WIRED: What’s your first memory of the original Matrix?
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: I might have been 14. I remember trying to lean back, trying to do that move where I’m dodging bullets—trying to grow a hundred arms and move so fast and so slow that I turned into multiple people.
Bullet time. Easily one of the coolest moments in the film.
For me, it was about what could be possible in my own imagination, the different ways I could now go outside and fight, the different superpowers I could imagine I had.
Neo could only do that because he was in a virtual world, of course—a “neural interactive simulation,” as Morpheus puts it. Does reality ever feel unreal to you?
[Laughs.] Yeah, man. We just came out of a goddamn pandemic. One of the things that makes reality seem a bit strange—like there’s a shift in the universe—is change.
What’s an example?
One is the way we relate to technology, the way we communicate with other people, the feeling that we can be in multiple places at one time. It opened up this other conversation that people are having about what is real and what is not real, what is necessary in order to experience reality. The more that we have those conversations, the more susceptible we become to the possibility that it might all be a dream or that it might all be a simulation or an alternate reality.
Do you think it’s possible to make things meaningful, to live a meaningful life, if the world doesn’t feel all that real?
Absolutely. It’s not only possible but important to find meaning in everything. You know, a lot of times it takes something, a dream world or a different type of experience, in order to propel you forward into your own quote-unquote “real world.” As long as the mind and heart are open, then you’ll find meaning in whatever world your mind allows you to be in.
Sounds like you have complicated views about technology.
I’m a hypocrite. I love it when it helps me, and I hate it when it doesn’t. Social media, that’s an ultimate reality all on its own. It’s a real universe. People spend as much time there—it’s funny I say “there,” because it turns it into a real location—as they do in the real world.
Is that healthy?
You have to respect that reality. One doesn’t want to be left behind, but one also doesn’t want to be so consumed by that other world, by the world of technology, that you become stagnant in this one. A lot of things still matter in this world—touch and relationships and real conversation and discomfort. Technology is designed toward convenience. It’s designed to make things easier, to make life a bit more comfortable. But we need discomfort. We need discomfort in order to grow.
In some ways, that’s the message of the original Matrix trilogy. The Wachowskis showed us a largely non-white world of people who, despite being oppressed, are fighting for a better tomorrow. People who don’t want to be defined by how the status quo defines them. What’s your interpretation of the future they were trying to envision?