Why Willem Dafoe Isn’t Returning In Aquaman 2



  • Willem Dafoe will not be returning for the sequel Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom due to scheduling conflicts.
  • Director James Wan used Dafoe’s absence as an opportunity to expand Nicole Kidman’s role as Arthur Curry’s mother, Atlanna.
  • The absence of Dafoe’s character, Vulko, allows the new villain, Black Manta, to become a greater threat to Aquaman and adds to the narrative tension.



Willem Dafoe has been confirmed not to be returning in DC Studios’ upcoming sequel, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. The sequel to 2018’s Aquaman is set to release on December 20, 2023 and is expected to bring the DCEU to a close before James Gunn and Peter Safran’s new DC Universe unfolds with 2025’s Superman: Legacy. While most of the principal cast from Aquaman is returning for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, including Jason Momoa, Temuera Morrison, Nicole Kidman, Patrick Wilson, and Amber Heard, they won’t be joined by Willem Dafoe, who portrayed Nuidis Vulko in the original film, a mentor and advisor to Momoa’s Arthur Curry, a.k.a. Aquaman.

Despite having a pivotal role in Aquaman, Willem Dafoe was confirmed not to be reprising the role of Nuidis Vulko in the sequel. Director James Wan spoke to Entertainment Weekly in the days after the Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’s trailer release, reasoning that Dafoe’s schedule simply didn’t work for the film’s production timeline, potentially due to his work on Asteroid City and Poor Things.

Even so, Dafoe’s absence from Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom provided Wan with the chance to develop Nicole Kidman’s role as Curry’s mother, Atlanna, as he notes in his full quote below:

Willem is not in this one, no. Part of the reason was because his schedule did not work for us. But what that allowed me to do was expand on Atlanna’s role. Atlanna in this one ultimately becomes Arthur’s advisor. Because Arthur’s not from this world, she helps him better understand the world and the politics of how things work.

Willem Dafoe’s Vulko Can Make Manta A Better Villain

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Manta in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom image

While Willem Dafoe might have been unavailable to reprise his role in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, James Wan has the perfect in-universe reason for Vulko not having any involvement in the storyline of the upcoming film. While Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s David Kane, a.k.a. Black Manta, was only a minor villain in the 2018 film, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom will see him become an even greater threat, as the trailer revealed that he now wields the mysterious Black Trident, granting him more power. Manta is expected to be a formidable foe to Aquaman in the upcoming film, and one detail involving Dafoe’s Vulko could quickly and easily prove this.

It could be revealed that Black Manta killed Vulko off-screen between Aquaman and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, using the Black Trident to eliminate Arthur Curry’s advisor and friend. This would prove Manta’s growing ability – as Vulko was the skilled fighter who trained Arthur himself – and make complete sense narratively. Manta’s vendetta against Aquaman started when the latter killed the former’s father, so Manta killing someone close to Arthur is the perfect rebuttal. While Willem Dafoe’s absence in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom will surely be felt, this could be used to hugely empower the film’s new villain.

Source: Entertainment Weekly

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