Yahya Abdul-Mateen II on Finding Humanity in ‘Ambulance’
Michael Bay reportedly didn’t know who Yahya Abdul-Mateen II was before he cast him in his latest high-octane film AmbulanceThe actor has already become an international star. In the last two years, Abdul-Mateen won an Emmy for his Internet-breaking performance in HBO’s WatchmenIt was the star of horror film remake CandymanKeanu Reeves was a co-fighter in the fight for his freedom. Matrix: Resurrections. This year, he’s starring with Jake Gyllenhaal inAmbulance With Jason Momoa (available April 8th) Aquaman 2.
Ambulance is something of an aberration in modern Hollywood—an action flick that’s not a sequel or a superhero movie but a concept-driven thrill ride. Abdul-Mateen stars as Will, a decorated war vet struggling to pay for his wife’s medical bills. In a bid to help him earn some quick cash, Will’s troublemaking brother Danny (Gyllenhaal) ropes him into a bank robbery. Things go predictably awry and the two steal an ambulance and take hostage an injured policeman (Jackson White) and a paramedic (Eiza González). This movie is a little like TempoThe only difference is that the drivers are bank robbers while the others at the wheel perform emergency surgery.
Abdul-Mateen is the heart of the movie, the calm negotiator in contrast to Gyllenhaal’s unpredictable, trigger-happy criminal mastermind. Abdul-Mateen’s performance as Bobby Seale has shown that he is capable of delivering a powerful performance. Chicago Seven: TrialThe book was praised. However, it can be hard to blend chaotic action thrillers and emotional depth. Abdul-Mateen speaks to TIME, talking about his struggle to find humanity among the blockbuster characters even as he speeds down an unpaved Los Angeles highway.
Are the sets of Michael Bay’s films as big and chaotic as the movies themselves?
He’s very curious. If I could think one more millimeter, he’d be in the movie. Mike is like a fifteen-year-old boy with unlimited imagination and unlimited money. He’s excited to show you his new cameras. His passion is something I have never seen before. That’s saying a lot, because I just came from working with Lana Wachowski on Resurrections of the Matrix I’m really just making my rounds with eccentric directors in Hollywood.
You play a veteran who can’t afford to pay his wife’s medical bills, so you and your brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) decide to rob a bank. An ambulance with a wounded officer and an EMT is hijacked by you when things get out of control. There is no superman. There are no Transformers. This feels like an old Michael Bay film.
That’s right. I play a guy with his back up against the wall, someone who is seen as a hero but doesn’t get much support. It’s an exciting movie, but I think people will be surprised by the amount of heart embedded in it. That’s just the type of actor I am. That’s definitely the type of actor Jake is.
Michael Bay’s tendency to spend too much time on the explosions and too little time on his character has been criticized historically.
The film’s roots are in humanity. It’s rooted in brotherhood. It’s rooted in survival. Every good story should be a love story. A good movie makes the villains or heroes fight tooth-and-nine to keep their things. That’s what I try to look for in everything that I lace my boots up for. Then the rest is really about the playground and the world that’s presented to me from the design to the script.
(L-R: Yahya AbdulMateen II, Jake Gyllenhaal) in Michael Bay’s Ambulance
Andrew Cooper—Universal Pictures
Black Manta is the evil villain you portray. Aquaman and The Lost KingdomIt’s December. Is it possible to find humanity among supervillains?
Yes, it is true that the first was. Aquaman, there wasn’t an opportunity to show how multifaceted the character was. However, I now have an opportunity to discover what motivates him both as a criminal and as a human. This man is paranoid and dreams about revenge. This allows me to paint large, vivid movies that capture human emotion. But if there isn’t something real at the root, it’s just caricature.
Hugh Jackman was the Wolverine character in The Wizard of Oz. I heard him speak. X-MenFilms) suggested that you choose villain roles rather than superhero roles.
He stated that the “bad guys” are the greatest because they have the longest work hours, receive the best lines and win the majority of fights. I don’t know about that, man. I agree with most of them. But, it is clear that I did work a lot. Aquaman 2.This felt like the Black Manta film. But I’m not complaining.
You mentioned Matrix ResurrectionsDirector Lana Wachowski, and all her bizarrenesses. The story of what was
The most important thing she ever said about the Matrix was:
Lana did not respond to my various questions. That was my understanding. The MatrixIt is extremely dense. You can always go deeper, explore further. It’s not as easy as you might think. If anything seems simple, you’re probably not thinking about it in a complex enough way. To that end, I’m still thinking about the character and what I would do if I had a second crack at it. I think that’s kind of cool. Most of the time I don’t do that. I’m pretty good at putting things down and walking away. But the Matrix continues to grow and change as technology matures, and as a society we’ve changed our relationship to the virtual world. It’s still perplexing. At different points, I find clarity.
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