Fresh off his Emmy win for ‘Watchmen,’ the magnetic actor has a string of high-profile roles lined up, including ‘Candyman,’ ‘Aquaman II’ and ‘Matrix 4’:
I looked up and there was Keanu, and I said, ‘Oh s***, I’m really in the Matrix.’ ~ Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Back in May 2018, Damon Lindelof was watching an episode of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale with his wife when his antenna went up and he felt “that intangible thing.”
He was witnessing that rare actor whose onscreen charisma is so palpable that you can’t avert your gaze even as he shares the screen with an already established star.
Lindelof had felt that same sensation once before, in 2007, when he and J.J. Abrams were combing through Star Trek audition tapes and came across Chris Pine. Now, the actor he was transfixed by was Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, whose biggest credits to date were as the sixth lead in Baz Luhrmann’s short-lived hip-hop origins series The Get Down on Netflix and a cop in the Baywatch movie.
“First off, if you’re in scenes with Elisabeth Moss, you’d better be able to hold your own,” Lindelof recalls thinking. But Abdul-Mateen was more than able to hold his own. He managed to outshine his Emmy-winning co-star in the “Baggage” episode of season two, in which he helps Moss’ character attempt an escape from the dystopian Gilead. “It’s just that feeling in my body of, ‘Who’s that?’ where you completely and totally sit up. And very often, they’re not in the context of a starring role.”
Continues Lindelof: “I immediately googled Yahya and I’m sure grossly mispronounced his name. But I sent an email to Vickie Thomas, who was the casting director on Watchmen, and was basically like, ‘We need to get him in on this.’ “
Thomas did just that, and Abdul-Mateen didn’t disappoint, winning a supporting actor Emmy for his performance as Cal Abar, Regina King’s stay-at-home husband who harbors a big secret, in the acclaimed HBO drama.
Now Abdul-Mateen is fronting two of this year’s most anticipated films. First up is MGM/Universal’s Jordan Peele-produced Candyman reboot on Aug. 27, in which he plays Jekyll-and-Hyde roles in the slasher classic as both a successful visual artist who returns to Chicago’s now-gentrified Cabrini Green projects as well as an incarnation of the titular villain. Come year’s end, the stakes only get higher.
On Dec. 22, Warner Bros. will bring Lana Wachowski’s Matrix 4 to theaters and HBO Max, with Abdul-Mateen starring alongside original cast Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and Jada Pinkett Smith.
In just three years since he made Lindelof sit up on his couch, Abdul-Mateen has secured his spot on Hollywood’s new A-list.
Also . . .
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has signed on to star in a dystopian crime thriller titled By All that has Steve Caple Jr. attached to direct. Warner Bros. has acquired the film, which was being developed by Legendary Entertainment and the Gotham Group, as a potential franchise starter for its Aquaman star.
The story kicks off in the aftermath of a tragic event and follows Donte, a man struggling to make ends meet who is forced to go on the run in a world without police, where justice is crowd-sourced.
The studio and the actor sparked to the action thriller given its provocative and timely premise about the imbalance of power in communities and how it warps the sense of responsibility, family and friendship.