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Exclusive: Director James Wan On Filming Aquaman & Not Going Overboard With Action Scenes

Film stars Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman and Willem Dafoe

Currently in theaters from Warner Bros. Pictures is the action adventure “Aquaman,” helmed by James Wan (“The Conjuring” films, “Furious 7”). Jason Momoa stars in the title role, returning to the character he plays in this fall’s “Justice League.”

The film reveals the origin story of half-human, half-Atlantean Arthur Curry and takes him on the journey of his lifetime — one that will not only force him to face who he really is, but to discover if he is worthy of who he was born to be… a king.

The film also stars Amber Heard as Mera, a fierce warrior and Aquaman’s ally throughout his journey; Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe as Vulko, counsel to the Atlantean throne; Patrick Wilson as Orm/Ocean Master, the present King of Atlantis; Dolph Lundgren as Nereus, King of the Atlantean tribe Xebel; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the vengeful Black Manta; and Oscar winner Nicole Kidman as Arthur’s mom, Atlanna. Also starring is Ludi Lin as Captain Murk, Atlantean Commando, Djimon Hounsou as the Fisherman King; and Temeura Morrison as Arthur’s dad, Tom Curry.

For director James Wan, while this is first foray in the comic book, it’s not his first rodeo doing a big action adventure. Having helmed Furious 7, while directing and producing the Saw and The Conjuring franchise films, he certainly knows how to please a new audience as well as keeping the existing fanbase happy and pleased.

In speaking exclusively with Blackfilm.com, Wan talks about doing the comic book movie, working with the cast 

When you got this project, and any DC project is big enough as it is, but in doing this, was this bigger or smaller than doing Furious 7?

James Wan: Furious 7, believe it or not, had a much bigger budget than this. But this is bigger in the sense of sort of world creation. You know, working with the digital media to create the world, that was something I had never done before and it was really interesting for me to try a new piece of filmmaking tool that I’ve never played to this extent before and it was exciting to create a world like that that I’ve never had the chance to do in the past.

In working with a lot of water, how did that educate you as a filmmaker?

James Wan: Well, it’s the same stuff you hear from other film directors, which is stay away from water. It’s a pain and you know, it’s literally what you hear from other filmmakers that have worked in water, which is it slows production down, it’s not the most practical way of shooting things. But, you know, you can’t really make an Aquaman movie and not get wet.

Then there’s Aquaman itself, which already had the fan base. People already know the story, especially when you’re bringing in Black Manta and they know obviously, from Jason from the Justice League film, how importance was it with the script so that you know, fans who are newcomers and people who know the comics will be pleased?

James Wan: It’s always a challenge. You have to kind of straddle the line between appeasing the fans and being respectful to the source material and at the same time opening it up to a whole new set of audience out there that are not familiar with this character. I mean, let’s face it, this guy has never really had his own movie before. He’s a really fresh character so that was something I was very mindful of going into it, that I needed to make a movie that is for everyone.

Can you talk about balancing the script. There’s some serious tones in it and then there’s comedy. You never know how that’s going to play with an audience, but Jason has that charisma to sell it.

James Wan: That was the biggest thing when I met Jason was just seeing how charismatic the guy was and seeing how funny and goofy he really is in person. My job is to bring that out of him. Instead of bringing to him to Aquaman, I bring Aquaman to him. That to me is the key with just infusing this movie with his personality.

Patrick Wilson. You’ve worked with him once before, but this is a new role for him. Can you talk to me about that relationship between the two of you guys?

James Wan: I’ve worked with Patrick Wilson a bunch of times in the past. We know each other really well and ultimately we trust each other as professional and as artists. He feels comfortable in my hand as his director and I feel comfortable with him, letting him do his thing. That goes a long way, especially on a movie like this that is so difficult to sort of put together, and difficult to sort of execute. It’s great to have, just that relationship, that trust in one another. And ultimately, we get along. We get along really well and we’re like buddies and it just makes the process that much more fun.

Can you tell me about working with this cast in general?

James Wan: I think I learned a lot of that from making Fast and Furious Seven, right? You know, that’s a big ensemble movie where everyone gets their little moment in the spotlight. And so, seeing as though I carried a little bit of that learning into this. And when you have these, sort of, fan favorite characters, you gotta make sure they get their chance to shine and do their thing. And so, obviously, having these great actors in it really helps. Especially, you know, for example, someone like Nicole Kidman who’s not necessarily in the movie that much, but in the moments that she’s onscreen, she brings so much to it. She’s great and you know, she’s basically the emotional heartbeat of the film.

That kind of stuff is to me, is very important, casting it right. I feel very lucky, very fortunate to have these great actors in this film.

With most of these DC movies, or any other like Marvel, they all have these big action scenes as a finale. Sometimes it works and sometimes it can be a little bit overblown. As a director, when you’re coming on to that scene, without giving any spoilers, what did you want to do and how did you restrain from going further?

James Wan: The key really is whether something is overblown or not overblown, the key is coming up with something that people haven’t quite seen before. That was my biggest mantra on this film is just constantly trying to find something that’s unique, that you haven’t seen. So like, say, even if you do something that’s very big and outlandish, whatever, right? You’re not bored by it because you’re seeing fresh things. And that’s very important, you know whether I’m making a horror movie where my set pieces tend to be smaller, I still think it’s important, right? Doing that and trying to cook up something that you haven’t … you think you’re familiar with it, but I’m showing it to you in a way that is slightly painted in a different way. And I think that’s very important.

I carry that same sort of philosophy onto this film, that is, I want a familiar story, so that the audience can follow a story that’s very simple, but within that, I want to hang these really interesting set pieces, exciting action scenes that you haven’t quite seen before and find unique ways to shoot it, to choreograph the fight and to do all that.T hat to me is the key, and at least that’s what I hold dearly is always trying to find something that’s a bit unique.

You’ve done The Conjuring, you’ve done Furious, you’ve done Aquaman, they’re all at different levels. What are you more comfortable directing, big, small, medium?

James Wan: They’re all the same. They’re all the same. Storytelling is storytelling. It’s creating characters that people care about, creating worlds and drama and all that stuff and story that people are engaged with. Regardless of how big the scale is with the film, or what genre it’s in, storytelling is the same at the end of the day and it’s about creating sort of human elements that people relate to. Obviously, the big difference is on a film like this is I get bigger toys to play with.

Extended Trailer

Clip | Aquaman vs Black Manta

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