This interviewer really ticked him off. I’ve never seen Jason get mad in a review.
NEW YORK TIMES: A decade ago, the action star Jason Momoa seemed to emerge fully formed into the public consciousness as the magnetically imposing chieftain Khal Drogo on “Game of Thrones.” The truth, of course, is that his breakthrough came only after a long, hard slog through the Hollywood hinterlands. Lately, Momoa, who is 42, has been taking on the perhaps even harder challenge of expanding that initial impression. To that end, Momoa, who played the lead in “Aquaman,” tested his acting chops alongside the likes of Oscar Isaac, Javier Bardem and Timothée Chalamet in the director Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the classic sci-fi novel “Dune,” which is due out in October. Before then, in late August, Momoa will star in the Netflix thriller “Sweet Girl,” which nods to big-pharma corruption amid its hard-boiled milieu, as well as the second season of his Apple series, “See,” a family drama dressed in bloodstained, post-apocalyptic clothing. “I’m finally getting to play characters with depth and color,” Momoa says, speaking over Zoom from London, where he was shooting an “Aquaman” sequel. “It’s been a long road, bro.”
I’m curious to hear your perspective on superhero movies. People love them, obviously, but you also get things like Martin Scorsese saying they’re closer to amusement-park rides than cinema. These are films made with a focus on sales, but how much room do you feel you have to also make them artistically credible?
It’s like how people say that music is poppy and this music cool. But you know how hard it is just to get your music out there for people to hear? It’s all subjective. I try not to pick on anything. So, yeah, superhero movies are bubble gum, but they’re like Greek mythology: They have good and evil and heartbreaking moments. And, gosh, you’re taking away other art forms if you stop making them. You’re taking away visual effects, you’re taking away what you can do with makeup. I’m not someone who gets hired to play in a lot of cinema, but by being able to do a superhero movie, I can make a movie about something I really care about. I have a vision for the whole totality of “Aquaman.” There are environmental issues that I get to put into it. So while you’re going, “Oh yeah, it’s just this popcorn movie,” I’m like, “Well, I get to open people’s eyes to things that are important to me.”
In my reading of your career, it seems as if it wasn’t until you played Khal Drogo and had a clear persona that the starring roles started coming. Does that jibe with your experience?
No. People were like, “Oh, we love Jason,” but still didn’t know what to do with me. Then Zack Snyder called and he wanted me to audition for Batman, and I was like, “Nah.” I couldn’t see myself getting Batman, so I almost said no to the whole thing. But I did the audition, and I played it like if Batman was this vagrant, kind of a hustler. I knew they weren’t going to cast me, so I thought I might as well just do something fun. I did that and it was exactly what Zack wanted for Arthur Curry. So he called me in to the office, and he’s like, “Do you know who I want you to play?” And I’m like, “Lobo.” He’s like, “No, not Lobo.” And I’m like, “That’s the only person who can take on Batman, Superman.” He said: “The good news is you’re Aquaman. The bad news is no one is going to know for the next three to four years.” Then it was brutal, just trying to take odd jobs: You’re in one scene of “Justice League” or “Batman” or “Superman.” Then you get to “Aquaman.”
I saw a preview screening of “Dune” and —
Oh, you lucky [expletive]. How great is that?
It was a cool movie to see on a big screen.
It was a cool movie. You know what they need to do? They need to make the four-to-six hour version of the first half. It’s like, “Let’s watch the four-to-five-hour movie like a TV show; I can choose when I want to watch the whole thing.” I want to see Denis’s whole vision. I don’t want it to be trimmed.
A lot of your character’s dialogue is heavy sci-fi exposition. How did you think about the challenge of delivering that material in an interesting way?
