Aquaman set: James Wan on why he chose to take on Aquaman & his solo journey

Director James Wan made a name for himself with the horror genre, making the genuinely frightening THE CONJURING films, INSIDIOUS, SAW, DEAD SILENCE and the criminally underrated DEATH SENTENCE. However, he changed gears a bit (natch) with FURIOUS 7, proving that he could thrill audiences as much as he could scare the shit out of them. From there, it seemed he could write his own ticket and with a burgeoning cinematic universe at play with DCEU, Wan chose AQUAMAN as his next non-horror outing, pulling together an amazing cast to tell the origin of one of the most difficult characters to adapt to the big screen. Not only is AQUAMAN an underwater superhero, which makes for exceptionally difficult filming (WATERWORLD, anyone?), but he's also an oft-joked about character, having a somewhat goofy premise and a series of cartoons and older comics that paint him as a more cartoonish and silly superhero. However, casting Jason Momoa was the first nail in the coffin of that stereotype and adapting the grittier and more intricately-layered origin from Geoff Johns' New 52 run, Wan had a much stronger brush to paint with and ambitious goal of making an epic adventure film that turns the AQUAMAN tropes on its head and makes us all believe that a superhero can talk to fish...and kick serious ass.

We sat down with Wan on set, the last interview of the day, having waiting hours upon hours for him to wrap up for the day. It was late into the morning hours when we finally got him and we were all a bit loopy, but we managed to pull through and take advantage of his time. He was in great spirits, generous, funny and insightful throughout and it I think it filled everyone with even more confidence that this film is in the right hands.

Was there a moment where you were ... where it came to you where you were like, "This is the movie."?

WAN: Is there a moment, 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 and it seems like DC is moving towards that as a brand. So talk a little bit about how Aquaman is maybe different than BvS 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.

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. Honestly coming here today, I was wondering like how are you gonna directly translate from comics –

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 the really strange design of Black Manta. And I love ... I see this guy and I think we all love ... 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 helmet, 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 Aquaman's classic costume? Also you have Orm coming into this as well and again, just like with Black Manta, costumes 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-

WAN: (coyly) We don't know yet. We'll see.

But I mean, 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 and-

WAN: Yeah, we have to, believe it or not, it's not just taking what is there and just making it directly...just copying it exactly. There's a lot of actual designs that go into it as well. There's a-when you draw images and pictures, you can do things that are so much more heightened, right? When you put it on a real actor, obviously there's limitation.

And so we have to factor the practicality of what it means for our stunt person and actor to wear this outfit and yet retain what we love about their designs. And that was one of the things I love about the aesthetic of the Aquaman world, the Jeff Johns, you know, your '52 sort of look, right? They definitely...the chance to make Aquaman just fucking cool. You know what I mean? And so really embracing that and just not shy from it.

But still, not just doing the outfit cool for the sake of being cool, but I want to try and find story point. Like Aqua-I'm sorry, Black Manta's outfit is the way it is for a reason. King Orm's outfit is basically his military outfit as ocean master. And so there's story point to all of that and when you guys see where...for example, Black Manta, why he has these two glowing red eyes the way he is in his helmet, you know, I have a back story for that as well.

And so I want to try and not just come up with cool shit, but just try and find reasons for them, too.

In a lot of the interviews for this, you've said it and actually most people we've talked to have mentioned the thing about Aquaman being kind of caught between, torn between two worlds.

WAN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

That could be said of a fair amount of superheroes, like Superman being torn between his human and alien selves and his enemies reflect that.

WAN: Right.

Like, there's Lex Luthor and then General Zod. So what is it that makes Aquaman different from even within that?

WAN: Well, I think firstly, one thing I've been very cautious about doing is making sure that he isn't Superman.

And so even though from our story standpoint, there's a reason why Aquaman ultimately is powerful. He's strong. It's because most Atlantians, their bodies are built to withstand thousands of pressure. They live so far down. So when they come up, their body is...they're not aliens from another planet. But because of the physics of our planet and all that stuff, when they come up to the surface world, their body can withstand really strong pressure, right?

And so whereas bullet literally bounce off the man of steel, bullets can grave these guys and maybe break their skin and break their flesh, but it doesn't necessarily penetrate 'cause their muscle mass and their body mass is much more dense. And so even within the world of superhero, I try to find a reason for why, how he is the way he is. So yeah, so he can get beaten up, you know.

When he goes up, surface war weapons may have a hard time taking him down, but Atlantian technology can cripple him for sure, can really kind of destroy him if, you know.

