Yahya Abdul-Mateen II knows sometimes you have to play the clown to cash a check

·2 min read
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II feigns no rose-colored view on acting in silly little costumes in front of a green screen for a major budget film crafted to appease the masses (and distract them from the dreariness of late-stage American capitalism). He knows exactly what to call it: “Clown work.” At least, that’s what he calls his appearance in the forthcoming Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom as Manta.

“Everything should be about getting to the truth. But sometimes you got to know which movie or genre you’re in,” Abdul-Mateen explains in a new interview with Vulture. “Something like Aquaman, that’s clown work. Aquaman is not The Trial Of The Chicago 7. You have got to get over yourself.”

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Hey, clown work pays the bills, and still takes a performance on the actor’s end. But it also allows actors like Abdul-Mateen to take on other more personal and impactful projects, like the upcoming Broadway adaptation of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog.

“In order to survive and to do it well, you have to play that game and then be crafty about when you want to surprise the audience, the director, or yourself with a little bit of ‘Wow, I didn’t expect to see a Chekhovian thing or August Wilson and Aquaman, but I did,’” he further explains.

Ultimately Abdul-Mateen says what many are afraid to: That acting in a superhero movie, whether for MC or Marvel, may not be the most fulfilling work out there. While many talented and successful actors (and directors) have made their way through the Superhero Industrial Complex, it’s often in their other projects helmed by directors who can actually enact a story and vision where they reap the rewards of acting.

There’s no shame in admitting that you took on a gig for the bag, we’re all trying to survive here. And if you have some lofty views of any superhero film as high art, “You have got to get over yourself.”