That scene was terrifying. I’m like, “If you [expletive] this up, Momoa.” You want to know how I delivered that? I was having the time of my life. Because I’m so stoked to be getting a master class with these actors around me. And the crazy thing is, I see Denis, he goes up to Javier Bardem, and he’s giving him notes. I’m like, “How is he giving him notes?” He’s giving him notes, he’s coming back and the delivery is even better! I’m the worst at notes. If I don’t come in and know my [expletive], I’m going to get too much in my head. I’m not good in my head. I’ve got to be animalistic, primitive. I’ve got to book it in the first three takes. After that I’m [expletive]. So I do my stupid jargon and not one note. I’m like, “Thank Christ.”
I don’t know how much you followed any of this, but “Game of Thrones” inspired a lot of discussion about its depiction of scenes of sexual assault and its treatment of women generally. Do you think differently today about those scenes? Would you do one now? Do you have any regrets? Those types of scenes can seem as if they belong to an older cultural moment.
Well, it was important to depict Drogo and his style. You’re playing someone that’s like Genghis Khan. It was a really, really, really hard thing to do. But my job was to play something like that, and it’s not a nice thing, and it’s what that character was. It’s not my job to go, “Would I not do it?” I’ve never really been questioned about “Do you regret playing a role?” We’ll put it this way: I already did it. Not doing it again.
The first episode of the new season of “See” opens with a big fight scene among you and a few other actors. I was wondering about how, in a scene like that, an actor balances the technical aspect of hitting his marks and nailing the choreography with incorporating emotion. In those instances does the former have to supersede the latter?
When you watch it, do you feel like there’s a character in there? If it looks like I’m doing those moves without any character attached — I mean, you see my character talking to his son, telling him how he’s trying to train him. It’s filled with nuances. But if you can’t see that? For a long time, my career was just doing action, and that was the way that I could express my characters. There’s a lot of physicality to my acting, and it’s different for each character. One thing which I kind of am bummed about is the respect action gets. People absolutely love it, and it’s not respected at the Oscars. It’s always kind of funny to me when you work with other actors and they’re fantastic, and then when you have to do something physical with them and they’re not good at it. It’s like, That’s your job.
You said you have a vision for the whole totality of “Aquaman.” Are you able to articulate that vision for me?
You also mentioned how being in superhero movies can allow you to make movies you really care about. What other kinds of movies would those be?
The ones I wanted to do we’re doing, and I can’t really talk about it. This is just the wrong time. You’ve got three subjects to talk about: You’ve got “See,” you’ve got “Dune,” you’ve got “Sweet Girl.” It’s unfortunate I can’t talk about it, but we have enough other things to talk about.
All right. I’ve read about how you had a period after “Baywatch: Hawaii” when you were sort of a vagabond. What can you tell me about that time in your life?
I was rock climbing. I pretty much lived out of this Airstream outside of L.A. and I was tired of waiting by the phone and waiting for auditions, and I just went climbing. If I didn’t hear anything, I would climb. I was also interested in different religions, and so I went to France and Italy. Went to Tibet. Went to Japan. I kind of lived out all my dreams.
Do you ever miss those days?
No. I did it to the fullest. Lived the real [expletive].
What do you mean by “lived the real [expletive]”? Is there a memory that comes to mind?
Not really for you. Or for the world.
So, beyond its action elements, what are the aspects of “Sweet Girl” that you think might resonate?
How could big pharma not register with people right now? I’ve never played anything like that before, never researched anything like that before. Big pharma’s pretty scary, buddy.
What research stood out for you?
I don’t really want to talk about big pharma right now.
OK, I guess we’re done. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.
Yeah, and I wanted to bring something up that left a bad feeling in my stomach. When you brought up “Game of Thrones,” you brought up stuff about what’s happening with my character and would I do it again. I was bummed when you asked me that. It just feels icky — putting it upon me to remove something. As if an actor even had the choice to do that. We’re not really allowed to do anything. There are producers, there are writers, there are directors, and you don’t get to come in and be like, “I’m not going do that because this isn’t kosher right now and not right in the political climate.” That never happens. So it’s a question that feels icky. I just wanted you to know that.
Yeah, well, thanks again.