Aquaman’s Yahya Abdul Mateen II on Black Manta, learning to swim and poking Jason Momoa

Aquaman's Yahya Abdul Mateen II on Black Manta and poking Jason Momoa

Aquaman is coming to theaters this Friday, and the film has been getting positive reactions and reviews from critics. (You can check out our review here.) Jason Momoa portrays the titular hero who will battle all sorts of enemies including Black Manta, a rival who can shoot optic blasts from his helmet. The villain is played by Yahya Abdul Mateen II (The Greatest Showman, The Get Down), and Nerd Reactor had the chance to chat with the actor last week during the Aquaman press junket.

Nerd Reactor: You talked about a story where you’re planning on learning to swim before you got the part. You found out that it was all pointless. Can you tell me a bit about that?

Yahya Abdul Mateen II: [Laughs] Yeah man, you go in and you find out that you’re doing an Aquaman movie. And you know that you’re going to have to swim in the movie, but you want the job and you do what every great actor does and nod your head and say, “Yes, I can do that,” when they ask. The question never came up, but I knew at some point I had to learn how to swim. I taught myself to do this thing and prepped and worked really hard in secret. You get there and you find out that you don’t have to do it. And then you’re like, “At least I have a new skill.”

Nerd Reactor: Since you’ve learned the skill and there’s the set, maybe there’s a pool area and it’s like, “Look at what I can do, James Wan!”

Yahya Abdul Mateen II: You know what? Jason actually brought that up, I think. He said, “Look, we need to find some kind of pool or swimming workout sequence so that you can show off your back,” because I was working out and doing all that stuff. Jason was actually a big fan of trying to figure out a moment to make that happen.

Nerd Reactor: The effects… what was that like?

Yahya Abdul Mateen II: For myself, my water effects were practical. It was all real. There’s behind-the-scenes footage of me going to watch Patrick [Wilson] work for the first time. And that was me seeing the underwater Atlantis, people on the rigs and things for the first time. Blew my mind. Absolutely blew my mind. The technology on the film’s really, really special and magical. It’s a feat of technology.

Nerd Reactor: Speaking of technology, your outfit is pretty technological and advanced. The helmet… was it heavy?

Yahya Abdul Mateen II: The helmet’s the lightest part of the costume. It was not intuitive. You look straight and it’s like looking up, or you have to look down in order to look straight. You have to definitely take it for a bit of a test drive to figure out how the heck to make this work and how do I make it cool on top of that. But once you figure it out, man, it makes for a really terrifying opposition.

Nerd Reactor: Speaking of terrifying opposition.  Jason Momoa, he’s your rival in the movie.

Yahya Abdul Mateen II: He’s a softy. He’s a big teddy bear.

Nerd Reactor: Did you guys size each other up during the set?

Yahya Abdul Mateen II: I mean, maybe a little bit. It was so much fun working with Jason. Jason is going to be the guy with the most energy in the room. You step onto the set and you match that energy and say, “Hey, I’m not going down.” It’s funny. I know he’s a pro and he’s the big guy, so I like to go in and poke him and antagonize him just a little bit, get on his nerves and let him know, “Hey, I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here.” We have a pretty fun relationship.

Nerd Reactor: You’re not going anywhere. Maybe Aquaman 2?

Yahya Abdul Mateen II: If the phone rings, I’ll be glad to pick it up. I think we’ve created something with Black Manta where there’s definitely an opportunity for him to keep on showing up and make an impact. Hopefully, I get the opportunity to come back and to have more fun with this character.

Check out the video interview below:

Aquaman hits theaters on December 21, 2019.

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