“I’ve worked very hard to get to this point and you can’t appreciate how good this feels”
Jason Momoa loves Aquaman. It’s the kind of superhero role every working class actor dreams of playing even when he’s unemployed and struggling to pay the mortgage. But the hulking, 6’4” Hawaiian native is blessed with an optimistic spirit and he never gave up hope that one day he would make his mark on Hollywood. That faith was rewarded when he won the role of Aquaman and made his superhero debut in 2015’s Batman v Superman, albeit in a supporting role, and then in last year’s epic Justice League.
That superhero universe got even bigger when Momoa assumed the title role in Aquaman, the $160 million DC superhero blockbuster which marks the beginning of his own stand-alone film franchise. Not only does that secure his place in the industry, but it gives him and his actress wife Lisa Bonet (Ray Donovan) lifelong financial security. “I’m grateful she has stuck by me all these years,” Momoa says. “The best thing about the success I’m enjoying now is the freedom it gives you. I’ve had to take roles just to put food on the table and now I can choose the work I want to do. I think that’s the kind of place where most actors want to get to….So I’m very grateful to Aquaman and what this means for me and my family.”
Directed by James Wan, Aquaman explores how the half human, half Atlantean Arthur Curry (Momoa) comes to take his rightful place as heir to the throne of the underwater city of Atlantis as it struggles with the increasing menace posed to the seas by the surface world. Momoa ably brings an astonishing intensity and massive physical presence to the role and is backed by a supporting cast that includes Nicole Kidman (as his mother), Amber Heard (as Aquaman’s fierce warrior ally), Patrick Wilson as Orm, and Willem Dafoe as Vulko, counsel to the Atlantean throne.
Momoa was certainly in high spirits when he teased an Aquaman trailer at the San Diego Comic Con convention in July, and could scarcely contain his enthusiasm and sense of anticipation over the film: “It means I’m the man! I’m super pumped that I finally got a movie that’s all mine with awesome characters and amazing actors and a great director and it’s all mine!”
The 39-year-old Mamoa lives in Los Angeles with Bonet with whom he has two children, Lola Lolani, 9, and Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha, 8. Jason is also stepfather to Bonet’s elder daughter, Zoe Kravitz, from her marriage to rock star Lenny Kravitz.
Best known previously for his work as the Dothraki leader in Game of Thrones, Momoa is currently starring in the new Netflix series Frontier. In addition, he wrote, directed, and starred in the Sundance TV series, The Red Road, and from 2005-09 he had a recurring role as Ronon Dex in the Stargate: Atlantis series.
“I had to keep the news secret for four years and I was bursting inside with pride. I’ve worked very hard to get to this point.”
Jason, you must be pumped to see Aquaman enter the ranks of Hollywood superheroes?
Jason Momoa: It’s amazing. I had to keep the news secret for four years and I was bursting inside with pride. I’ve worked very hard to get to this point and you can’t appreciate how good this feels. It’s so awesome!
How proud are you of this movie and this character?
JM: The script was amazing from the get-go and there are some super strong performances. James (Wan) is an incredible genius as a director and it’s an amazing movie. And the truth of it is that there are moments that are super tender and you’re going to see where this guy came from and what he went through and I think people are going to be able to identify with him.
Do you think that Aquaman will serve as a role model for younger generations of fans?
JM: There’s a whole bunch of kids out there who don’t have someone they can identify with and I think that’s a big responsibility to be this outsider character and be that first brown-skinned superhero.
Zach Snyder is the director who originally chose you to play Aquaman in Justice League which then led to your being given your own film. You must be very grateful?
JM: Zach believed in me and it’s changed my life…I owe the guy so much! I don’t know if it was luck or fate but he saw me working out at a gym and he asked me to meet him in his office. He knew my work on Game of Thrones but I never imagined he was going to offer me the role of Aquaman! He saw something in me and believed in me. I’m so happy that I was able to bring everything I ever hoped and wanted to the character. It’s been an incredible experience so far….There are so many layers and interesting aspects to the character and the world he inhabits…I’m so happy to be part of it.
How does this origin story of Aquaman differ from what we’ve seen of the character in Justice League?
JM: He was born with powers but he never really harnessed them, honed them. Obviously this is his whole origin story. We’ve seen him in Justice League, which is maybe two minutes of his old life, so [in Aquaman] we get to see where he came from.
“Aquaman was raised by his mother like I was and I think that kind of an experience helped me identify with his way of looking at things.”
What can you specifically tell us about Aquaman?
JM: He has the perspective of someone who’s an outsider. His father is from Earth and his other is from Atlantis and he’s not really accepted in either world.
That’s a feeling I can relate to as someone whose father is Hawaiian and growing up in Iowa where I didn’t fit in that easily because I really didn’t look like the other kids. Aquaman was raised by his mother like I was and I think that kind of an experience helped me identify with his way of looking at things.
