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BRITISH GQ: If anyone has the authority to tell us to clean up the planet, it’s Aquaman. So GQ sat down to talk to him about his efforts to rescue the ocean from plastic pollution and (yes, really) maybe even rescuing Timothée Chalamet again in Dune.

Jason Momoa doesn’t exactly love that he keeps dying, if you really want to get into it. “My kids are always like, ‘Are you gonna die again? You always die,” he says, a little forlornly. “I obviously made a name for myself dying so if you see me it’s like, ‘Momoa’s gonna jump on the bomb, I know it!’”

Thus far he has been shot in the head, blown up, smothered, died by suicide, had his throat slashed, and been stabbed in both the stomach and the chest. It was watching his most recent death, in Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi spectacular Dune with his 12-year-old son, that really got to him. “It was pretty heart wrenching, cause I was like, ‘I’m right here buddy!’ But he was like, ‘Papa nooooooooo,’ he recalls, howling like a dog at the moon. “I said: ‘Listen dude: if you’re gonna go out, go out big.’”

Which might make it sound as though the Aquaman actor is a mere mortal, but if you saw Jason Momoa walking down the street (and not, say, emerging from the ocean with a trident in his hand, and the
promise of avenging his sea queen mother glinting in his eye) you might still wonder if this towering man didn’t arrive on dry land using a branch of coral as a surfboard, having caught a wave from a kingdom far more exciting than anywhere on planet earth. Some actors inhabit characters nothing like themselves; others play those that seem forged in their own image. Jason Momoa, built like a Land Cruiser, with a tangled mane of dark hair, and wide, open face topped with arched eyebrows, belongs to the latter camp. The army of otherworldly alphas the 42-year-old has played include a barbarian combatant hellbent on revenge (Conan the Barbarian), a Dothraki warlord (Game of Thrones), the warrior leader of the Alkenny tribe (See), a tribesman from planet Sateda in the Pegasus Galaxy (Stargate Atlantis), and, most famously, a majestic sea king (Aquaman).

In the comic books and DC mega movies, Aquaman rules over the kingdom of Atlantis, protecting the planet and all the lands that lurk beneath the surface of the ocean. But lately, Momoa just wants to walk through a shop without seeing a plastic bottle that will end up floating in the sea for the next thousand years.

“Every day there’s a dumpster fire,” he says. “Yes we’re trying to go green but what are the batteries doing? What are we doing to indigenous cultures and what does that mean? I’m not just going to blindly do this, there’s got to be proper laws written around these things. I don’t like bitching, I want to do something. But I feel like I don’t have much time,” he says over Zoom, his voice filled with the mixture of theatrical urgency and wide-eyed sincerity that you’d expect from a superhero at a moment of crisis, the ticking clock of an action movie hurrying him along almost audible in the background.

And to be fair, he’s not wrong. We are speaking in early July when Momoa is in London to shoot Fast and Furious 10. Two weeks from now the UK will witness the hottest temperature on record as motorways bend from the force of the sun and train tracks spontaneously burst into flames.

So he’s doing something. In June of this year Momoa was designated the UN Environment Programme’s Advocate for Life Below Water, working alongside charities and scientists to raise awareness and funding for the triple threat of crises we are facing of climate change, biodiversity loss and extreme pollution. Celebrity activism is often regarded at best as naive do-gooding and at worst as cynical branding. Momoa, though, is genuinely passionate about being Aquaman on screen and off. His advocacy has seen him campaign for reducing single-use plastic pollution, in part by setting up aluminium-bottled water company Mananalu, who remove plastic headed toward the ocean. He’s also collaborated on a range of plastic-free clothing and sporting apparel, from trainers to T-shirts.
Jason Momoa Aquaman and real life superhero is on a quest to save the ocean

So far his quest has seen him make an impassioned speech in front of the UN, and issue a desperate plea to Coca-Cola’s packaging company to start using aluminium to bottle water. This cause is personal to Momoa, because as it happens his origin story is about water, too.

Growing up in the landlocked Midwest, Momoa would stick posters of surfers inside his locker even though the other kids, all of whom looked totally different to him, would make fun of him for being a surfer dude. He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii; his mother a photographer with Irish, German and Pawnee tribe ancestry, his father a painter with Native Hawaiian roots. When he was six months old he moved with his mother to Norwalk, Iowa, but growing up still felt the pull of the island he first landed on 4,000 miles away. One summer, Momoa remembers taking a yellow bus that wound its way all the way down to the Florida Keys to study at a marine biology camp and marvel at the creatures that lived beneath waves. “My dad was always in the water, you couldn’t get him out,” Momoa says. “He was a steersman and when I was younger I idolised him and my uncles and my cousins because they’re all surfers.” In the summers when he returned to Honolulu he took part in the Junior Lifeguard Program, which would end up being Method acting-level training for his first big break on Baywatch: Hawaii in the ‘90s, and after finishing high school he returned home to enroll in the University of