Can you talk about Nicole [Kidman]’s ... what you're envisioning for Nicole's role and why she was perfect for it 'cause I think Peter [Safran] was telling us that she was like envisioned before she even signed on, she was perfect for this role.

WAN: Yeah, well I think Nicole has such a beautiful vibe about her and just very classic and classical about her. And so much of the back story of where they come from, Atlantis, before it sank and all that stuff, right, has that very classic, Greek back story. And Nicole just seems like she would be beautiful Greek goddess, princess. And so she just fit it perfectly as someone who could potentially spawn the offspring of someone like Momoa.

And besides that, I love Nicole. I'm such a big fan of hers and so I've been trying to work with her for a long time. We came close on a project a while ago. It was supposed to be a scary movie. That didn't happen, but we've always sort of kept each other in mind.

And her character's a bad ass from what I'm gathering here today.

WAN: It's not a massive, massive role, but her character is very integral to the emotional arc of our movie. The relationship of Arthur's mom and dad is the reason who he is today. And the way they teach him what it means to...that he sees himself as a half-breed and he sees being a half-breed as a negative thing and his parents, his mom's teaching, that's not a bad thing. What you have is you have the best of both worlds.

Speaking of scary movies...So everybody we talked to today, mentioned your abilities in making horror films as a major bonus to doing this. So, I'm curious if that is something that you're intentionally doing, like if you're trying to work in some kind of horror element to this or if you're just ... anything from the horror films that you've made that you feel has made you the best guy for this?

WAN: No, I didn't set out to make a horror movie. I mean, that's not what this is about. It just so happens that you're dealing with...you're dealing in a world that is beautiful, magical, but at the same time, scary as well, right? People are terrified of the ocean because they don't know what's down there. There's all these creatures that lives down in the ocean that are dangerous to humans.

But and so that's one of the things I want to capture. I want to capture the fear that we have of the ocean, the scariness, but at the same time, the magical and wonder that comes with it as well. The ocean's such a beautiful place and so you know, just naturally built into the story, my story, for this film. Our heroes go on this right of passage journey, this quest, and on the way, they meet all sorts of fun creatures of the deep, let's say. Creatures of the deep that love craft wood beer.

How, if at all, do the events of Justice League lean into this film, kind of set it up? And where does this film begin in its own right as a stand-alone?

WAN: It's pretty much...it picks up after Justice League. I don't want to give too much away, but it picks up after Justice League. But, it is its own stand alone movie and ultimately, it's a movie...I don't know how to talk about it without kind of giving too much of it away. If you guys want me to go one step further-

We are embargoed.

WAN: But do you guys want to know it? Do you want spoilers?


WAN: It's a small, little spoiler. It's not big.

Go ahead, give it to us.

WAN: Okay, it's nothing big. I would never give anything too big away. So even though Arthur, Aquaman's already established and set up in Justice League and a bit in BvS, right, but more definitely in Justice League. But we now pick up after Justice League and he goes on his journey, he goes on his own story in the stand-alone movie. And he goes on this journey and he ultimately becomes the Aquaman as we know him.

I have one quick thing that I just want to ask about how you're...are you doing a lot of cool...like with camera stuff and camera positioning. I've been asking this all day and now I finally can ask you. Are you doing anything with any long takes or any cool shots that people might be able to be looking forward to?

WAN: I try very hard not to, but I'm not succeeding. I love my cool takes. I love my long takes and so I definitely...I have moments that I'm designing that tells a story. I like to interweave my action. If I have an action set piece happening over here and I have somebody else kind of going on over here, I like to sort of weave it in and out with my camera work. And so that all that stuff, I'm passionate about in my filmmaking that you guys probably see in my horror films, like Conjuring and Saw. I'm bringing that flavor to this as well.

What do you think the longest shot you're doing is?

WAN: Dude, I don't fuckin' know. What's the longest shot, Christie?

It's still going to this day!

WAN: Steve's shooting right now! Thank you. Thank you so much!

This is for you, James. We wanted to hand that off to you, so [handing over a JoBlo Bobblehead to Wan]

WAN: Thank you! Thanks, Bro. Thanks, guys. Thank you so much for flying in.

AQUAMAN swims into theaters on December 21st, 2018.

READ MORE - Everything we learned on set! + Interview with producer Peter Safran about all things Aquaman

READ MORE - Jason Momoa talks the classic suit, working with James Wan and more!

READ MORE - Amber Heard talks Mera and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II talks Black Manta!

Source: JoBlo.com



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