Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: “You would have to be crazy to refuse a Matrix film”

In September 2020, Première made a phone call to Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, then filming the top secret Matrix Resurrections. Portrait of an actor on a “mission”, who will be showing this month in Candyman.

His first achievement in Hollywood was to keep his full name. Yet he was strongly advised to shorten it: Yahya Mateen? Yahya, simply, contemporary artist style? Simpler, less “connoted”. Categorical refusal by the person concerned. It will be Yahya Abdul-Mateen II or nothing. From his screen debut in 2016, in the series The Get Down de Baz Luhrmann, this tall fellow – 1.91 m – 34 years old, with an athletic physique, therefore made a political choice, asserting his origins within a system not very fond of roughness. This will not stop him: will follow a few small secondary roles (especially in Baywatch and The Greatest Showman), before a fascinating explosion over two short years (Aquaman, Us, series Watchmen, Candyman, and soon The Trial of the Chicago 7 Aaron Sorkin). ” I have a mission », He repeated to us several times during our telephone interview, between France and Berlin, where he is currently filming. Matrix 4 (“ I won’t tell you anything about it, except that you would have to be crazy to refuse a movie Matrix, and that in addition they made it very attractive to me. “).

No question of being satisfied with a message on Twitter to express his grief when a new black is shot by a white policeman. His fight against racism, he considers leading through cinema. ” I am fortunate to have a voice that is starting to wear off a bit, and I am well aware that this is a huge opportunity. I believe I have the responsibility to take advantage of my privileged position to educate myself, and in the process educate those who want to follow me. To be able to rally people and change mentalities – because that’s basically my goal, my mission – I have to be daring in choosing my roles. And with a little luck, find those who unravel the received ideas, he analyzes. Each interview I do, each film I choose to shoot is one more step towards my goal. Sometimes I screw up, I recognize it. But these are always calculated risks. I want to stay aligned with my worldview. It’s something I’ve been thinking about and working on for a long time now. My filmography is not something that falls on me: I am very strategic when it comes to my career.

Political game

Born in New Orleans to a Muslim father and a Christian mother, Abdul-Mateen II is a guy caught in a vice. Between two religions; between his late acting career and his early life as an architect in San Francisco; between his philosophy and the Hollywood machine. No wonder to find him on the reboot poster / sequel to Candyman, a social and schizophrenic scare film, which deals as much with class struggle and the gentrification of poor neighborhoods as with ancestral systemic racism. He embodies a friqué painter, who moves into a luxurious building built on the ashes of an insanitary city. ” At the moment, it’s very complicated to release a film that is not political, right? Asks the man who plays his first leading role here.

Impossible to make contents which will not be auscultated on the ground of the presence or the absence of black bodies. Afterwards, it all comes down to how you share your point of view on it. This is what will govern how the film will be viewed and analyzed. There is a very strong social angle to Candyman, but it is also a true horror film, which is not ashamed to be. A multifaceted thing. That’s why I love Jordan Peele so much [le producteur de Candyman, rencontré lors d’une audition pour Get Out], he understood that the public wants to be entertained, but that does not prevent sending him a strong message. “

The proven method of the Trojan horse, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II had already demonstrated brilliantly in Watchmen, edited by Damon Lindelof. The series, prescient in more than one way, was made up in comic book movie to better show an America plagued by racism and trapped by its past, on the brink of civil war. To get into the shoes of Doctor Manhattan, a muscular god with blue skin and disconnected from reality, he had to drop all the artifices. Naked, literally. ” (Laughs.) I think it was an important series, which fed and maybe even advanced the discussion on the state of my country. On a more personal level, it was a blessing to be forced to scrape the bottom of my acting toolbox. I was able to play with quite new things. Go towards a more physical interpretation, sometimes even close to stillness, and use my voice as I have never done before. “A sleek game that earned him his first Emmy Award and growing popularity, whose actor formally rejects the idea that she could turn him into a puppet:” I am starting to understand how this industry works. We must resist. It will seem a bit tricky to you, but there is this phrase that I repeat to myself like a mantra: “Know thyself”. In the morning, I need to be able to look at myself in the mirror and always be in touch with my goals. Understand my true desires, what makes me me. So that others don’t end up turning me into a product. At least, that I’m not just a product … It’s complicated, it’s all about balance. What helps me not get eaten up on a daily basis is a very firm moral code and strong friendships outside of the industry. It’s so easy to lose your footing in Hollywood …

Augmented humanity

We make a phone call to Nia DaCosta, who gets excited when we say her name. The filmmaker, who directed it in Candyman and will soon realize Captain marvel 2, confirms the image we have of him: ” nice “,” generous “,” open ” and ” super smart “. ” Okay, I’m still going to be honest: initially, it was Jordan Peele who told me to take a look at this guy I had never heard of. I wasn’t really convinced, but I saw Us, and I immediately felt close to his character, even though he was only on screen for a few minutes. It was disturbing. I understood after that Yahya has a kind of heightened humanity, something that sounds “true” indefinable, and that he brings a little in spite of himself to each of his characters.

Did she tell you that? », He is surprised, suppressing a small laugh. “ I do not know. Surely the fact of having been educated between two religions allowed me to have a more global point of view than other children. This is one thing that remains for me, this introduction to spirituality. And then, you know, as I didn’t want to be an actor until very late, I don’t think I ever theorized about this profession. Maybe that’s what she’s talking about. Little I watched what my mother put on TV like Hook with Robin Williams, Chitty chitty bang bang Where Mary poppins. I loved Denzel Washington a lot in my teens, but I didn’t have any heroes. Doing this job seemed impossible to me. It was not until 2011 that he decided to sneak drama lessons once a week. ” I quit work quietly, no one knew. It was a loophole. I ended up being fired, and that’s where I took acting really seriously. I tried my luck. He will eventually get a Master of Fine Arts at Yale University (just that) and will be quickly spotted.

The future, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has no idea what will happen. He is just beginning to discover his ability to act and especially would not want to close any door: “ I really want people to understand that there is a common thread in my filmography, and at the same time, I don’t want to be limited in my choices by the responsibility of telling stories every time about the oppression of people. Black. Besides, I do not believe that all black actors should bear the responsibility of bringing up these subjects. Everyone does what they can. At the moment, the writers are inspired by the history and the future of the United States, and more generally the experience of being black in this country. So much the better, I had the chance to contribute and I am extremely proud of it. But that doesn’t stop me from being drawn to lots of stories that have nothing to do with the oppression of African Americans. No question of selling myself, but in my moral contract, I also give myself the obligation to tell stories that make you happy and that make you dream.

The next step Matrix 4 will be more pragmatic. ” I want to find myself a nice loft and settle down! I’ve been waiting for this for three or four years, because I haven’t stopped traveling the world. I need time to refocus, recharge the batteries. Before leaving on a mission “, He warns most seriously. ” I’m going to settle in New York », Far from the turpitudes of Los Angeles. ” I love the energy of this city and the east coast. »Back to Manhattan, of course.

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