For Momoa’s whole life, water has been where he feels safe and the place he always seems to come back to. But when he was approached by director Zack Synder about starring in the 2016 film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, he couldn’t envisage someone who looked like him being given the chance to play DC comics’ resident king of the sea. “When Zack told me he wanted me to play Aquaman, I was like, ‘What? that’s like the farthest thing [from what I thought] I would ever be’. Then he laid it out and I thought, ‘Why can’t it be someone of Polynesian descent?’”
He took to the role like a 6”4, 200 lb man to water, landing a standalone eponymous movie alongside Nicole Kidman, Patrick Wilson and Amber Heard two years later. In the Justice League films, Aquaman is part of a gang of heroes tackling intergalactic threats, but his own film franchise has taken on a new life as a thinly-veiled metaphor for the destruction of the planet. Aquaman lays the blame for polluting the world on the behaviour of humankind, lamenting as the skies burn and the oceans boil. “These superhero movies dominate our market, which I have my own thoughts on because I love cinema, but we try to put out a positive message and go on an adventure,” he says. “Aquaman is the most made-fun-of superhero in the world. But it’s amazing to be able to bring awareness of what is happening to our planet. It’s not some story that’s been told over and over, [it’s a] movie about what’s happening right now but in a fantasy world.”

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, which will be released next year, leans further into climate change allegory. Surprisingly, then, it’s also “a lot funnier” than its predecessor, Momoa says. “I have a great time with… there’s a lot of…. It’s a throwback to…” he says, buffering as his brain calculates what he’s actually allowed to reveal. “I don’t want to give too much away. But we really get to speed up what is going to happen to this earth, and it’s not because of aliens.”

The sequel features a scene in which Aquaman’s alter-ego Arthur Curry gives a grand speech to the UN warning them of the disaster looming on the horizon. Things came full circle for the actor earlier this year when he addressed the real United Nations himself. Momoa was at the UN’s Ocean Conference in June in Lisbon; his daughter Lola, 15, and son Nakoa-Wolf, 13, who he shares with his ex-wife Lisa Bonet, were both seated in the front row. At the end of the talk they were called on in the audience to answer the final question – “What do you think we can do right now to change the world?” – which they took on as though they’d been asked where the toilet was. “It made me feel extremely proud seeing them speak for themselves and take this heavy moment in,” Momoa says. “I’m not as young as I used to be. It’s scary having kids and knowing what is going to happen to our planet if we don’t change shit now.”

When it comes to his movie career, Momoa hopes he is witnessing a shift from cinema always having “a white guy that saves the day” toward telling stories from different perspectives, a trend he’s keen to continue now as a screenwriter. Take, for example, The Last Manhunt, which Momoa just sold the rights for alongside his writing partner Thomas Pa’a Sibbett. A double murder story set in the desert, the film will reimagine the western story of outlaw Willie Boy from an Indigenous perspective, with a broadly Native American ensemble cast. He’s hopeful this prevents things going terribly wrong after the cameras have stopped rolling and he no longer has a say. “I’ve been a part of a lot of things that really sucked, and movies where it’s out of your hands,” he says. “Conan [the Barbarian] was one of them. It’s one of the best experiences I had and it [was] taken over and turned into a big pile of shit.”

Was he pleased to get out of Game of Thrones before the much-derided 2019 finale rolled around? “It would have been great to stay on it across the seasons, but it’s just the way Drogo had to go,” he says, seemingly at peace with dying from a battle wound, being brought back to life in a vegetative state, and finally burned alive before the end of season two.

Khal Drogo was a certain type of brutish barbarian that Momoa is now hopeful he can leave behind, and play a wider range of men as cinema starts to meaningfully challenge ideas about masculinity. “It’s been hard because people always think I’m just this dude who plays [macho characters],” he says. “But I want to be moved, I want something new. Things are changing, and even the villain roles I’m playing now are eccentric.” In the tenth Fast and Furious film, Momoa plays a villain whose toenails are painted purple and pink, with a lavender car to match, and who enjoys laughing maniacally as he blows up co-star Ludacris’s car. “I’m a peacock at the highest level and I’m having the time of my life,” he grins. He’ll also star in an Apple TV series, Chief of War, set in 18th-century Hawaii (“when the white men showed up”) which he describes as being “Braveheart-style”, as well as action-comedy comic book adaptation Slumberland later this year.

One film he won’t be returning for is Dune 2, on account of the fact that everyone (not to mention his son) quite clearly saw his character Duncan Idaho die. Still, don’t count him out for good just yet, as Villeneuve has recently made clear his wishes to adapt Frank Herbert’s book Dune: Messiah into a third movie, and in that book Duncan Idaho is reborn as the clone Hayt.

“Have you read the books?” Momoa asks slyly when pressed about a potential return. “Well, I mean the books are proof… so I’m not the one spoiling it here. So, you should continue reading,” his smile spreads, “I love that world and I’m very happy to be a part of it.”

Back on earth, Momoa’s personal mission to rid the world of plastic reached its dramatic climax in an unexpected place. When Momoa went to the packaging giant Ball about the need to put water into aluminium bottles rather than plastic packaging (you imagine, again with that countdown clock tick-tocking as he spoke) he found himself facing resistance. Sorry, they told him, they didn’t bottle water in aluminium. And so Momoa pulled out the big guns: “Well you fucking do now, because I’m Aquaman!”

And guess what? They do now.

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