MO­MOA PLUMBS NEW DEPTHS AS AQUA­MAN

HE’S LOV­ING PLAY­ING A LIGHTER AND FUN­NIER CHAR­AC­TER THAN IN GAME OF THRONES – AS HE BAT­TLES FOR THE SUR­VIVAL OF THE PLANET... AND OF DC

The Daily Examiner - - WEEKEND - WORDS: SEANNA CRONIN

For a man who’s got a $160 mil­lion block­buster – and to some ex­tent the fu­ture suc­cess of DC’s cine­matic uni­verse – rid­ing on his shoul­ders, Ja­son Mo­moa seems sur­pris­ingly re­laxed.

It’s July 4, 2017, on the Gold Coast, a hol­i­day for Mo­moa and many of his Amer­i­can co-stars and crew­mates, and I’m part of a small group of jour­nal­ists vis­it­ing the Aqua­man set – or the Ahab set as it was known dur­ing film­ing.

After a busy morn­ing and lunch, the af­ter­noon has hit a bit of a lull.

Pa­trick Wil­son is film­ing a three-sec­ond clip for an un­der­wa­ter fight scene and with him sur­rounded by blue screen it’s a very te­dious, tech­ni­cal process to make sure ev­ery­thing is just right.

As the same clip plays on re­peat on the screens we’ve been watch­ing, I re­sist thoughts of a nap.

This is when Mo­moa, all 1.93m of him, bursts into talk to us.

As we scram­ble for our notepads and record­ing de­vices, he pulls up a fold­ing chair.

His knees are cov­ered in black sports tape, his un­ruly hair is tied back and he’s dressed in re­laxed ex­er­cise shorts.

“They’re hold­ing me to­gether with some tape,” he jokes. “There are a lot of takes. It’s a huge ac­tion ad­ven­ture film (and) I’m only hu­man.”

Those green eyes, which were so in­tense in

Game of Thrones and shot him to in­ter­na­tional star­dom, are friendly and smil­ing to­day. That lighter and fun­nier side is what he hopes shines through in Aqua­man.

“This is one of the char­ac­ters I’ve brought the most of me into; I’m noth­ing like Drogo,” he says, re­fer­ring to his Game of Thrones char­ac­ter.

“This has a lot more com­edy and cheek­i­ness. No one re­ally knows I smile some­times, so you’re go­ing to see me f---ing smile and maybe have a bit of a wink in my eye.

“My char­ac­ter is gruff; he’s a smart-arse. He’s this blue-col­lar worker and this brawler. He’s some­one who’s been in the dirt. He un­der­stands peo­ple and he’s got hu­man­ity.”

The 39-year-old has made no se­cret of the fact that his favourite su­per­hero is Bat­man and that he au­di­tioned with Jus­tice League di­rec­tor Zach Sny­der for the role, which in­stead went to Ben Af­fleck.

“It was just a gen­eral au­di­tion, you know, it’s al­ways top se­cret. I was think­ing why am I com­ing in? I don’t even look like I have any money. He’s (Bruce Wayne) a bil­lion­aire. I’m not the right ma­te­rial,” he says.

“I got called back in the of­fice – Ben had the role by that point – and he (Sny­der) said ‘Do you know who I want you to play?’ He says ‘Aqua­man’. I say ‘Come again?’ I can’t tell you the things that were flash­ing in my mind. I was think­ing ‘I’m brown; I’ve got a beard’. But when he told me the idea of how he wanted to make him I was like ‘Wow, cool. I’m in’.

“We’ve seen 10 dif­fer­ent Bat­mans, a few Su­per­mans, but we’ve never been un­der­wa­ter. Here’s a guy who’s raised by his fa­ther, his mum could pos­si­bly be out there, pos­si­bly not, and he’s been out on the road by him­self. When he does dis­cover that he has these spe­cial (pow­ers) he doesn’t know what to do with it, then even­tu­ally it’s the man be­com­ing king.”

Be­ing able to breathe un­der­wa­ter, swim at su­per­sonic speed and com­mu­ni­cate with marine life aside, Mo­moa can re­late to Arthur Curry – the son of Queen At­lanna (played by Ni­cole Kid­man) and hum­ble light­house keeper Thomas Curry (played by Te­muera Mor­ri­son, an ac­tor Mo­moa has idolised since 1994’s Once Were War­riors).

With a mother of Ger­man, Ir­ish and Na­tive Amer­i­can her­itage and a fa­ther of Hawai­ian de­scent who grew up in Iowa, Mo­moa knows what it feels like to strad­dle two very dif­fer­ent cul­tures and strug­gle to feel at home in ei­ther of them.

“That movie, Bridges of Madi­son County – that was ba­si­cally one county over,” he says.

“One of the cool things about play­ing this role is that, not that I wasn’t ac­cepted there (in Iowa) but there’s not a lot of (dif­fer­ent) races there. You def­i­nitely stand out. It def­i­nitely helped me, be­ing the out­sider. I like be­ing able to be a bit of the out­cast.”

