In doing research to prepare for playing Black Panther leader Bobby Seale in “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Yahya Abdul-Mateen II actually found an interview with Seale talking about cooking as an incredible look into the leader’s perseverance. “He had just been out of solitary confinement… but he goes into talking about how to make a stew. He has this smile on his face and he is not in prison when he is talking about this food. He’s in his kitchen at home,” he tells us in our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above). It was something that Abdul-Mateen had not read about Seale, even though he grew up in Oakland, California where Seale founded the Panthers. “We hear about the powerful revolutionary acts but it’s also a revolutionary act of survival to…have the humanity and strength to still connect to something that could not be further away from prison.”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which is available to stream on Netflix, is written and directed by Emmy and Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin. It explores the trial of seven leaders of the anti-war movement who were accused of instigating riots against the Chicago police during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Originally eight people were on trial but the charges against Seale were dismissed before the trial concluded. The film is rounded out with an all-star cast that includes Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden, Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, Mark Rylance as William Kunstler and Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman.
Seale has the most horrific experience in the film when, after repeatedly complaining about not being able to have access to his lawyer, he is escorted out of the courtroom, beaten and then returned to the court tied up with his mouth gagged. Abdul-Mateen describes filming it as “harrowing, humiliating and a challenge but I had a job to do. My job was to hold on to his humanity.” He always kept his mind focused on what he was trying to capture in that moment and not on any sort of end result. “That was the small seed I held on to as I went throughout that because an act like that was designed to make him feel less than human and it’s not just designed to shut him up, it’s designed to break his spirit.”
Abdul-Mateen also tells about the incredible experience he had when he claimed the Emmy Award for Best Movie/Limited Series Supporting Actor for playing Cal Abar/Dr. Manhattan in the HBO series, “Watchmen.” “Man, that was wild! It was a wild experience. It was an honor to be a part of history in that way for that show.” While it was an incredible experience for him, there was a crucial part of his victory that hadn’t been fulfilled at the time of the interview. “I still don’t have my trophy yet. It’s on its way but they can’t take it from me because I already got it on the record.” He hopes that when it does arrive that the excitement of that moment will return for him.
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