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Geoff Johns, David Leslie and Will Beall Talk ‘Aquaman’, Creating Atlantis, Black Manta, Mera & More

Last week, GOC had the opportunity to sit down with Aquaman writers David Leslie and Will Beall, as well as executive producer and story co-writer, Geoff Johns during some Aquaman roundtable interviews.

During the interview, they spoke about creating Atlantis, Mera’s Story arc, Black Manta and his future in the franchise, and much more!

Check out the interview below (*please note there are minor spoilers ahead for those who have yet to see the film):

Can you talk about bringing Atlantis to life?

Geoff Johns: It was really about honing in on the emotional story of Arthur; of a man who was born from two different worlds and was thrust into a mission of having to unite both worlds. And once we had the emotional story, we wanted to make the biggest high-sea adventure film ever made. What do we want in that? We want sharks, we want treasure hunts and sunken galleons. It was based on the comics, and then we flushed it out and made it, I think, even stronger with his mother being alive. Then we started to list out all these big scenes and we figured out how to how to build a story around all of that, and incorporate what we thought would be a really fun movie with a really clear emotional story at the center of it.

How did it feel to help redefine the character?

David Leslie: Even before I was involved in the project there was that one poster they put out. It was one of the earliest images they had for Justice League and it was Jason with the trident and it says, ‘Unite the Seven’ and like that one image, and you’re just like ‘okay, Aquaman is cool again’, there wasn’t even a movie out yet attached to him, buut casting him sort of broke your eye about it.

Johns: You have to embrace the idea that some people think Aquaman is cheesy. He talks to fish? Yeah, it’s the truth. It’s okay. Any kind of like perceived silliness – it’s like you got to have fun with it. You can’t take it too seriously. His name is Aquaman if you think about it. I think that’s a part of the movie though. It’s still got I think a really important message and story, but I think you got to have fun with it. 

Leslie: I felt like what was done with Aquaman here was similar to what they did with James Bond when they cast Daniel Craig. It was like, ‘No. No, he’s not the cheesy James Bond you always knew, he’s like Jason Bourne.’ He’s dirty. He’s a thug. He’s going to kill you with the toilet seat and you know, it’s really gritty and then you go, ‘Oh, yeah.’ They’ve totally changed James Bond a couple of movies later. He’s in the Aston Martin, the tuxedo and he’s fighting a giant komodo dragon, and it’s like, ‘Oh, I see what you did. This is James Bond, still.’ You cast Jason and you break everybody’s eye about what he is, and put him in the orange and green and you have him riding a seahorse.

Will Beall: I think having a character like this that’s never been on screen before helps a lot.

Johns: He has baggage in a different way.

Beall: And you see the introduction where he kicks his way into the sub and says, “Permission to come aboard” and then the guitar riff. I felt like the movie declares itself, ‘We’re here to have fun!’

Can you talk about Mera’s storyline?

Leslie: In telling the love story of Arthur and Mera was to put them on crossing trajectories where he has this prejudice against Atlantis and she has prejudice against the surface, and as they’re coming together, they’re sort of resolving that you know? So they have this sort of intersection point sort of halfway through the movie where he is sort of seeing like maybe he was wrong. She’s sort of saying she was wrong, and that’s sort of how they come together.

Johns: When I had written the book, the fifth issue of the series was just her and the whole story is she’s in the lighthouse, Arthur’s not there. They’re out of dog food and so she has to go to town to buy dog food, and she’s never been to town before and so it’s all about her fish out of water experiences with the town’s people, good and bad. And for me, it was having Mera provide that point of view because Arthur’s point of view is what’s Atlantis, and her’s is one of what’s the surface. That’s where the storylines really developed from.

Can you talk about Black Manta and his storyline with King Orm?

Leslie: We all love Black Manta. How can you do the Aquaman, but you can’t do without Black Manta? Impossible. James was very specific about making his look very faithful to the comic.  

Johns: It’s impossible. It’s like doing a Batman movie without the Batmobile. You just shouldn’t do it. Some people were like, you can’t do the big helmet. It’s like saying Joker without the smile!

Beall: There was a Saturday morning cartoon called, Challenge of the Super Friends. Black Manta was voiced by that guy who played Lurch. Yeah. It was sort of like a pre-Darth Vader voice, you know, and even as a kid, I thought this guy is really cool.

Johns: There was a moment when the script was really going and James texted me or emailed me, and said Black Manta’s story may be too big for this movie. What do you think? And I didn’t reply, I just went to his office and I said, ‘Black Manta has to be in the movie.’ He was like, ‘I know!!!’ 

Leslie: My stepdaughter is world’s biggest Black Manta fan; like she wants to know why there isn’t a Black Manta movie?

Johns: There should be a Black Manta movie. That’d be a cool movie. 

Leslie: I remember (James Wan) asked me that same question. (Sarcastically) I was like, dude, I’m going to be a deep sh*t at home if you cut Black Manta out of this movie.

Any Villain you want to see Black Manta work with in the future?

Johns: There’s a villain called the Scavenger I really like. That guy is a cool character and is a really freaky character. He is in the same Black Manta family though! I want more Black Manta first!

Aquaman is in theaters now! Check out the GOC review of the film here.


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