James Wan Contemplates His Career & Talks Action In ‘Aquaman’

James Wan The Conjuring Aquaman

James Wan has come a long way since directing Saw, and his next film, the DC solo film Aquaman, hits theaters in December. During a visit to the editing bay, Wan showed off a host of new footage from the movie and talked about putting his own stamp on a corner of the DC Extended Universe.

Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman has already appeared on the big screen, but Wan really wanted to put his own spin on the character while “paying respect to where he was left in Justice League” as he takes him on his first solo outing.

So my hero goes on this hero’s journey to become someone very different from where he started. And that was something that was really important for me and the movie I wanted to make that I was allowed the freedom to do that. And also, you know, the good thing about not necessarily involving the other characters is I can kind of do whatever I want in this story, in this world, and not be beholden to what someone else is making, and vice versa, not have someone else be beholden to what I’m doing. What I’m doing is very circular to the world of Aquaman.

Part of helming the first Aquaman movie means showing audiences the character’s origin for the first time. Wan previewed the prologue of the film that sees Nicole Kidman’s Atlanna and Temuera Morrison’s Thomas Curry meet and fall in love for the first time. Admitting that he had been wanting to work with his fellow Aussie Kidman for a while, Wan said “there’s no one more perfect to play the Queen of Atlantis.” Praising the “gravitas and emotion” she brings to the film, he also said she did a lot of the action and really “enjoyed all that stuff.”

Aquaman Jason Momoa

Unfortunately, not everything remains peachy for the couple, as Atlanna’s past quickly catches up with her in an action-packed sequence that relied on long, drawn-out shots instead of choppy editing.

That sequence with her was sort of a really hard sequence to shoot. Because I shot, it’s pretty much all a one-take shot, you get to watch the character jumping, flipping and all that, and the way we did it was we removed the ceiling of the set and we had a spider-cam just on wires like zip all over the set from one character to another character as she goes around beating up all the soldiers. It was very technically challenging to get that all done but I just thought it was a great way to show how strong her character is without sort of cutting it up. It was a really fun thing to shoot. It took two days to shoot that shot.

Wan also showed off a scene where Arthur and Orm battle in front of a stadium full of people underwater. Talking about the filming process called dry-to-wet, Wan promises none of the sequences in the film were actually shot under water. Long before the fight scene is cut together and the special effects are added to make everything appear underwater, Wan and the crew go through a long process to make sure everything comes out just right including “tons of R&D early on in terms of how people would move under water.”

The first thing we actually did was make sure the actors were physically up to shape, just training them every day and putting them through… we had a trainer on them who just sort of worked with them physically because knowing how difficult those rigs and the wire work was gonna be, so I just wanted to make sure they were able to put up with that. It’s not very comfortable, especially when you’re someone as big as Jason Momoa, right? And because he’s a guy as well all the weight that goes around the crotch region is not the most comfortable. So we do that with the actors and get them kind of trained early on so that they understand what they are getting themselves into when we get around to shooting it. But then sort of working closely with the stunt department, literally laying out the action first on dry land. Laying it all out, laying out the choreography, sort of dialing all that in. Once I felt like we had the right shape to it, then we now start thinking how do we apply this to an underwater environment where gravity obviously plays very differently. So now we start introducing wire works into it, start introducing rigging devices and stuff like that. I’m constantly challenging the stunt department. I have an amazing stunt crew that can just come up with really awesome stuff, especially all the swimming stuff.

Instead of feeling pressure from Warner Bros. to modify the movie, Wan said the studio was very supportive of his vision and allowed him to remain in control.

It was very important for me early on to be allowed to make my own film and to have my own voice be in there. After Furious 7 and Conjuring 2, I didn’t want to be a director-for-hire, you know what I mean? After Furious 7, that’s kind of who I was to some degree, but after that, I don’t want to be that guy again. So it was very important for me to be able to bring my own stamp, my own visual aesthetic, create the characters, so even though Jason has already been somewhat established in Justice League, I wanted to come bring his character into this, basically fresh in a lot of ways.

Directed by James Wan from a script written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, the film stars Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry, Amber Heard as Mera, Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko, Patrick Wilson as Orm/Ocean Master, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane/Black Manta and Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna.

Aquaman opens in theaters on December 21, 2018.