Cape Town – After making his debut in Justice League, Aquaman swims out on his own in cinemas on Friday.
Director/co-writer James Wan was excited to undertake the first standalone feature for the character.
“Aquaman is a very powerful guy and can handle action on a god-like scale. But what I love most about him is that what drives him comes from a very human place,” he says.
“To me, the most important thing is the story I’m telling and that audiences care about the characters and want to go along on their adventure.”
Jason Momoa reprises his role as the title character.
From the start James says he and Jason connected because they understood Arther's dilemma - half-man, half-Atlantean.
James says: “I think Jason really connected with this character because he is from two worlds himself. Jason is a Hawaiian who grew up in middle America. He never quite felt like he fit into either world. And that’s something I understand as well, as an Asian guy born in Malaysia who grew up in Australia.”
Jason in turn could have been destined for the role - in addition to his divided origins, elements of his islander life helped Momoa connect to the character more deeply as well.
Before we get to Arthur’s journey in the film, what has the journey been like for Jason Momoa?
Hands down, the most involved and wildest ride of my life – from going to the audition for Batman v Superman, knowing I’m not going to be Batman, not knowing what I’m going to be, then having [director] Zack Snyder say, point blank, ‘Guess who you’re going to play?’ And Aquaman? That’s pretty far out! I definitely didn’t think I’d get to be here doing my own movie, and working with [director] James Wan, who is such an amazing filmmaker.
James did such a great job with the character and this incredible world he’s created – Atlantis. It’s just different from anything we’ve seen before – with seven different kinds of creatures, all the different environments in this undersea kingdom, and the world above the surface. We see how the two relate and harm each other – and it’s not a black and white; it’s about who you are, what you care about, and what it means to protect your home. I mean, everything I wanted to do with the character is in this movie, and I just feel very lucky and very, very honoured to be here.
But the most awesome thing about this journey is my kids! When I started Batman v Superman, they weren’t at that age yet, and now they are so it’s amazing to get to see all this through their eyes.
You’ve talked about some of the points of connection between Aquaman’s origins as a half-Atlantean, half-surface dweller, and your own experience, having been born in Hawaii and raised in Iowa. Was that something you drew on in bringing this story to the screen?
Definitely, in the sense of being part of two worlds and not feeling like you truly belong in either, and everything Arthur experiences as a kid is pretty dead on. Most people wouldn’t think I got bullied, but I got bullied a lot where I grew up, so I can definitely identify with that. I know what it’s like to feel outcast and to know you have something inside you, something special, and searching for that sensei who can help you realise that potential.
Arthur gets ridiculed for what he is, but he has a sensei who believes he has it in him to be King of Atlantis, and he starts to believe in this idea too. And when you have something like that ripped away from you, you’re going to hole up and go pretty dark. Luckily, I grew up with a very loving family, so that didn’t happen to me.
I mean, it’s fun to be this loner/outlaw/rebel with a pretty sharp tongue, and have a jaded and sarcastic perspective on everything, but that rough exterior is just how Arthur covers up his own sensitivity and vulnerability. To truly become the king he was born to be, he’s got to just soften his edges and learn a little more about himself, which he does in this journey – and that’s a great thing for anyone to do.
So, we get to see a lot of colours in him – definitely some vulnerable moments, and also the little idiosyncrasies he has that just make you just kind of shake your head, like my wife shakes her head at me [laughs]. And I went all out trying to annoyingly charm Mera to win her over.
Speaking of which, you and Amber Heard, who plays Mera, have such great chemistry as these complete opposites who are thrown together on this epic adventure. Was that something the two of you worked on, or did it fall into place naturally?
Amber is awesome, and she and I got along like a house on fire from day one, so it was definitely easy. We’re a lot alike, and, weirdly, of the two of us, she’s probably more like Aquaman. She definitely has the harder role – to be this princess of Atlantis, to be so rigid and serious all the time, and recite all these formal lines of dialog. I’m obviously pulling a lot more from Jason to play Aquaman, so it was fun for me. I was constantly doing silly things to make her laugh, and she just had to be stoic. She would say some pretty funny things herself, but it’s hard to fight back when you’ve got to speak like an Atlantean [laughs].
Can you briefly touch on the experience of working with some of the other actors in the amazing ensemble James assembled for this film.
I loved working with all of them, but I probably had the most fun with Patrick – just a tremendous actor, a giver, and super easy to work with. We got to really sling around the words in our scenes together, and he was always right there, connected. And Willem – super regal! Just the epitome of a thespian, gives everything to his acting. Dolph – it was an honour. I mean, he’s a legend that you grow up with, and the sweetest man. And Yahya’s phenomenal… just the commitment of this kid! He’s young but so in love with acting, and gives it his all.
What was is like working with your onscreen mom and dad, Nicole Kidman as Atlanna and Temuera Morrison as Tom Curry?
Temuera is the man I’ve wanted to play my father since day one. And I got him, and loved working with him. He’s just so comfortable and amazing. He’s someone I’ve looked up to since I was little kid – this solid actor with brown skin. I just love everything he does.
Nicole is, hands down, the greatest actress I’ve ever worked with. I’ve never seen someone do a performance in so many different ways and hit it every time. She can go from super intellectual to super playful without missing a beat, and totally dream up stuff without being fake about it. She’s a stone cold pro – straight up, no jaded stuff. I was just happy, awesome, excited to be there – it was unbelievable.
What do you hope audiences will experience when they see Aquaman in the cinema?
I hope the movie takes them on a phenomenal ride! James is just a master at taking you into an experience, so you really feel like you’re on this adventure. We go into this amazing underwater world and I go through so many things as an actor. You’re going to see tons of action; you’re going to see a little bit of love; you’re going to laugh – it’s got a little bit of everything. I’ve never done a lot of press for a movie in my career, but this is hands down the easiest film to talk about because it’s just so much fun!
(Photos: AP/Warner Bros)