Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Talks Fame, Emmys And Being Naked On Set

Gracing the cover of the latest issue of W Magazine, Emmy Award-Winner for “Watchmen” and star of “The Trial of the Chicago 7”, Yahya Abdul Mateen II discussed everything from his recent roles to how he ended up on this path, plus the impact he hopes to have through acting.

Now one of the most sought after actors in entertainment, Abdul Mateen made his mark in HBO’s “Watchmen”, where he appeared completely naked.

“Acting without clothes is a little like acting when you’re exhausted,” he revealed. “When I’m tired, I do my best work. When you’re naked and painted blue, you don’t have the energy to care about other things. I studied the character beforehand, I did a few pushups, and then I took off the robe. Being naked and having the audacity to be Doctor Manhattan, who runs the galaxy, was very freeing. And that surprised me, because I’m usually very reserved. I don’t mind awkward silences.”

Photo: Wolfgang Tillmans/W Magazine
Photo: Wolfgang Tillmans/W Magazine

The actor won a Best Supporting Actor Emmy this year for his work on “Watchmen”. He told W: “I was genuinely shocked.” He said had changed into a navy and white–striped Louis Vuitton suit and waited up until 3:32 a.m., when he heard his name announced on TV. “It was surreal to win an award in my temporary apartment in Germany,” he said. “And I’m in the world of “The Matrix”, so I’m leaning into the idea that we’re not living in the real world anyway.”

RELATED: Breakout Star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Wins First Emmy For ‘Watchmen’ Role

Talking about what his process is like for choosing the roles he plays he said, “When I graduated from Yale, I was still very bright-eyed and wanted to have fun. But now I have my talent and a bit of recognition, and I’m thinking, What do I want to do with it? I’d like to keep that same sense of joy, but also add a mission, another layer of responsibility to tell stories that need to be told. Stories that will get people talking.”

After his father died of cancer in 2007, the 34-year-old revealed he had a different attitude towards acting. “I didn’t want to have any regrets,” he said. “I didn’t want to tell anyone, but I started taking acting class at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco on Wednesday nights. I knew it was rebellious to pursue acting, but I also knew I had to try, that life is short.” He added that he hoped to make an impact through his acting. “The feeling that something I created could change things or make someone see the world differently would be the best reaction I could imagine. It is my goal to have that power again and again.”

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II wears a vintage Levi’s jacket; silk screen–printed T-shirt by Wolfgang Tillmans; his own hat.Photo & Styling: Wolfgang Tillmans/W Magazine
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II wears a vintage Levi’s jacket; silk screen–printed T-shirt by Wolfgang Tillmans; his own hat.Photo & Styling: Wolfgang Tillmans/W Magazine

Now at the centre of a new generation of unique and immensely versatile Black actors, the star rejected the idea there’s only space for one successful Black actor: “The world is bigger than that. My mountain looks very different than yours or anyone else’s. When you put us all on the same path, it means that Black artists are competing against one another. That’s monolithic thinking and not good for either artistry or business. And besides, Denzel is still here! No one can do Denzel better than Denzel!”

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