After his disco-spectacular debut on Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix series The Get Down, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has been working non-stop. Abdul-Mateen II stars in a wide variety of works from the dramatic legal film The Trail of Chicago 7 to the horrors of Candymanand the world of the DCU with Aquamanas Black Manta.
Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta has made an impact on fans of the DC after Aquaman defeated Black Manta after an intense fight. After a post-credits scene reveals that the villain is still alive, the actor reprises his role for a brief cameo in Peacemakerahead of the release of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.
In a recent interview with Vulture, Abdul-Mateen II talks about his experience acting in a wide range of movies that allow him to flex his different acting muscles. The actor says that acting is about trying to uncover truths about a character, “but sometimes you got to know which movie or genre you’re in."
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta in 'Aquaman'Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
“Something like Aquaman, that’s clown work. Aquaman is not The Trail of Chicago 7. You gotta get over yourself,” the actor says. “In order to survive and to do it well, you have to play that game and then be crafted about when you want to surprise the audience, the director, or yourself with a little bit of, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect to see a Chekhovian thing of August Wilson and Aquaman, but I did.’”
Abdul-Mateen II does compare his approach to Aquaman as “clown work,” but what does that actually mean?
While the phrase typically has a negative connotation, often indicating that something is unworthy or unsophisticated work, Abdul-Mateen II seems to be saying that his approach to Aquaman was through the lens of entertaining the masses, which includes the audience, cast, crew, and himself.
Let’s be real for a moment and recognize that Aquaman isn’t Abdul-Mateen II’s first superhero adventure, and probably won’t be his last. The actor’s approach to HBO’s Watchmenis a lot more esoteric because he is playing the God-like morally-grey hero Dr. Manhattan, and his approach to Black Manta will be more entertaining since the character is the villain in a comic for older children.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Dr. Manhattan in 'Watchmen'Credit: Warner Bros. Television Distribution
The work of the filmmakers and the cast is not being discredited by Abdul-Mateen II. Instead, the actor is just referring to the energy behind the project. Aquaman is exaggerated entertainment, which is what clown work is.
The superhero genre is getting a bad reputation right now and is being regarded as low-brow cinema. I think there is something to say about how filmmakers and those in the industry look at films that appeal to a wide audience. Sure, we don’t have to think that every movie is great, but don’t harp on something because a majority of people enjoy it.
I can’t speak for Abdul-Mateen II on whether or not he enjoys being a part of the DCU, but he does keep returning to the genre. What's so wrong with wanting to entertain the audience? Isn't part of the goal of a filmmaker and actors to entertain?
Let us know what you think in the comments.