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Exclusive: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Talks About Playing Black Manta In Aquaman

Abdul-Mateen II on working with Jason Momoa and Michael Beach

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 Abdul-Mateen II best known for his role Cadillac in the Netflix series The Get Down, the New Orleans, LA native is starting to appear in mainstream films such as the Baywatch film and last year’s blockbuster The Greatest Showman opposite Hugh Jackman. Earlier this year, he appeared in the Netflix film First Match.

In speaking exclusively with, Abdul-Mateen II talked about playing Black Manta, working with cast, and working with Jordan Peele on his next film, Us.

How did the role come about for you?

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: Pretty much in the same way that most of my project have come about. I put something down on tape and try to give in your best effort and eventually James (Wan) wanted to meet and I liked the vibe. I felt they liked what I brought to the table as well and we decided to move forward and make the movie.

How much did you know about Black Manta, Aquaman and that whole universe?

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: Absolutely nothing at all., which is actually cool because I was able to step into it and bring in a fresh perspective. I was able to come in and add something new and my own flair, and at the same time I was learning. Trying to become a fan and at the same time be in a position of a student.

What’s the difference of Black Manta from the comics to the screen?

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: The people who are fans of the comic will see a guy, who on screen, is close to what they read in the comics. There is a ton of information to draw from and as the universe grows, I think hopefully we’ll be able to merge both worlds. As long as Black Manta is grounded in something that is true, most of the stuff from the comics can be useful.

Have you seen all of the DC films that have led up to this?

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: No, I haven’t actually. That’s one of the things that I have to go and do. I was working on a couple of other projects and when this came about, I jumped into it. I was always a fan of a lot of the older Batman TV show. I grew up watching Batman and the Joker, the Penguin, and the Riddler; but I was never a comic book fan. I was never a huge fan of the movies until I got this job. I still have some catching up to do.

Can you talk about working with Jason Momoa, Michael Beach and James Wan?

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: The cool thing about coming into this world and on this stage is that everyone is an actor. Everyone is prepared and ready to do their job; but when you are working around a cast of pros and when they have years and years of experience, then you can really trust that you are in good hands. Trust that the scene is going to be good. If you have any questions, they can nudge you into the right direction. I spent a lot of time chatting with Michael Beach, who is a Juilliard trained actor.

A lot of the relationship between me and him was really rooted in the conversations that we had about our individual training, with him coming from Juilliard and myself coming from Yale Drama. That was something we used to break the ice. When you are the new guy on set, it’s always helpful to find some common ground to break down the myth with some of the people that you are working with. Even Jason Momoa, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Michael Beach and Willem Dafoe, these are folks that actors want to work with. These are people who I grew up watching. To find some commonality is great because once you find it, it can then be about the work.

What did you do physically to get into the role?

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: A lot of hours in the gym. A lot of food, more hours in the gym, and then more food. It was standard practice of eating, getting in shape, and making sure that the work is about story telling. We wanted to make sure that we can do long takes and not a lot of quick cuts, and we can make something that we we were proud of. Jason had a lot of fight experience with the shows that he had done, including Game of Thrones. We wanted to make sure that we can use all of our strengths. You have an opportunity to make something special and make it look really good. A lot of hours and a lot of work but it was all fun.

Are you signed on for more films in the DC film world?

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: Am I signed on for more than one film? The way I’ve been answering that question is by saying that if the phone rings, I’ll be glad to pick it up.

From The Get Down to The Greatest Showman to First Match and now this film, how has the grind for work?

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: It’s fun. As of right now, it’s a hell of a ride. I spent a lot of time looking for work and making sure my advertising is strong. I’m still in this ride figuring out what I can do next and it’s all acting. As long as my imagination stays sharp, I’ll be able to continue to move forward and making more exciting work to share with people.

Can you talk about working with Jordan Peele on ‘Us’?

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: Jordan is so smart. He is truly one of the brightest directors I ever worked with. He loves actors. Any actor would be blessed to work with Jordan because he really wants the best for his film, and he celebrates when his actors do well. The moral was always high on set working with Jordan. You really know that you’re doing something special. He’s so smart and such a giving director at the same time.

What keeps you humble?

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: I’m not really impressed with myself. I’m just having fun and doing this acting thing. Other than that, my family and my friends and keeping the most important people close to you who tell you the truth and tease you and tell you jokes and celebrate you at the same time so that you are not too hard on yourself if you don’t succeed. It’s about having the right people and not reading your own press.

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Clip | Aquaman vs Black Manta

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