“When I audition, I wear mismatched socks. I do that because then I already know that I messed up; it takes the pressure off.” – Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
In writer/director Aaron Sorkin‘s Netflix film The Trial of the Chicago 7, Emmy Award-winning actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II portrays political activist Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party. In an interview with W magazine about the film, Abdul-Mateen spoke about how he got into character for the film and shares some acting advice.
Abdul-Mateen says that researching the role was something that he really enjoyed. He explains, “To play Bobby Seale, I had to do extensive research. I wanted to. It was my honor to do that. I spent countless hours on YouTube. Aaron Sorkin did an amazing job of giving me great words and great moments to play with, because he used the words directly from the trial, using the court transcript for the majority of Bobby Seale’s dialogue. That was really just a gift, being able to re-say and re-speak the actual words that Bobby Seale spoke. Researching for Bobby Seale was one of the most rewarding parts of taking the role.”
Another aspect of playing Seale that helped Abdul-Mateen get into character was the costuming, something he had previously enjoyed with the short-lived Netflix series The Great Down. He says:
“Costuming is usually the way I get into my characters. I remember a perfect example was the character Cadillac—my first job, Cadillac, on The Get Down. I brought one guy into the audition, and that’s the guy that I prepared [in my mind]. That’s the guy that I booked the job with, and I’m getting ready to shoot and I go into my wardrobe fitting, and this guy has on this all-cream suit. He has on a snakeskin-printed shirt that had buttons that went only halfway up the chest, so the whole chest was out. Then he had on three chains and the chain with a lion, a belt with a lion, a ring with a lion. Then I said, for Bobby Seale, ‘Oh, this is who this character is. I know who this character is.’
The thing that unlocked Bobby Seale for me was his mustache. Bobby is a very confident person. He loved the way he looked. He loved to entertain, loved to hear himself speak, and so I let myself lead with that look. When I saw myself with his mustache, it gave me the right attitude. And all those clothes from the ’60s and ’70s take a certain amount of swagger.”
When asked if anyone has given him acting advice that has stuck with him, Abdul-Mateen recalls, “When I was doing Us, Jordan Peele told me, ‘Don’t do it if you don’t love it.’ And that was important advice, especially if you are lucky enough to have choices and opportunities. When you have momentum and talent, it’s easy to say yes. But it’s even more crucial to do only what you love.”
He also shares some advice of his own about auditioning, adding, “When I audition, I wear mismatched socks. I do that because then I already know that I messed up; it takes the pressure off.”