'Watchmen's' Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Recalls the 'Blenis' Seen Round the World

Sunday November 1, 2020

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II on HBO's "Watchmen"
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II on HBO's "Watchmen"  (Source:Screenshot)

When the NSFW website The Sword reported on the most requested nude male celebrities, they found the usual suspects — Zac Efron, Henry Cavill and Nick Jonas; and a few surprises — Michele Morrone (from Netflix's steamy "365 Days") and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, the 34-year old American actor who won an Emmy this past year for his role on HBO's "Watchmen."

His place on the list is largely due to a scene from that show's eighth episode when (spoiler alert) is revealed to be Dr. Manhattan, the glowing, blue superhuman living inside the body of Cal Abar, the Tulsa man married to Regina King's police detective in showrunner Damon Lindelof's self-described "remix" of the DC Comic.

While he may have won an Emmy, it appears — at least from a scene from that series when his identity (and "blenis") is revealed — to have an Oscar swinging between his legs.

(You can see his big reveal at this link).

When Abdul-Mateen signed on for the show, he thought he was only playing Abar. It was after the filming the second episode that Lindelof told him he'd be playing the iconic (and very blue, often nude) character. In the comic, Dr. Manhattan is German physicist Jon Osterman who when trapped in a nuclear test chamber, is transformed into a blue, hairless humanoid. In the comic and in Zack Snyder's 2009 film, Dr. Manhattan is often (and famously) nude — a physically perfect specimen with an enormous "blenis."

In a 2019 interview with Esquire, Abdul-Mateen remembered being thrilled that he got the role. Then he thought of the nudity "Okay, well, I'm going to have to get a gym membership and get in shape," he recalls thinking.

"If Doctor Manhattan is known for anything besides his blue hue, it's that he's not fond of wearing clothes—so it's not surprising that the Yale School of Drama alum bared all in Episode Eight," Esquire writes.

Abdul-Mateen though was far from intimidated by being in a full-frontal scene. "For me it was liberating," he says. "I always had the choice every day that I filmed it. I was given the choice of how much I would show, what I would show."

HBO gave the actors the option to meet with intimacy coordinators in order for the actors to achieve a level of comfort with the nudity and sex scenes, and Abdul-Mateen took advantage of the offer. "There was someone that I could talk with and make sure that my comfort was a top priority," he told Esquire. It really adds to the comfort level, to have someone whose specific job is to make sure that the performers and everyone on set are taken care of in that regard."

This week Abdul-Mateen revisited speaking about the role in an interview for W Magazine. Since the limited series ended last December, it received 11 Emmy Awards, including one for Regina King and one for Abdul-Mateen for Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series.

"I was genuinely shocked," he said when recalling the win. "He 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.'"

He explained to W how he approached the scene: "I needed to get some pump to my muscles," he joked. "Acting without clothes is a little like acting when you're exhausted. 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 push-ups, 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."

But he did fear that being a Black man, he would be objectified

"Because a lot of times, you put black men in a situation where they're naked, and it is about the body. It is about being objectified. It's not about the humanity," he told the website Digital Spy.

"I'm really happy to be a part of something that was tasteful, and it wasn't about the nudity. It wasn't about being objectified. It was just about a human who was really above notions of shame."

After graduating from Yale Drama School in 2015, Abdul-Mateen has literally never stopped working. Ten days after graduating he was cast as Cadillac, the disco king, in Baz Luhrmann's hip-hop opus "The Get Down." Then came Black Manta, a villain in "Aquaman," and the lead in the sequel to the iconic Black horror film "Candyman" (due next year). Most recently he is featured in the ensemble cast of "The Trial of the Chicago 7," where he plays Bobby Seale in the film currently streaming on Netflix.

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