Writer’s Note: Major Watchmen spoilers are ahead!
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is a work of art.
Racking up credits in The Get Down, Aquaman, Black Mirror (as well as the upcoming Aquaman 2, Candyman, The Matrix 4 and The Trial of the Chicago 7), the 33-year-old actor really has come a long way.
Now, Abdul-Mateen’s star is shining a little brighter as he portrays Cal Abar in the critically acclaimed HBO graphic novel adaptation, Watchmen.
“Cal is really a gift,” Abdul-Mateen told The Root on the red carpet at the series premiere of Watchmen. “I get to play a character who may not be seen on television. He’s a stay-at-home husband and dad. He’s married to a superhero, so to speak. And I get to be the one that’s patient, loving, understanding, staying at home and cook, clean and sew. And he’s not conflicted. He’s not a guy that says, ‘I want to get out there [and work], why can’t I have a turn? He’s very secure and that’s awesome. I think it was really a breath of fresh air to bring a character like that, a man like that, to the screen.”
That, in and of itself, was a powerful symbol. Then, of course, things got even deeper when it was revealed in the seventh episode that Cal Abar was none other than Dr. Manhattan, a god-like being and the result of a radioactive particle test performed on physicist, Dr. Jonathan Osterman. Instead of living on Mars as previously assumed, Dr. Manhattan was right on Earth, loving up on Angela Abar (Regina King.) That’s right, a being with the powers of a god decided to leave the perfection of the universe because he loved a black woman.
The character reveal shocked audiences, but Abdul-Mateen wasn’t always in the know himself. He didn’t find out the full extent of the role he had accepted until after he had already been filming.
“I think it was a couple of episodes in—two, maybe three, I forget,” Abdul-Mateen told IndieWire in a recent interview. “But, I definitely had filmed a couple episodes by the time I found out. I tried to play it cool in front of Damon [Lindelof]. I might’ve said something like, ‘Oh, wow. Really? Are you serious?’ But on the inside, I was just going crazy. So then I said, ‘Oh, well that means I’m probably going to be naked. I better get to the gym and start working out, really fast.’ Those were my reactions, in order.”
That ambition to work out paid off in the eighth episode masterfully titled, “A God Walks Into Abar” when the audience was treated to yet another reveal—that of Abdul-Mateen’s um, ahem, “Excalibur.”
“My attitude toward [appearing nude] was: I’ve been working out, I’ve been getting in shape, it’s HBO, and I’m young,” Abdul-Mateen told IndieWire. “[And] guys can do it, too. Nudity on television was one-sided for so long, but times are changing, where it’s not that big of a deal and guys are being asked to carry their own weight, if they’re willing. So I said, ‘I think it will be fun,’ and I was confident about getting out there and stepping up to the plate. I was really happy with how it all turned out. I think we tried to make sure everything was tasteful—tasteful and comfortable.”
Shout-out to his trainer Brad Kolowich Jr. for those workouts, by the way. You are appreciated at the same level that DJ Khaled appreciates you, his kid, life and the video vixen in his music videos (but not cunnilingus).
The season finale of Watchmen will air Sunday, Dec. 15 at 9 p.m. on HBO.