But otherwise, Abdul-Mateen was just like the rest of us. He didn’t know.
As a mild-mannered, supportive, eye-candy husband and father, Abdul-Mateen was just excited to have the chance to work alongside Oscar-winner Regina King and “Watchmen” showrunner Damon Lindelof in a role he was only told had a “promising future.” Sometime between the filming of the second and third episodes Lindelof pulled him aside and let him know the big news.
Abdul-Mateen was Doctor Manhattan, hiding in plain sight — a fact that wouldn’t be disclosed until the end of last week’s seventh episode, with Abdul-Mateen getting all of Sunday night’s eighth episode for his true-blue origin story.
“I was shocked,” Abdul-Mateen told The Washington Post. “I tried to keep cool on the outside. I think on the inside I was tearing up the room and really going crazy. And then I said, one, that’s really cool, and two, oh s---, I better get in shape.”
Though he was getting attached to playing Cal, the writing was on the wall (and in the scripts): Cal had to go to make room for the doctor.
“I’ve actually fallen in love with Cal a bit and almost tricked myself into thinking that [he] could make it to the end,” Abdul-Mateen said. “We’ve made something that was really relatable, and I’ve been able to watch the fans gravitate towards this mysterious character in Cal and the relationship with Cal and Angela. But over the last two weeks, gradually I began to realize, this can’t last long.”
After “Watchmen’s” sixth episode gave viewers the unmasking of Hooded Justice — the first masked superhero in the “Watchmen” universe, who was also revealed to be the secret grandfather of Cal’s wife, Angela Abar (King) — Abdul-Mateen could only smile knowing his big reveal was up next.
“I think it’s so cool to have a show where we can drop a really great episode of television in the middle of the season with the confidence that we can back it up with the following episode,” Abdul-Mateen said. “It’s a testament to the writers and the actors and the creative team. They knew that Episode 6 was really strong. And after coming out with that I think you have to back it up with something that’s going to leave jaws on the floor. And hopefully we can do it again with the [final] episode coming up.” (The season finale of “Watchmen” airs Dec. 15.)
Abdul-Mateen knew HBO’s take on what many consider to be the greatest graphic novel of all time would be a never-before-seen black superhero event after reading what Lindelof and his team were planning for this storied corner of the DC Comics universe. That in itself is shocking when you consider the original comics, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, were anything but a black experience.
The debut episode began with the very real Tulsa race riot of 1921. The present-day story is centered on a black, female masked vigilante (King’s Abar/Sister Night), and the two most important men in her life: the grandfather she never knew she had, and the husband she loves, who are both black men and happen to be the two most revered superheroes in this world.
Abdul-Mateen says crafting such a story wouldn’t have been possible without Lindelof’s unwavering trust in his black staff.
“Damon was definitely aware of his position as a white man at the top of this creative team,” Abdul-Mateen said. “He always defers to the black actors or the black writers and directors when he doesn’t know. That’s an excellent and important quality to know when to step up and lead, and when to follow.”
This is Abdul-Mateen’s second role in a DC-inspired superhero world. Finding out he was the superhero of “Watchmen” was a very different experience than his last adventure. He was cast as supervillain Black Manta in 2018’s “Aquaman” and, like so many actors when they get a comic-inspired role, knew a really cool suit came with the part. But he’d read enough comics to know that wouldn’t be the case with Doctor Manhattan, who is most known for being so far removed from the basic whims of humanity that he’s deemed clothes not necessary to his existence. Abdul-Mateen knew it was just a matter of time before he’d have to get naked.
So naturally, he hired a personal trainer, started a high protein diet with “good carbs” and hoped for the best.
“You can’t show up as Doctor Manhattan and not be ready,” Abdul Mateen said with a laugh, joking that an out-of-shape version of the hero would have been one of the biggest television letdowns of the 2010s.
“I didn’t want to be that person to show up blue and out of shape. That would not be a good look,” Abdul-Mateen said. “I was happy with the results. It was hard work. That’s not really my personality, but it looks good on me. If I’m going to be walking around in my birthday suit, I want to make it a happy birthday.”