Jason Momoa Gets Serious: I Keep My Shirt on for 'Red Road'

The "Game of Thrones" favorite tackles Sundance TV's latest scripted drama, telling THR his tough guy roles are contrary to how his single mother brought him up: "I was raised a sensitive artist."
Courtesy of Tina Rowden/Sundance Channel
Jason Momoa in "The Red Road"

Jason Momoa has lead a Dothraki horde on Game of Thrones and played the iconic Conan the Barbarian.

Now the actor is poised to unleash what he says is his toughest role yet with Sundance TV's The Red Road, which premieres Thursday.

"There's a lot of heavy, heavy drama that I've never played," says Momoa, who acknowledges Game of Thrones was also full of challenges. "Sure, ripping someone's throat out is heavy, but it's in a fantasy world. In fantasy and sci-fi, you can do all sorts of things that aren't real."

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The Red Road, from creator and writer Aaron Guzikowski, centers on the uneasy relationship between the Walpole, N.J. police and the small Native American Lanape Tribe in the mountains of New Jersey.

Momoa's character – an ex con and member of the tribe -- is menacing and complicated.

"He's almost primal, which sometime I am. He's unpredictable," Momoa says. "You don't know what he's going to do. That was exciting."

Although the massive actor is viewed as among his generation's ultimate tough guys, he says this dramatic role aligns with his upbringing. He was raised by a single mother in Iowa, and grew up watching movies like Rear Window and Robert Redford's Barefoot in the Park, not action flicks.

"People are like 'Oh, he's Conan.' I didn't see Conan before I did our Conan," Momoa says. "Even though I'm a big force that plays these kind of guys, I was raised a sensitive artist kind of thing, which is counter of who I am."

For Sundance, it knew casting Momoa's role would be difficult.

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"We knew whoever played Phillip was going to need to be capable of having a lot of nuance to this performance. This charismatically menacing bad guy that you believe may have a sort of pure heart," says Sarah Barnett,  president and GM of Sundance TV. "Jason has such a facility as an actor."

 For Momoa, the script grabbed him just as Game of Thrones had.

"When I read Game of Thrones, you flip the page and you're yelling at the book. It was the same way with me for this script," he says. "Unfortunately I have my shirt on a lot of the time. So for those fans that want to see me naked, they should probably watch my older stuff. That's nice, wearing clothes for once."

The Red Road debuts at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Sundance TV, and the first episode can be streamed online here. The series also stars Julianne Nicholson, Martin Henderson and Tom Sizemore.