Yahya Abdul-Mateen II on ‘The Get Down’ and ‘Baywatch’

Yahya Abdul Mateen II

Exclusive Interview: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II on The Get Down and Baywatch

The Get Down introduces us to many new faces in the cast. We’ve seen Shameik Moore and Justice Smith in movies before, but Herizen F. Guardiola is a discovery and it’s the first professional role for Yahya Abdul Mateen II. Mateen plays Cadillac, the local gangster operating out of a disco club, with a roundhouse kick and dance moves.

Mateen went to Yale School of Drama and auditioned for The Get Down immediately. He’s got three movies coming out after, including the Baywatch movie starring Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. I got to meet Mateen after the Television Critics Association panel for The Get Down and get to know this rising star. The Get Down is on Netflix now.

What is the set of that disco club like?

Oh my gosh. It’s amazing. You walk on that set and I don’t need anything else. I have the lights, the animal prints, the floor, the disco ball, the beads, the gold beads, the colors. It’s just really an explosion of excitement and stimulus that’s inside of that club, and that’s when it’s empty. Then we put on our costumes and then we bring all the people in and put on the music. I have every single thing that I need in order to act. It’s a dream being in that place.

What were the wardrobe fittings like? Did you send any back and say, “We need to change this?”

No, man, no, man. I was excited and I was game. The wardrobe fittings let me know who I was dealing with in this Cadillac character. I had my ideas and I did my work and I was prepared, and then I saw what he would wear. I said, “Oh, he’s that guy.” You have to have so much audacity to don the things that he wears throughout the series. It really informed so much about the character.

Could Cadillac’s criminal skill serve him well in the music business?

I think so. I think absolutely it could serve him well.

Do you get to hear the music between scenes on the set?

Some, some. Some music I’m very surprised by. Cadillac lives in a world where there’s a lot of dancing. I think anytime Cadillac is around, there could be music in the background. As far as the music we actually hear in the show, I would say it varies and it fluctuates scene by scene.

Is going onto the set of The Get Down like stepping into a time machine?

Man, it depends. The energy is really of today’s world. When it’s high, when the energy’s high, it feels like I could be at a club today, but we’re just doing it in this ‘70s style. But when you look around, oh my gosh, it does feel like a time machine. It feels like how did I get here? Why am I hear? And it’s going to expire any minute now so I’ve got to make the best of it. It rally put us in a situation where we can believe in our surroundings and really understand that it’s a fleeting moment. I think we all try to take the best advantage of it in every take.

Which episodes have the best Cadillac scenes?

I hear three. I hear three has some good stuff and I’m around. I’m around through the rest of the first half. The second half is going to be really, really exciting times for Cadillac as well. One is hot. I’m looking forward to seeing two. I think two was fun. Three is a lot of fun. I think three may be one of Cadillac’s better ones.

This is the first role we’re seeing you in. Was it The Get Down the first one you shot out of school? 

Yeah. I was filming this a month after I graduated. I was still in school. I hadn’t done work before.

What a first gig!

Yeah, man. I was in school. My agent, she wasn’t my agent at the time but she repped one of my classmates. She saw me in a show. She said, “Who’s that guy?” Threw me a bone which was the audition for Cadillac and 14 days later I was sitting across from Baz Luhrmann in his office and talking about this role, talking about theater. It’s been a hell of a ride.

Have you had tougher auditions since The Get Down? I see you’ve booked a lot of things.

Nah, but my relationship to auditioning is a bit different. None as involved. I mean, I had to rap for this. The acting was just acting. I never worried about that but I had to also dance. I’ve had no auditions that were as fun as this.

How about the Baywatch movie?

How about that, right? That was a ball and it was such a great break from The Get Down to just go to the beach with some adults and Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson who are the most humble people in the world, great people and just silly. Stupid. S-T-O-O-P-I-D, just to go and play some soft brain games and just do a comedy that’s nothing like The Get Down was a hell of an opportunity to step into that role.

So they’re emphasizing the comedy?

Oh yeah, it’s a comedy, it’s an action movie, it’s sexy but hopefully there’ll be a lot of laughs definitely.

Do you get to run on the beach in slow motion?

I don’t I’m the guy who wants to have a body that I can take out onto the beach.

Who’s your character?

He’s officer Garner Ellerbee who is a character that was in the original. He’s an officer, a beach cop and he butts heads with Dwayne Johnson’s role, with Mitch, often, regarding who has jurisdiction on the beach.

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