A first-time Emmy nominee, recognized for his turn as stay-at-home dad Cal Abar and the omnipotent Doctor Manhattan, Abdul-Mateen has the biggest years of his career coming up, with starring roles in Candyman, Aquaman 2, The Matrix 4 and Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7.
While production on the newest installment of The Matrix was stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the actor is eager to begin his work on the film, in a role that remains undisclosed. “When that does happen, that’ll put me in a different kind of playground to have a different kind of fun,” he says. “But my main focus right now is staying in shape for when I do get that phone call.”
At top of mind for Abdul-Mateen in the meantime are his roles in Candyman and Chicago 7, the latter of which will hit Netflix this fall. “Those are two more projects that will be a call to action, and a call to awareness. You know, we need change in the world, and we need it now,” the actor says. “Both of those films will highlight [social] issues in various ways, and I’m just so proud to have sort of kicked it off with Watchmen, and have my next projects in the footsteps of creating change, and shining a light on really dark places in our history.”
For Lindelof—an 11-time Emmy nominee, recognized many years over for his work on Lost—there isn’t a specific project to talk about at this time, but rather, a general way of thinking about those he intends to take on. “We’re in this very unique time in humanity, with this virus, and I just feel like the art that is going to emerge, over the course of the next two years, is going to be reflective of this period that we’re in,” the Watchmen creator says. “But it’s almost impossible to understand what that is, while you’re in it.
“Everything that I’m thinking about is really based in this very strange moment that we’re in, and when I figure out what that’s going to be, hopefully I’ll be in a space to curate other people’s writing and storytelling, and use my position and influence to give the microphone to some people who haven’t had a chance to talk into it yet,” he adds. “That’s kind of where I’m focused right now.”
Whatever Lindelof’s next project ends up being, it is “highly unlikely” to be another installment of Watchmen, he reaffirms to Deadline today—though he’d like to see the story continue in some form. “I’m so much more excited about where Watchmen goes from here without me, than I am about [it] with me. It was not mine to begin with, and I think that the cool thing about comic books—which basically taught me story when I was a kid—[is that] there’s a tradition of a writer and an artist coming in and doing their spin on a character, and then kind of moving on. And that way, you get to continue iterating characters,” he says. “So, I really brought every idea that Damon Lindelof had to Watchmen, and then I created a space where there were other writers and directors who could bring their ideas to it, too. And then, hopefully that tradition is going to continue without me.”
Based on a DC Comics series created by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore, Watchmen takes place in an alternate version of the 20th century, in which vigilantes—once celebrated as heroes—have been outlawed, due to their violent methods of extracting justice. In this version of America, episodes of racial violence erupt in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as yellow-masked police officers face off with a white supremacist group known as the Seventh Kavalry.
For both Lindelof and Abdul-Mateen, seeing the gritty drama register so powerfully, with the TV Academy and with viewers, has been an experience of ecstatic disbelief. “I’ve been on all sides of the Emmy game. I’ve had a long career, so I have some sense of perspective…and I think I’ll never be a part of anything like it again,” Lindelof says. “I know that this is the thing that you’re supposed to say, but in this case it’s just 1000% the truth, which is, this show is like the greatest collaboration that I’ve ever been a part of.”
From Abdul-Mateen’s perspective, seeing the way in which the series has resonated in the world—and particularly in American society—has made the ride with Watchmen all the more meaningful. “We knew that we had something special from the beginning. We poured everything that we could into it, and I’m just so happy that the fans bought in,” the actor says. “Watchmen speaks to the current tension that’s in our world right now, that’s in society right now. Its about, ‘Out with the old, in with the new,’ and fighting up against the resistance. I think, especially in our time right now, that’s what the world needs to do.”
In the actor’s experience, the show’s basic purpose has evolved dramatically since its October debut, its resonance only amplified by the death of George Floyd and the protests that resulted from it. “It’s changed from a history lesson, to a warning, to sort of a call to action, to stand up to oppression, and to learn from history, and to participate as an active force against oppression and racism,” he says. “I think it unified a lot of people around those themes, while also telling stories about representation, about heroes, about love, and so I think that’s one of the reasons why it resonates so loudly right now.”
For Lindelof, seeing the series sync up so powerfully with current events—in its examination of systemic racism within America—has been an experience that is hard to put into words. “Watchmen was a vessel that could hold a much more nuanced conversation about the great inequality in our country, which is about race. So, to see the reckoning happening this summer—long overdue—it doesn’t feel like it’s a validation of Watchmen,” he says. “It just feels like more of our work needs to be talking about this, and I’m immensely grateful to have been part of the show.”
While the themes of Watchmen are clear, Lindelof says that there is no one moral to the story. “I think the whole point of it is that it’s messy and imperfect,” he says, of the series’ world. “It’s about very well intentioned people who are trying to make the world a better place, and some less well intentioned people who are trying to make the world a better place.”
At the same time, there is one key idea to take away, that being the concept of erasure. “That basically started with Tulsa ’21, this massacre that happened a hundred years ago that most people are not taught about in their history classes. That, to me, is the most significant thing that Watchmen did, was that it brought into the light this history of the United States that people don’t really want to face,” Lindelof says. “And it shouldn’t take a weird science-fiction genre show to do that. We should all kind of take it upon ourselves to say, ‘Hey, I didn’t know about that. What else didn’t I know about?’”
“So many people of color have been talking about this for not just decades, but centuries. So, I think that the reckoning is upon us now, and I hope that we don’t erase it again,” the series’ creator adds. “It’s time to start writing in permanent ink, and kind of revisit and reevaluate how we got here.”
At the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards on September 20, Watchmen will compete with the most nods of any program, in the categories of Outstanding Limited Series, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Directing, Writing Cinematography, Production Design, Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes, Single-Camera Picture Editing, Music Supervision, Music & Lyrics, Dramatic Score, Special Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Main Title Design and Casting.