Emmy winner Yahya Abdul-Mateen II shines in exclusive photos from EW's Berlin photoshoot
Yahya Abdul-Mateen season is here
Watch this man — as if you needed a reminder — because it's Emmy-winner Yahya Abdul-Mateen II now.
On Sunday, the 34-year-old architect-turned-actor just won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series — his first major awards victory — for his achingly human portrayal of the godlike Dr. Manhattan on HBO's Watchmen. But the Aquaman star is just getting started. This fall, he holds court as Black Panther cofounder Bobby Seale in Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix, Oct. 16), and he will ascend to leading man status in Nia DaCosta's Candyman reboot when it hits theatres in 2021.
A month before his exciting Emmy victory, EW spoke to the thoughtful Oakland native about his dynamic career so far and had a photoshoot with him in Berlin, German, where he's currently shooting Matrix 4. Check out the images from the shoot.
On his growth as an artist and remembering to have fun
In the four years since his breakout role on Netflix's The Get Down, Abdul-Mateen has appeared in blockbusters like Baywatch, The Greatest Showman, and Aquaman, as well as more intimate projects like All Day and a Night — and he's learned a lot along the way.
"I think I'm definitely finding my own voice and my own tastes, and the confidence in myself to bring my own ideas to the table and advocate for my own ideas," he said. "It's always good to have that reminder to just have fun because that's why I started [acting] in the first place. Fun doesn't always look the same way. It can be incredibly fun to share what it looks like to experience deep, deep sorrow or deep heartbreak. It can be incredibly fun to be simple or to be devious. That's always a good reminder to work in a way that allows you to experience pleasure."
On the timeliness of The Trial of the Chicago 7
Directed by Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7 depicts the real life case of Abdul-Mateen's Bobby Seale and seven anti-Vietnam War activists who were charged with conspiracy to incite a riot after a peaceful protest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention spiraled into violence because of the police. During the course of the trial, Seale suffered many injustices, including the judge denying his choice of counsel and thus a means of defending himself.
"It's important to show the mistreatment, the mis-characterizations of Bobby Seale, of Blacks in America. I think when you take Bobby Seale's situation, and then you multiply and explode that, I think that just shows the way that America worked at the time and the way that America still works a lot of the time today," said Abdul-Mateen. "[The film is] also about ally-ship in a way that non-Blacks use their privilege as well to stand up for what they believe in, to voice out their angers and their frustrations and their dissatisfaction with the current state of the world as it pertains to Blacks. It also shows how a lot of the time, historically, Blacks in this country have had to fend for ourselves in the face of these types of oppressions."
Aaron Sorkin on casting Abdul-Mateen II in Chicago 7
"There was a kind of sly sense of humor that I knew was going to be great," said Sorkin, recalling Abdul-Mateen's audition. "And then when we had our first table read, that's when I knew, boy, we hit the jackpot."
Candyman director Nia DaCosta on working with Abdul-Mateen
"He has an emotional depth, but also he has this interesting, quirky side to him that makes all of his characters feel super-real and really human. That was really important to me,” said DaCosta, who produced Candyman with Jordan Peele (Get Out and Us). "As a human being, Jordan loved working with him [on Us] and I like to cast actors not only who are smart and really good at their jobs, but also are going to be respectful to the cast and crew. So, it was a no-brainer with Yahya."
In Candyman — which is described as a "spiritual sequel" to the 1992 horror film starring Tony Todd — Abdul-Mateen plays Anthony McCoy, a struggling artist who accidentally awakens the titular, hook-handed vengeful spirit. At the beginning of production, DaCosta and Abdul-Mateen talked about how Anthony was searching for his identity throughout the film.
"For me, it was about him coming-of-age. That's kind of how we approached the character," DaCosta said.
Abdul-Mateen on living in Berlin for Matrix 4
While Abdul-Mateen couldn't share any details about Matrix 4, he did share that he's been enjoying life in Berlin.
"Berlin, they've got a good thing going on. It feels like they put safety first here, made it comfortable for people to get out and get around," said the actor. "So, I'm enjoying it while I have it, enjoying the sunlight while it's still here in the summertime."
Even though he misses his family and friends back home in the states, he's choosing to focus on the positives, like how fortunate he is to be in Berlin for work. "I've just got to be where I am and make the best of where I am," he said. "I'm going to enjoy the moment and I'm going to enjoy the positive side of the position that I find myself in."