-97, where he’s seen strumming a guitar. 

 “I remember distinctly that he had a great stage presence,” says Lifson, who taught Isaac in an Intro to Drama class. “Not only that, but he was very nurturing to the other students. He made an impression.” 

 

Colavecchio, a former Palm Beach Post writer who now does public relations and runs a fitness studio in Tallahassee, met Isaac when he was a sophomore and she was a senior. She remembers him as “always one of the great people, funny, never one to get into trouble. And he had great hair, always the best hair.” 

 Dixon remembers Isaac as a small kid — “This big,” she says, holding up her pinkie finger — who started at Santaluces the same year she started teaching there. As a freshman, the odds were against him getting cast as a lead in that year’s production of “Godspell” because upperclassmen often got first pick. 

 But “this kid … this kid … he had so much energy. He would try anything. I said ‘Oscar, I need to cast upperclassmen’ and he said, ‘I play guitar,’ so he was in the band,” she continues. “When you’re in the band you don’t need to always be there, but he was in every rehearsal. I would ask an actor, ‘Can you do this?’ and without a moment’s hesitation, Oscar was right there.” 

 Colavecchio was one of those older kids on whom Isaac made an impression. She recalls that he had “that musician way about him.” He was in a popular ska band called The Worms, which Lifson says he went to Fort Lauderdale to see. 

 Isaac, say those who knew him, was the kind of guy that everyone liked. Lifson, still at Santaluces teaching English, remembers a production in which elementary students were involved, and watching Isaac “take time with some of the younger students to help them with their vignettes. It was very cool of him.” 

 Isaac’s nurturing and compassionate side showed itself when he was a sophomore, and Santaluces was rocked by a car accident that claimed the life of student Sarah Pacasoni and badly injured her friend Rachel Thompson. Their friends put on an improv show as a benefit. 

 “Oscar made a point not only of doing the show, but going to the family’s house and making them laugh,” Dixon says. “And at the show, we had a professional improv group, and he got up there and improv-ed with the pros, as a used car salesman trying to sell a car. He was so funny.” 

 After graduation, Isaac (who comes from a Guatemalan-Cuban family, uses his middle name professionally, and says he doesn’t want to be typecast) returned to Miami and attended community college, after considering joining the Marines, Dixon says. 

 That’s all she knew about him until a former student asked a few years later “if I was going to see Oscar in Shakespeare In The Park. I said, ‘What?’,” she remembers. “I talked to him and he said ‘Yeah. I’m at Juilliard.’” 

 She says she’s kept in touch with him mostly through fellow student Jay Catlett, “who wanted to be a director, and always had a camera in his hand. He and Oscar became fast friends.” 

 Though he’s now starring in big action movies, such as resistance fighter Poe Dameron in Star Wars’ series and the title villain in the “X-Men” film, Isaac’s Santaluces friends say they’re impressed with his range. “He has this big blockbuster, he has this raw acting talent, and he continues to make film choices that are really interesting,” Colavecchio says. 

 “And he’s really funny. We haven’t really seen that side of him yet. He should host ‘Saturday Night Live,’” she said. “When good people find success, there’s something very uplifting about it.”


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