Momoa: ‘That’s not who I am’
He’s known for his long hair, tattoos and brooding good looks, and now Aquaman star Jason Momoahas been caught up in an online storm over his actions towards Amber Heard on set.
But he told news.com.au his real-life personality is the complete opposite of the tough on-screen persona fixed in our minds from his career-defining role as Games of Thrones savage chieftain Khal Drogo.
Momoa was at the centre of a social media uproar last week after Heard, who plays warrior princess Mera in the DC Comics superhero blockbuster, told Good Morning America he used to rip out the pages of her books so she “would pay attention to him”.
Momoa confessed to the prank on The Hollywood Reporter, and Twitter users piled on customary vigour, calling him “a monster” and “a real d**k”, deeming his behaviour “not remotely OK”.
When we sit down with the Aquaman cast at New York’s Four Seasons Hotel, the first thing that’s striking about Momoa is his gigantic size and bulging muscles. The second is his good humour and charm.
The 39-year-old doesn’t mind a bit that he may forever be associated with a fearsome GoT warlord.
“He couldn’t be further away from who I am as a person, but I’m really happy that people love what I did,” he says. “Game of Thrones is the greatest show on Earth, hands down.
“That is still the greatest show on Earth and will remain the greatest show on Earth and so I’m very happy for my friends and creators of the show. It’s an honour to be recognised as him.”
Heard shrugged off the incident during her television interview, accustomed to handling far more painful public commentary over the breakdown of her marriage to Johnny Depp.
“I don’t care what people judge me about. That’s about them, not me,” Heard tells news.com.au.
A committed activist for women and UN Human Rights Champion, the 32-year-old has bigger things to worry about.
“Women’s rights are important to me because human rights are important to me. I think if you care about one, you care about women’s rights, and it’s a particularly interesting time and I feel very excited to be able to be part of a conversation that is having such profound effects and is shaking things up.”
She was initially “a little bit reluctant” about playing a female superhero in her character’s first movie Justice League.
“I didn’t necessarily feel like from what my limited experience and knowledge of women in this world how they were represented would appeal to my sensibilities,” she says. But after reading the comics, she realised Mera was a “badass, empowered, kick-ass, female warrior princess”.
The cast had a close relationship, hanging out together as they filmed on Australia’s Gold Coast and in Sicily. Momoa was no stranger to Australia, having lived in the Barossa Valley for several years with a former girlfriend.
“What makes Australia so beautiful I think is just the people, the great people who work hard and play hard and they have a great outlook on life,” he says, listing their leisure activities as “going out into nature and just the food … and mostly the grog”.
Momoa’s numerous tattoos add to the bad-boy image, but a half-sleeve of triangles representing shark teeth has a spiritual explanation. It’s a reference to the Honolulu-born actor’s shark aumakua, or family god, which in Hawaiian mythology is an ancestor who has died and come back to life.
Aquaman’s creators used the tatt as inspiration for the designs that cover his character Arthur Curry’s body.
“The father loved his wife (Nicole Kidman) so much that he tattooed his son in an Atlantean, what her suit looked like, and he did it in a Maori way and a Polynesian way and that was romantic and neat and a different perspective.”
Momoa — who is married to actor Lisa Bonet, stepfather to Zoe Kravitz and father to two young girls — says he wouldn’t go as far as that.
“I won’t be tattooing my children, no, but we definitely go to a lot of islands in Polynesia and I want them to know the culture.”
Aquaman, directed by Australian James Wan, is already attracting positive early reviews, grossing $93.6 million in China this weekend to land the top opening for any DC comic book adaptation.
It is Momoa’s biggest movie to date, after he started out with an appearance Baywatch, received rave reviews as a hunter on Stargate: Atlantis, channelled that into the ferocious Khal Drogo and took the lead role in Conan: The Barbarian in 2011.
Critics are hailing the visually magnificent journey to the sunken mythological city of Atlantis as the best superhero movie since Wonder Woman. Its key theme if cultural collision is one that speaks to the Frontier star, who was brought up in Iowa, studied marine biology in the Florida Keys, tried painting in Paris and explored Buddhist teaching in Tibet.
“I liked the fact he’s half this and half that; I could identify with that coming from two strong places of Iowa being one, which is basically like saying you’re from Alice Springs and then Byron,” he says. “So it’s just two very different worlds that your parents grew up to, and then you’ve got to go back to Coober Pedy and you’re going to go back to Byron Bay — it’s very different worlds and I love them both.
“He was always a white character — there’s never been a brown-skinned superhero — and I was like, well, that’s really progressive.”
Another major topic is the environment and how we treat our oceans, but Heard is quick to stress that climate change is not political.
“If you like water, or air or you think it’s necessary then we should be fighting to make sure those things are protected,” she says. “And last time I checked every human kinda needs water and home or land of some sort and air to breathe, and the fact we all need that should be the only reason why we should all care about it and be wanting to do something about it — and nothing could be less political.”
Aquaman is scheduled for release in Australian cinemas on December 26