In fairness, Google can’t quite place him, either. The search engine says he’s an architect. Here’s what happened: The now 33-year-old was an undergrad at U.C. Berkeley, studying architecture, the fulfillment of a childhood dream to be in construction like his father. (Rejected career choices, circa age 5, include: basketball player, boxer, race car—as in an actual automobile.) He needed an elective, and a teammate from track recommended he take acting. “At the end of the semester,” he says, “the teacher told me, ‘You know, you’re pretty good. You should take some more classes,’” He did.
So the man can act. And he wears the hell out of some retro-inspired clothes. They reflect his own just-over-the-top style. “In college, before a party,” he says, “I’d ask my roommates, ‘How does this look?’ They’d say, ‘Stupid.’ I’d say, ‘Good.’”
Abdul-Mateen II wears two silver rings, one encircled by fleurs-de-lis, the symbol of New Orleans. He grew up there, before his family moved to the Bay Area.
He has with him two duffels. Those, and photos of his mother and late father, constitute the bulk of his immediate possessions. Abdul-Mateen II is a nomad, living on location or crashing among five older siblings.
Abdul-Mateen II’s family, and a few close friends, help him navigate his career. “I have to be careful,” he says. “Right now there are plenty of opportunities to say yes. I can get offered a role I should turn down, but think, ‘I can make that into something.’” He’s choosy about who he works with, like Jordan Peele, his director in Us and producer of Candyman, which Abdul-Mateen II is set to star in next year. Also indie filmmaker Zeresenay Mehari, who directed him and Dakota Fanning in the upcoming Sweetness in the Belly.