Morpheus returns in “Matrix Resurrections,” but something is very different with the wise mentor played by Laurence Fishburne in the first three “Matrix” movies.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, whose acting resume is filled with starring roles in everything from “Candyman” to Cal Abar in HBO’s “Watchmen,” changes up the iconic role as a younger version of Morpheus with a big twist.
Even the famed sunglasses see multiple revisions as this character is an evolving amalgamation of Morpheus and villainous Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving in the original films) taken from Neo’s (Keanu Reeves) memories.
“This Morpheus is on a journey of self-discovery, and there is transition in his own identity,” says Abdul-Mateen, 35. “This is a chance for him to be sort of re-birthed in a new body and consciousness. That’s part of the complexities of who he is and who he’s growing to be.”
Abdul-Mateen spoke to USA TODAY about this re-birth in “Resurrections” (now in theaters and HBO Max).
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Question: That’s some wild DNA in this Morpheus, and Agent Smith’s dark humor comes through. What percentage of Agent Smith to Morpheus is there?
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: It changes. I don’t think there’s a steady percentage of Smith to Morpheus. Sometimes he turns the gear up to Smith, sometimes he turns it up to Morpheus. Other times he settles in this combination of quirky guy that is dissimilar from both of those people. He’s witty, cool and classy. But he also has the sense of humor to not take either character 100% seriously.
Q: You move from an agent’s dark suit to an increasingly exquisite wardrobe, what’s with the evolution?
Abdul-Mateen: This Morpheus is a newborn, discovering who he is. So he wants to try out the suits, the body, different fighting styles even different sunglasses. He’s having a ball with freedom of choice.
Q: Did you know Morpheus would have his first introduction to Reeves’ Neo after stepping out of a bathroom stall?
Abdul-Mateen: I didn’t know it would be there. But it happened that way and it’s so cool. He’s very aware of The Matrix and the situation he’s stepping into. He’s very tongue-in-cheek. So that introduction is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. When we see him in that gold suit, that combination with those glasses. He was just straight back, his spine was solid. And he just knew he was the cooler than the other side of the pillow.
Q: Morpheus dons a fantastic flowing outfit that shows off some serious abs when sparring Neo in the dojo. What did you think when you saw that outfit?
Abdul-Mateen: When you learn that’s where we were going, then you don’t have a choice but to go there. I didn’t want to be the Morpheus that showed up out-of-shape. If I’m going to show up it’s to give people something to talk about in a positive way, you know what I mean?
Q: Approximately how many sit-ups did that require?
Abdul-Mateen: The right answer is “enough.” But myself, Keanu and our stunt men worked on that scene for about a month and a half. We did really solid training to do as much as that fight as possible. Knowing those iconic moments from the original films, we wanted to make sure that we came in, did our part, and did them justice. Keanu is an excellent dance partner with really hard bones. When he blocks a punch, you can really feel those hard bones. Like steel.
Q: What fight moment were you proudest of after all that training?
Abdul-Mateen: There was a reverse roundhouse kick that I learned and that I actually did that made it into the movie. I surprised myself with that. Flexibility is not my strongest suit. But that was a moment that took so much practice. I couldn’t do that kick five times, but I got one good one. That felt so good to watch. I felt like I could stand up in the theater and do the kick again. But I didn’t, because I’m smart enough to know I hadn’t stretched.
Q: So, help me out here. For 20 years after ‘Matrix’ I assumed I should take the red over the blue pill if Morpheus presented the famed choice. Does ‘Resurrections’ change that, saying we shouldn’t go for the truth of the red pill?
Abdul-Mateen: Nobody really wants the truth. I’ll take the blue pill. It amazes me after all this time that people say red pill. It’s like, you want to see what life is, take this red pill. And you’re hit with reality. The pandemic is the red pill. I want the blue pill. Give me the rose-colored glasses and let me keep it pushing.
Q: This is a trippy, complex movie. Being honest, what percentage of ‘Matrix Resurrections’ did you fully understand?
Abdul-Mateen: Why do you ask me that question? That’s not a nice question. What percentage did you understand?
Q: I’m about 20% after extensive Googling. What about you?
Abdul-Mateen: I’ll say 60%. But I think 60 is high passing (grade) right there. Anyone who says a number that’s above 60 is just delusional. Anyone, that is, who is not (writer-director) Lana Wachowski, Keanu Reeves or Carrie-Anne Moss. That’s my take, and I’m sticking to it.