AQUAMAN’S Yahya Abdul-Mateen II on Bringing Black Manta to the Big Screen
Black Manta has long been Aquaman’s most fearsome foe, and now he’s coming to terrorize Jason Mamoa’s Arthur Curry for the first time on the big screen in James Wan’sÂ take on the subaquatic hero. Over the course of comic book history he’s had multiple origins including beginning his life as an autistic child raised in Arkham Asylum and surviving as a young boy sold into ocean-bound slavery and resents Aquaman for not saving him. Wan’s vision introduces us to a new backstory for the complex character, and it’s one that will likely become the definitive version. The film showcases Manta as a high-tech pirate and inventor with an emotional tragedy that ties him to Arthur and makes him desperate for vengeance.We were lucky enough to get to talk with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who brought the villain to life, about discovering the killer character for the first time, crafting his own unique vision for Manta, and his dream arc for the iconic rogue.Nerdist: Were you a fan of Black Manta or Aquaman before you got the role?Yahya: I actually didn’t have any history with Aquaman or Black Mantaâ€”maybe I’d seen Aquaman on Cartoon Network or something, but not in the context of any real formidable superhero. He was always more of the butt-of-the-joke kind of character, so this was definitely my first introduction to this space.Nerdist: As you were new to the character did you have to do a lot of research when you found out you got the role?Yahya: Oh yeah, I went through and read as much as I could. First I went to Twitter to see what people liked about the character, then I started to interact with fans and take their recommendations. Next I hit up the comic shops and bought up everything Aquaman so I could read about him and Black Manta, I really wanted to make sure that I was in touch with what the fans wanted to see and what the comic book world said, and then I would make my own choices about how I wanted to portray him. I think that the Manta we were introduced to was the result of that particular route.Nerdist: The film offers a new vision of Black Manta. What was it that drew you to the character?Yahya: James made a really special version of Black Manta, it was really an actors gift. He allowed me to interact with this world that has this epic scale of drama but to also let it be rooted in something real. Like the scene with his father, his connection to him, that loss and the way that we set it up in the movie really gave me all that I needed as an actor to make sure that this would be a character who could resonate with the fans.Nerdist: Aquaman is a film filled with extreme spectacle and massive effects. What was it like going on that journey?Yahya: A lot of my stuff was practical, it was really on the screen. So just with the scale of it, it was all really exciting and fun to make. But even more fun though was getting out of the suit and coming in on my days off to watch Patrick, Jason, and Amber work on the Atlantis stuff. That’s where you could really see it, that we were making something special with this different kind of technology.Nerdist: Kym Barrett’s costumes in the film are totally incredible. What was it like to climb into the iconic suit everyday? Did it help you get into character?Yahya: Yeah for sure, you put on the suit and you just feel so powerful, you feel strong, and all the text work and the character work that you’ve done is really solidified. Costuming is so important, a lot of times you work and costuming is the last piece of the puzzle, and that’s definitely the case in Aquaman. You feel the power that this person is welding and I think everyone should know what it feels like to wear that suit.Nerdist: Was there anything that surprised you as you crafted the character of Black Manta?Yahya: As I got into my research, I loved how funny he was. He’s not just a villain. I don’t even consider him a villain. He’s not just some guy who’s upset and angry; he has this dry sense of humor. He doesn’t like people, he doesn’t have much patience, and I think that a lot of that stuff makes him a pretty funny character. I can’t wait to share all those other sides of him in the future!Nerdist: Do you have a dream arc for Black Manta going forward?Yahya: I don’t know if I can look that far into the future, but wherever he goes next I’m really looking forward to showing all the different sides of Black Manta. Right now we know that wherever he is there’s going to be destruction and chaos and that it’s going down. But I think that wherever he moves next is a chance to show all his other characteristics: the wit, the humor, the passion, the anger, maybe even getting to see him in more fun and awkward social situations.
Images: Warner Bros.