Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: 5 Things You Might Not Know About The Watchmen Actor

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II on Watchmen

Rarely do you see a leading Hollywood actor with a name as unique as Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, but we can safely assume that it will soon be gracing the top of many movie posters in the near future. Hot off a Primetime Emmy win for his performance from HBO’s Watchmen, in a role that was certainly full of surprises, and with several more projects of enormous anticipation, the 34-year-old is quickly becoming one of the top actors to look out for in his generation.

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and later raised in Oakland, California, Yahya Abdul-Matteen II has actually achieved a feat few actors do so early in their career: playing two different characters from the same comic book publication in a live action adaptation, starting with Black Manta in 2018’s Aquaman and Cal Abar (who is later revealed to be Doctor Manhattan in disguise) on Watchmen the following year. Most recently, the actor played a different kind of hero, portraying civil rights activist Bobby Seale in Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, and will continue his reign of blockbuster movie heroics as the lead in the upcoming fourth installment of the Matrix series.

Some may call even call him a hero in the acting world alone, not just for how much he was able to accomplish in so little time after his breakout role on the music history based Netflix series The Get Down, but also for what he managed to overcome right before his career began. Learn all about about Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s biggest early obstacles and more with the following five lesser-known facts about the actor that may fascinate you, inspire you, or even make laugh - the latter of which may not be the case for our first entry.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II on The Get Down

Acting Became His Main Job After Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Was Laid Off From His City Planning Position

Sharing his acting roots on Build in 2016 while promoting The Get Down, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II revealed that he always had an interest in acting, but originally intended to follow in his construction worker father’s footsteps by pursuing a career in architecture, for which he earned his degree in at the University of California in Berkeley. While there, he took an acting class after a friend described it as “just like recess,” but would begin to take it far more seriously after suffering a lay off from his San Francisco city planning job in 2010, as he recalled during an appearance on Today almost exactly nine years later. It was then when he decided to give his other love a real shot, which would definitely pay off, but not without its little roadblocks.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II on The Handmaid's Tale

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Refused The Change His Name At The Start Of His Acting Career

We previously mentioned the unique nature of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s full name (which is rooted from his Christian and Muslim faith), which the actor even admitted to the Middle Eastern division of GQ is “no John Wayne” by Hollywood standards. However, that is one of the essential reasons why he kept it instead of adopting an abbreviated stage name (as some people suggested to him when his career was taking off) in addition to the chance to represent his roots in his work. His name has since appeared at the top-billing of Candyman and next to other A-listers in the cast of Aquaman, making him an inspiration to fans and the aspiring artists who share the same cultural background.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in Aquaman

Before Filming Aquaman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Did Not Know How To Swim

Speaking of Aquaman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has gone on record about how challenging his elaborate, 70-pound uniform was to wear while shooting the billion-dollar DCEU blockbuster, in which he plays David Hyde, who is better known as Black Manta. However, during a cast interview with Conan O’Brien at the 2018 San Diego Comic Con, the actor revealed that, when he first auditioned for the antagonistic character, he was more concerned by the fact that he could not swim. It was not until Abdul-Mateen got to the set of Aquaman, after spending two weeks learning how to stay afloat by his own teaching, when he learned that no swimming was required for his role as a mortal landlubber.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Doctor Manhattan on Watchmen

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Found His Watchmen Nude Scenes Liberating

On the other side of that coin, the extensive athletic training that Yahya Abdul-Mateen II would put in for his next comic book role most certainly paid off, as evident by his scenes as a very naked Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen. While that level of full-frontal exposure often tends to be particularly uncomfortable experience for some actors, apparently, that was not so much the case for the star, as he explained to Entertainment Weekly in an interview about his role in HBO’s series continuation of the groundbreaking Alan Moore graphic novel:

I’m playing a character who is above shame. He’s confident in who he is. It was fun for me to step into that space. I was joking in Aquaman I have a Black Manta suit, in Watchmen I have my birthday suit. . . . Walking around naked was so liberating. It felt really good! We had an intimacy coordinator — that’s something HBO does whenever there’s nudity involved. I always had a choice in how we would shoot the scene and what they would show. They made sure I was comfortable and that I always had the choice, even at the last minute on the day. They definitely took care of me.

I suppose we can add Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s liberating disrobing as an omnipotent vigilante to the list of ways he is an inspiration to others in his craft to remain fearless. However, fear would actually be a key to nailing his first major leading role.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in Candyman

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Genuinely Feared The Candyman As A Child

In his second collaboration with writer and producer Jordan Peele following a smaller role in 2019’s Us, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays the protagonist of Candyman, which is described as a spiritual sequel to the 1992 cult favorite from creator Clive Barker, and is scheduled to come out in 2021 following release set backs related to Covid-19. The actor spoke to Total Film (via Magzter) about never actually seeing the original film, but believing the hook-handed supernatural killer (played by Tony Todd) to be a real curse to avoid in his childhood. In the same article, director Nia Dacosta and co-star Teyonah Harris also share their own stories of fearing what might happen if they said his name into a mirror five times, which only makes the concept of this urban legend even creepier.

What do you think? Are Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, his director, and leading lady trying to warn audiences of something real, or is this just what horror fans would consider some good PR? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back for additional information and updates on the talented actor as his career continues skyrocket, as well as even more inside looks into the lives of your favorite celebrities, here on CinemaBlend.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.