Role selection can be a tough thing for a young, up-and-coming actor. The twin elements of potential quality and exposure must always be considered, and they aren’t always things that specifically come hand-in-hand. Take, for example, the case of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and the part of Black Manta in Aquaman. Sure, it’s a huge blockbuster with great people involved, but when he was first signing up, the actor was legitimately concerned about spending the entire movie wearing a face-concealing helmet. He recently told me,
My very first impression, I looked him up, I Googled it, and I said. ‘This guy, he looks kind of silly.’ And then my second thing was there, ‘Well, I don’t want to do this. If I do this nobody is going to see my face!’
With Aquaman preparing to arrive in theaters everywhere this Friday, I recently had the opportunity to hop on the phone with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II to talk about his experience making the movie. During our chat a big part of the discussion was about his preparation process. I asked about his initial impressions of Black Manta, and what it was that allowed him to get into the part, and he started his answer by being very open about what were some legitimate concerns.
While having your name in the credits of a massive superhero blockbuster is a pretty big deal, it’s not going to mean much for your future acting career if audiences can’t pick you out of a lineup immediately after a screening. And while Black Manta may look epically cool in his big, round helmet, it’s not exactly a look designed to highlight the looks of the person wearing it. Fortunately, continuing to work on the movie and understand the character allowed Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s concerns to be alleviated.
Part of what allowed the actor to get into the gig was seeing that Black Manta did indeed take his helmet off from time to time in the comics, but that wound up only being a part of what convinced him to fully dedicate himself to Aquaman. The much bigger factor was reading opinions from fans and understanding how much the character really means to them. He began to understand where their passion for Arthur Curry’s arch-nemesis was coming from, and it ultimately allowed him to whole-heartedly embrace the role. Said Abdul-Mateen,
Then I started to read a little bit more about the character, and then I saw that in the comic books sometimes he did spend a lot of time with the helmet off. But the thing that really sold me was more was my interaction with the fans, and looking at how much the fans love this character, and they really, really gravitated towards him. For someone to be a villain and to have so much love from the fans of Aquaman, I knew that this was something that could potentially be really special.
With the Aquaman fans supporting him, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II fully embraced the part, and the best news of all is that it all worked out superbly. Not only is the latest DC Extended Universe feature a legitimate blast and fun superhero flick, but Black Manta is definitely one of the best parts of the movie – and does spend a fair amount of time both in and out of the helmet. Fans are going to love the treatment of the character, and presumably that’s only going to cause the actor’s fondness for him to get all the more powerful.
Directed by James Wan, Aquaman is the sixth film from the DC Extended Universe and features an ensemble cast that includes Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Temura Morrison, Nicole Kidman, and more. It will be playing in theaters everywhere this Friday, December 21st, and we’ll have plenty more coverage of the film coming your way here on CinemaBlend — including more from my interview with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.