‘Aquaman’: James Wan on Setting up the World and Tone of the DC Film

     July 16, 2018

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When I got to visit the set of Aquaman last year when it was filming in Australia, I saw and learned a lot about the upcoming DC action adventure. While I could go on and on by how much impressed me from the costumes to the casting to how they are explaining the Atlantian powers, the main takeaway from the visit was how James Wan looked relaxed and right at home helming his first superhero movie.

Even though he was incredibly busy trying to get his shots and keep the production on track, towards the end of the day he made some time to talk to all the visiting online reporters. During the interview, Wan talked about why he wanted to helm Aquaman, how they were explaining Aquaman and all the Atlantian powers, designing the costumes which look like they were pulled from the pages of the comics, Black Manta (being played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen), why he wanted Nicole Kidman in the film, if his horror background will make an appearance, when the movie takes place, and a lot more.

Check out what he had to say below.

Question: Was there a moment where it came to you where you were like, “This is the movie.”

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Image via Warner Bros.

JAMES WAN: Is there a “eureka” moment? I think it was a progression. I thought about it and I enjoyed the idea of potentially tackling a superhero movie. But I definitely enjoyed it even more, the idea of doing one that no one’s kind of seen before. That was the biggest thing for me was I want to do … if I were to do a superhero film, I want to do one that no one’s seen before, something that’s fresh, something that’s new. And the chance to do that with a character like Aquaman and the world that it takes place in was ultimately what made me super excited to jump into it.

One of the things about Wonder Woman that people really responded to was the heroic, the optimistic. It seems like DC is moving towards that as a brand. So talk a little bit about how Aquaman is different than Batman v Superman and what Zack [Snyder] did before and the tone and the look that you’re going for with this.

WAN: Yeah, I feel like the good thing about having something that isn’t really established is I get the opportunity to set the world, set the tone, set the flavor for who this guy is and the world that he lives in. That’s what we love about superheroes, right? We love that they represent the best part of who we want to be, right, what we strive for and what we aspire to be.

And I think what I like most about this character and actually what Jason Momoa brings to it is the idea that this isn’t a … that here is a guy who’s kind of trapped between two worlds. He’s not … he doesn’t feel like he belongs in the surface world but he doesn’t feel like he belongs in the world of Atlantis as well, the underwater world. And so I think that’s a really interesting … it gives it more color than just a very clean-cut superhero, right? And he’s not sort of just out there to just defeat bad guys strictly for that.

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Image via Warner Bros.

And so I think someone like Jason who plays this role who is himself mixed ethnicity as well … and so I think he brings a lot of that flavor to it. And I think it just makes it more interesting. And I think it’s cool to look at … see the world through someone like that’s perspective.

James, I want to speak for the ladies and say we are ready and excited and willing to see Jason. So what is your outlook on making it sexy but not over … no overkill? Not making it … no cheesiness.

WAN: Really? He’s pretty much naked half the movie. Do you want me to put … note to self, dress Jason up more.

No, no, no. Don’t do that. But is it ever a discussion or on set?

WAN: Well listen. That’s what makes him so cool, right, just his physicality, right? And I think … I’ve gotta say, this is a stroke of genius on Zack’s behalf, right? This is Zack’s casting. He saw something in Jason and he’d go, “You know what? If I put Jason in this, no one’s ever gonna make fun of Aquaman ever again.” And I think that’s super great. That’s really cool. It’s not easy. Jason works very hard to stay in shape and he’s very disciplined about it.

I’ve worked with a fair few of these really big, very well-sculpted movie stars and they are very disciplined and they work very hard to stay in shape. And the thing that they do for their craft, it’s awesome. I would almost say that the design of the tattoos on his body is almost a big part of his costume, so to speak.

I do want to specifically ask about Black Manta because Peter Safran showed us the picture and it is absolutely amazing.

WAN: Damn it! He beat me to it!

But it looks straight from the comics. Coming here today, I was wondering like how are you gonna directly translate from comics –

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Image via Warner Bros.

WAN: If you guys came a day earlier, you would have seen Black Manta in action.

Well that’s incredibly upsetting. Can you speak to the process of bringing that design to life essentially?

WAN: Yeah, I mean, like most fans, I love a really strange design of Black Manta. And I love … I see this guy and I think what we love about him is he’s kind of scary, he’s really bad ass to look at. But there’s just something kind of slightly off, right, that big, giant elbow, his big, two red glowing eyes. And so I didn’t want to shy away from that. I wanted to take what was best about the design and kind of bring my sensibility to it and ultimately, he’s a human character and he has to go up against someone like Arthur, Aquaman, who is a superhero. And so I have to tweak the outfit slightly to kind of give him the power that he needs to take on … to fight Aquaman. But in terms of what he looks like, he’s very much in the same spirit.

Can you talk about … also you have Orm coming into this as well and again, just like with Black Manta, costume ripped straight from the comics.

WAN: Have you guys seen that?

We’ve seen the concept. So if you want to show us, that’s cool. But he looks amazing and then also we know that Aquaman is progressing with his costume throughout the film, moving towards the traditional … or some version of it-

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Image via Warner Bros.

WAN: We don’t know yet. We’ll see.

Can you talk about why you’ve chosen to pull these costumes directly from the comics ’cause it looks like they’re ripped straight from the page. And a lot of times, you go through these … in a lot of these films, they go through these cycles where they change so much, that it’s almost unrecognizable.

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