Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who stars on the new hit HBO series Watchmen, has a lot to be proud of these days. In addition to his impressive resume (stacked with one hit role behind the other), he’s also the object of Twitter’s latest obsession. But he never rests on just his accomplishments. The actor has steadily been putting in work since bursting onto the scene as Cadillac in the Netflix series The Get Down.
Now, he’s flexing his skills with a more complicated and multifaceted role. But how much do you know about him? Well, thanks to his recent appearance on ESSENCE’s Yes, Girl podcast, we’ve learned a lot about the chiseled thespian and what keeps him focused. At just 33 years old, Mateen has a rich life story and wisdom beyond his years.
The educated and handsome Mateen is laser-focused on his career, but doesn’t forget to have fun along the way. He dropped some gems about his personal life that you may be surprised to know. Here’s what we found out:
The "H" In Yahya Isn't Silent
Though people commonly pronounced his name "yaya," the actor says the "h" in his name is traditionally not silent. "[My name] is Arabic. My father's name was John before he converted to Islam," he told the host's of Yes, Girl. "Yahya is the prophet John the Baptist."
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 03: Yahya Abdul-Mateen attends the CFDA Fashion Awards at the Brooklyn Museum of Art on June 03, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
He's The Youngest Of His Siblings
"I'm the youngest of six," he explains to Yes, Girl. "I was the youngest in my family for a very long time and I've always gotten attention. I also got into acting because I love attention."
Educated AND Fine? Winning!
Acting is actually the second career for this rising star, who obtained his undergraduate degree in architecture from UC Berkeley. After getting laid off in 2010 from his job as a city planner in San Francisco, Yahya decided to follow his passion and attend the Yale School Of Drama. "Being laid off was one of the best things that happened to me," he tells ESSENCE. "I was pretty good at my job and passionate about it, too. But getting laid off just provided an opportunity to go and try something else."
You Might Know Him From...
Since graduating from drama school in 2015, Yahya's been knocking it out of the park - scoring roles in projects like Netflix's The Get Down, Baywatch, The Greatest Showman, and Aquaman. You'll also remember him from the controversial Black Mirror episode "Striking Vipers." He credits his fast trajectory with the small seeds of encouragement from peers. "As soon as I just made the decision to be an actor, I began to get a 'yes' at every step of the way."
From LA to CA
A New Orleans native, Yahya grew up in Magnolia Projects, and later relocated to Oakland, California where he attended high school. Having accomplished so much in his career, the actor says he's trying to "learn how to allow myself to celebrate my success."
TORONTO, ONTARIO - SEPTEMBER 07: Actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II attends the RBC Hosted "Sweetness in the Belly" Cocktail Party at RBC House Toronto Film Festival 2019 on September 07, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Ernesto Distefano/Getty Images for RBC)
He's Got Some Dope Advice For Fellow Creatives
Creatives tend to be their own worst critics, and Yahya can relate. His advice to fighting imposter syndrome is reading your own receipts. "It's so important every once in a while to read your resume," he says. "We always have these opportunities to compare ourselves to other actors, other journalists, etc. We tend to come up short when we do that."
US actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of the new HBO series "Watchmen" at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood on October 14, 2019. (Photo by Chris Delmas / AFP) (Photo by CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)
Family Means Everything To Him
Lineage, history and family are important to the 33-year-old. In fact, he has taken on the task of researching his family tree. In doing so, he's found information about great, great grandmother Eliza. "It was powerful to know that I could speak her name and invoke her spirit," he said.
Nostalgia For A Good Cause
Yahya says if the nostalgia pills in Watchmen existed in real life, he'd use them for an important cause. "My father grew up and passed away with the longing to know where his father was from and about his father's history," he explains. "So if I had the chance, I would take my grandfather's nostalgia pills and I'd live through his life, and get a whole lot of answers that way."
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 12: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II attends 2019 Hammer Museum Gala In The Garden at Hammer Museum on October 12, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/WireImage)
Yahya and NFL Player Marshawn Lynch Were Classmates
The running back was one of the first people that inspired Yahya to take acting seriously. "[Before I pursued acting] I thought actors were the people in 'the box' and that I was just a normal person. One day I saw Marshawn Lynch, who went to Cal with me, on a billboard in San Francisco. Then I saw him on TV playing football. That's when I said, 'Ok, maybe I can do that.'"
He First Discovered His Knack For Acting Through Sports
"I ran track at Berkeley also for two years. We did this team-building exercise where the underclassmen had to do skits for the upperclassmen. So I go up there and do this improv exercise making fun of all the coaches and how they walk and how they talk. Everybody cracking up laughing."
His Real Life Superpower Is...
"...my beard connects. That is a superpower because brothers aren't always that blessed."
TODAY -- Pictured: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II on Monday, October 21, 2019 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
He's One Of The Hardest Working Men in Showbiz
Yahya admits that he's constantly striving for excellence, and doesn't pat himself on the back much. "I'm pretty tough on myself, but I had to learn to allow myself to celebrate my success," he explains. "I had a friend who forced me to go out and to have a drink when I got [a part in] 'The Matrix.' I like to work really hard, and I'm not very much impressed with my own self. I'm most impressed when I figure out that I can do something new."