Do you feel that you’re giving Hawaiians someone to cheer for now?
JM: I hope so and it’s an honour for me to do so. We have a proud tradition and spirit and I would like to show something of our soul to the public. I’m also very proud that I can finally play a character that my kids can go and see in the movie theatre. They were able to do that for Justice League where I have a small part and now they get to see their papa up there and leading the way in his own movie. I can’t tell you how much it means to me for my kids to see me in this movie.
There hasn’t been much they’ve been able to see so far because of the kinds of projects I’ve been doing. I’ve been able to take them onto the set of Justice League and they’ve got a kick out of that and they’re anxious to see the films once they come out. My daughter loves Wonder Woman and my son has been a big fan of The Flash and Superman….But Aquaman is a huge step up for them in getting to see their papa in action.
Your kids were on the set with you on Aquaman, weren’t they?
JM: Yeah, and they were also supposed to appear in the film but their scenes got cut! James Wan (the director) cut them out of the film and he’s going to have to explain that to them! I’m not going to take the fall for that! (Laughs)
It must be an incredible grind to get into the kind of stunning physical shape that you achieved for this film and this larger-than-life character?
JM: It’s hard work…You go on a ridiculous diet – no carbs, only meat and vegetables, and having some trainer yelling at you to work out. But now it’s off season and I can eat what I want and drink beer. I’m a knuckle dragon beer drinker. But even while I was in training for six months I was fine because long as I was able to get a couple of Guinesses in at the end of the day I’d be happy. Every dog needs a bone! (Laughs)
You have an incredible physical presence. Do you enjoy bringing that to bear in your roles?
JM: I love action and adventure stories. I enjoy the way they transport you and how your imagination can run wild. I’ve liked most of those kinds of characters I’ve played. I thought it was so funny to use all that technical and science fiction jargon in Stargate Atlantis and then I got to be a part of Game of Thrones which got me a lot of attention.
Does your wife Lisa Bonet like you playing these larger-than-life kinds of characters?
JM: She loved Drogo. It was the first time she was really impressed by my work. I didn’t want the fuss of us going to see the Game of Thrones premiere and I didn’t really want her to watch me as the character. But she told me that there was no way she wasn’t going to see the series. One day we got the DVD sent to us by HBO and my wife spent the entire night watching the series. She woke me up at 6 in the morning to tell me how much she loved it!
You’ve had to struggle for work at different periods in your career. Did you ever begin to doubt yourself?
JM: No. It’s hard, sure, but most actors are used to being unemployed. It’s the nature of the business. But I knew that if I kept working hard and didn’t give up that something good would eventually happen. And it did.
How bad did things get for you and your family?
JM: Things got tough. I wasn’t getting any jobs and I had to develop my own project (Road to Paloma, which he wrote and directed) to get some money coming in. It turned out to be a good thing because that’s how I got the series The Red Road which was a big moment for me.
Once I knew I had the Aquaman role, though, it took a lot of the pressure off. I just want to keep working and enjoy every opportunity that comes along.
You cast, at times, a frightening physical presence. Are you a far more relaxed and gentle kind of individual in private?
JM: (Laughs) I definitely don’t act like a tough guy at home. I’m a pretty soft guy at heart. I’m very relaxed and I like to think I have a lot enthusiasm and spirit when it comes to life. I love being with my wife and children and I like my children to think of me as their papa bear.
What can you tell us about your background?
JM: I was born in Hawaii but I grew up in Iowa where I was raised by my mother. She’s Irish-German and also has some Native American ancestry, but I don’t think of myself in terms of being Hawaiian or white or whatever. It’s the same with my work.
I’m playing action guys now but I see myself doing a lot more than that. Playing these roles and getting to do Aquaman is going to open up a lot of different work for me and that’s exactly what I’d like to do with my career. I think being raised by a single mother gives you more vulnerability and sensitivity as an individual. I can be tough when I need to, but that’s not the way I am in person.
Fitness is a big part of your life and you’re famous for your killer workouts. How important is exercise for you?
JM: I enjoy hiking and rock-climbing and being very active physically. I think it’s very healthy for you, mentally and spiritually. I’m used to getting up at 5 am and going for a run or doing a heavy workout. It’s a very peaceful time for where I get to think and relax and it’s a great way to start the day. It’s also more fun to do some kind of outdoor training than going to a gym and lifting weights which is kind of monotonous. I also like getting my kids to go hiking and climbing with me. They love being outdoors.
Do you ever worry about how their world might change now that their father is becoming a big star?
JM: I don’t think that’s going to happen. I definitely wouldn’t want anything about the way we live to change and I think my kids aren’t going to be affected by that. I just want to be papa to them and be a good and loving father.
INTERVIEW BY WENN