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In the past year, Jason Momoa has been covered in blood, wrapped in fur and drenched in water more times than he can count. It’s been nonstop, beginning with shooting the first season of Netflix’s Frontier (think Game of Thrones but set during the 1700s fur trade turf wars) in Newfoundland, producing and starring in the indie Braven, shooting Warner Bros.’ superhero ensemble Justice League, then returning to Newfoundland for Frontier‘s second season.
“I haven’t been an actor who’s been able to pick and choose roles, and being a family man, it’s been about putting food on the table,” says the 37-year-old, who has two children (Lola Iolani, 9, and Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha, 8) with his wife, actress Lisa Bonet. “This has been the best moment of my career because the superhero roles are letting me get the other roles I want.”
Momoa starred in the series Baywatch Hawaii in 1999 and 2011’s Conan the Barbarian, but it was his 2011 role on HBO’s Game of Thrones as fearsome Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo that landed him a following. However, says Momoa, his short-lived role on the HBO series didn’t bring Hollywood to his doorstep. “You get a lot of respect for Game of Thrones, and it was a lot of fun to play,” he says, “but it didn’t help my career a lot because Khal Drago doesn’t even speak English.”
The murderous but sympathetic rogue fur trader he plays on Frontier, hitting Netflix on Jan. 20, is closer to home: “He’s half Irish and half native, as am I, so it really resonated with me,” says Momoa, who was born in Hawaii and is of Native Hawaiian, German, Irish and Native American descent. “When you find out that he’s lost his family, when you pull back each layer, it was a beautiful place to go as an actor. I’ve never played anything like that before.”
In November, Momoa will debut his first major turn as DC superhero Aquaman in Justice League, starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot. “I knew I had the role in late 2012 or early 2013,” says Momoa, who had to spend months denying he would play the seafaring superhero. “I was trying to get any role I could, and not having much luck. So, knowing what your future is going to be in the next five or six years and having to keep your mouth shut is brutal.”
Now he has a few months of downtime until he heads to Australia in the spring for his stand-alone Aquaman film, helmed by James Wan. After that film wraps, he plans on directing again (he made his directorial debut with the 2014 indie Road to Paloma), this time telling the true story of Ko’olau, a Hawaiian man with leprosy who fought against the government’s attempts to exile him in the late 1800s.
From there, he wants to expand beyond the roles he is known for playing: “I would love to do comedy. I can’t wait to be in a tracksuit in an office space, not covered in blood — and with my clothes on.”
Born: Honolulu, Hawaii
Big break: Conan the Barbarian
Reps: WME and Edelstein, Laird & Sobel
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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