Aquaman director James Wan on horror elements, Julie Andrews, and favorite sets

Aquaman James Wan Mera Vulko

Credit: Warner Bros

Aquaman was first seen on the big screen in Justice League (well, Batman v Superman if you count the underwater found footage), and this Friday, audiences will get to see him in his very own movie. Director James Wan is taking on Aquaman, a big comic book movie, and he is no stranger to blockbusters with films like Furious 7 and The Conjuring series. Nerd Reactor had the chance to chat with the filmmaker this past Friday about the film.

Nerd Reactor: The movie is coming out next week. Lots of praise from people about the movie. How do you feel right now?

James Wan: I’m actually physically exhausted. I’ve been traveling literally in the last three weeks. I’ve been to Beijing to LA to New York to London, and then to Manila. I literally just flew in from the Philippines the very day of my premiere. I got off the airport, went straight home and changed and went to the premiere. So I’m kind of tired, to be honest. [laughs] Nothing to do with how I feel about the actual movie when it comes out. It’s just how exhausted I’ve been when promoting this film.

Nerd Reactor: I can kind of guess the feeling.

James Wan: I’m just going to do what I need to do now and then when the film comes out, I can sort of sit back and hopefully enjoy it. Hopefully!

Nerd Reactor: Does that mean maybe taking a swim or being in a jacuzzi, or do you want to be away from water?

James Wan: [laughs] Maybe try to savor it in. One of the things I like to do is pay to go see the movie with the normal crowd or sneak into screenings and watch moments with audiences. That kind of stuff is always fun to do.

Nerd Reactor: With your background in horror, were you tempted to try to add as much horror elements in Aquaman?

James Wan: I didn’t feel like I need to add a lot of horror elements into this because it’s not a horror movie. There’s a sequence with the trench creatures where it has horror visuals, but it’s not really designed to be a horror movie.

Nerd Reactor: You’ve done movies like Conjuring and The Fast and Furious and now Aquaman. What’s the community like?

James Wan: The horror community – there’s a huge fanbase, the Fast and Furious films have a big fanbase and Aquaman has obviously a huge comic book fanbase. It feels like all my career I’ve made movies with these big fanbases with a lot of expectations with these films. I see that as a really positive thing. We can’t all be so lucky to have movies that have these built-in audiences that are ready to see the film.

Nerd Reactor: For your next project, do you want to do something away from built-in fanbases or are you ready to tackle on more of that stuff?

James Wan: It really doesn’t matter. Most of my horror movies have been original ideas, and it’s just whatever excites me creatively.

Nerd Reactor: I know you’ve mentioned about not wanting to do Batman since it’s been done to death. What if it has the Scarecrow? Would that excite you?

James Wan: Listen, I’m trying not to think about other comic book characters right now. I’m just trying to survive this one… this guy. I’ve spent three years working on Aquaman, I’m kind of comic-booked out at this point. Superheroed out. [laughs] I do not want to think about another superhero character at this particular juncture.

Nerd Reactor: Sounds fair. With Aquaman, the film takes place underwater, but on the set, there wasn’t much swimming needed because of special effects. What was that like?

James Wan: They didn’t need to swim, per se, but they needed to learn to work on those rigs, the rigs and the harness that create the impression of swimming underwater. And they were not comfortable at all; they weren’t pleasant to get into. A lot of the actors had to train really hard. They had to get comfortable with these really, really awkward rigs. It was something that we needed to do to simulate the look of floating and swimming underwater.

Nerd Reactor: The movie has so many locations like underwater and even land in different continents. Did you wanted to try to make things intimate, or were you gung-ho about having Aquaman just go everywhere?

James Wan: I feel like with a character like Aquaman who can pretty much swim anywhere and 70% of the planet is covered in water, I feel like the world is his oyster. The world is his playground. You want to see all the really fun, weird and wonderful places that he can go visit. That’s part of the reason why I wanted the main story to be a quest story so that we can visit all these really fun and weird locations. That was my desire to want to make a superhero movie that really didn’t feel like and play like a superhero movie. That it plays more like a classical, action-adventure, fantasy, journey movie.

Nerd Reactor: What was your favorite set?

James Wan: In terms of practical locations, I really enjoyed the Italy sequence because we built the piazza. That was a huge set that we built in the backlot at the studio that we filmed in. The Italian piazza and all the rooftops, that was a really cool set to build. We scouted in Italy, and we found a town that we really loved, and we created that town in the backlot. And the other set that I really loved as well is the galleon set where they swim up to meet Vulko. That was a really big set as well. To build this decrepit old galleon that’s been sitting under the water for hundreds and hundreds of years was really fun to create.

Nerd Reactor: The prologue sequence and some of the scenes in Italy felt like a fairy tale. Did you reach into your favorite fairy tale to bring it into the screen?

James Wan: Yeah, I guess the prologue plays somewhat like a fairy tale. I took inspiration from the comic book and I took inspiration from the maritime story. The opening really is the classic story of the sailor who falls in love with the mermaid that he finds. I really wanted the opening to have a dreamy quality about it. I didn’t want it to have a very long prologue because the movie is already long enough as it is. I didn’t want to extend it anymore with a longer prologue. And the way to do that was to condense it and tighten it up but do it in a dreamy way that conveys what it was that I was going for – two really unlikely characters meet, fall in love and through their love, we’re given our hero of the film.

Nerd Reactor: I didn’t know this, but Julie Andrews had a voice role in the movie. How did that come about?

James Wan: When I was designing this giant sea creature, I wanted the most powerful creature on earth to be female, and then for some reason, I wanted her to be British. I wanted the character to have a British accent. You look at your list of dames. You have your Dame Helen Mirren, your Dame Judie Dench, and your Dame Julie Andrews. And we reached out to Julie, and she was very excited to come play with us on this.

Aquaman swims into theaters on December 21, 2018. 

You can check out our interview with Yahya Abdul Mateen II on his role as Black Manta here.

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