Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Talks Playing Aquaman Villain Black Manta


It was at some point after the roaring success of Guardians of the Galaxy that I realized no superhero is too obscure or too weird to be turned into a hugely successful film. While a couple of years back I might have scoffed at the idea of an Aquaman movie and the creative process behind playing Black Manta, now I say, bring it on. After all, if the general public can go wild for a tree dude who can only say his name and a heavily armed racoon, why not an autistic orphan turned hi-tech underwater bad guy who may or not be some kind of demonic human/manta ray hybrid?

Anyway, The Get Down and Baywatch star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II sure seems hyped up about climbing into the armored wetsuit. He recently did an interview with Access in which he explained how exciting it was playing the role and how fun working with Jason Momoa was.

“It was a huge role. This will be, to date, my biggest role. I’m so excited. I have a lot of fun playing quote unquote villains because I think the bad guys get to have more fun, right? And then also, this is a character who we’ve never seen in the canon on film before and I have a lot of fun teasing the fans and going back and forth with the fans on the internet about what’s going to be in the movie or how he’s gonna look. So, there’s a lot of mystery. I’m really enjoying it all.’

Jason Momoa in Aquaman

Abdul-Mateen has a relatively blank slate with the character, who’s a touch more complex than your average Aquaman bad guy – with his motivations surprisingly complex and his backstory genuinely tragic. Previously, Manta’s been confined to the comics and appearances on classic DC cartoons like Super FriendsJustice League Unlimited and Young Justice.

He’s even (sort of) appeared in the live-action shows, with Ving Rhames apparently cast in the role in the abortive Aquaman pilot and a character called ‘Manta’ turning up in Smallville. Still, this will be by far the biggest exposure he’s had to date, and right now it sounds like Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is ready to define the role for the modern era.

Aquaman Justice League

Elsewhere in the interview, the actor went on to praise his co-star, Momoa, saying:

“He’s a big kid. Jason’s always going to be the guy with the most energy, he’s the biggest kid in the room. Such a compassionate guy and a really heartfelt artist. Really, really good team. I step on, he brings his energy, I bring my energy and we just try to make a really big mess.”

By my reckoning, the fate of the whole DCEU rests of Aquaman‘s beefy shoulders. If this is a hit, the shared cinematic universe will get a shot of energy and might just pull out of its Justice League induced tailspin. If it craters, then who knows what Warner Bros will do. Perhaps they’ll be acquired by Disney and we’ll see the DC and Marvel universe melded together. And we all know how that works out…

About the author

David James

David James

London-based writer about everything and anything. Willing to crawl over rusty nails to write about Metal Gear Solid or Resident Evil.