Mo­moa is no stranger to Aus­tralia, hav­ing spent three years liv­ing in the Barossa out­side of Ade­laide with a for­mer girl­friend. He has fond me­mories of road trips in a troop car­rier, go­ing ev­ery­where from Uluru to Coober Pedy, Coffs Har­bour and the Grampians.

He was more than happy to call the Gold Coast home for nearly six months while he worked on Aqua­man, which took up all nine sound stages at Vil­lage Road­show Stu­dios on the Gold Coast.

Ex­ter­nal sets were also built be­hind neigh­bour­ing Out­back Spec­tac­u­lar, The Spit, Coomera and Hast­ings Point on the Tweed Coast, which dou­bled as the lo­ca­tion for the light­house where Arthur was raised by his fa­ther in Amnesty Bay, Maine.

For di­rec­tor James Wan, it was a case of world-mak­ing as much as it was film-mak­ing.

This is a new en­vi­ron­ment for the su­per­hero world, where char­ac­ters can look and move in all sorts of in­ter­est­ing ways.

How do you make peo­ple move like they’re un­der­wa­ter while film­ing on land?

With only 2 per cent of the movie ac­tu­ally filmed un­der­wa­ter, that re­quired a lot of in­no­va­tion.

For the hand-to-hand fight scenes, a rig shaped like a tun­ing fork was used to sus­pend an ac­tor in the air by a waist har­ness.

Crew dressed head to toe in blue Ly­cra body suits – as un­flat­ter­ing as they sound – could then pro­pel and tilt the ac­tor as they punched, kicked or car­ried out what­ever move was re­quired.

The day I am on set, we see Pa­trick Wil­son hoisted into the tun­ing fork so he can kick an un­known op­po­nent while fly­ing through what will be the wa­ter.

Wil­son used a com­bi­na­tion of Crossfit and power lift­ing to bulk up for the phys­i­cal de­mands of the role.

“They spent hours try­ing to work out this rig and you want to make sure you can do it,” Wil­son says.

“I’m sus­pended in the wa­ter, but I don’t want to be Su­per­man in the Je­sus pose.

“You want to be as re­al­is­tic as pos­si­ble and you have to act on top of that. It’s a learn­ing curve for all of us. Noth­ing like this has ever been done to this scale. Even the VFX (vis­ual ef­fects) peo­ple spend eight or nine months work­ing right up un­til they have to de­liver the film.”

Hav­ing worked with Wan on five films across his In­sid­i­ous and Con­jur­ing fran­chises, Wil­son had no doubt the hor­ror mas­ter could pull off an epic su­per­hero ori­gin story.

“He’s not in­tim­i­dated by scale. You have more toys and it takes a lit­tle longer (com­pared to pre­vi­ous films),” he says.

“He’s got a crazy imag­i­na­tion and he adapts.”

Off screen, Wil­son and Mo­moa bonded so­cially over their shared loves of mu­sic and MMA, and as fa­thers, with their chil­dren meet­ing on set.

“We got along swim­mingly,” Wil­son says, pun most cer­tainly in­tended.

“This is his movie and his fran­chise; I am here to serve the movie. I have no ego about

IT DEF­I­NITELY HELPED ME, BE­ING THE OUT­SIDER. I LIKE BE­ING ABLE TO BE A BIT OF THE OUT­CAST

any of that stuff.”

On screen, they play half-broth­ers at odds over the re­la­tion­ship be­tween At­lantis and the sur­face world.

With his blond hair and full At­lantean her­itage, Orm re­sem­bles the comic book in­car­na­tions of Aqua­man older fans grew up with – the po­lar op­po­site to Mo­moa’s dark and stormy fig­ure.

Even though he is the younger son of Queen At­lanna, Orm be­lieves he is the right­ful ruler of the seas and is work­ing to­wards an al­liance, some­what forced, with the four tribes of the sea to be­come Ocean Mas­ter, a ti­tle with which he aims to wage war on the sur­face world.

Princess Mera (Am­ber Heard) and Arthur’s for­mer men­tor Vulko (Willem Dafoe) be­lieve only Aqua­man can stop him.

“In his mind, cer­tainly, and the peo­ple he’s sur­rounded with – most of them – he is the right­ful ruler of the throne,” Wil­son says.

“He’s a pure-blood At­lantean from a lin­eage of kings. His anger and frus­tra­tion with the sur­face world hav­ing pol­luted his world for cen­turies is very easy to un­der­stand and sym­pa­thise with. Maybe the way he goes about aveng­ing that is a lit­tle ques­tion­able, but that’s what makes it a comic book movie. We start from a real place – a real heart­felt re­sponse to the de­struc­tion of his world and his rea­son for a fight.”

Orm isn’t Aqua­man’s only foe. David Kane, aka Black Manta, is a high-seas pi­rate and mer­ce­nary who blames the aquatic vig­i­lante for the death of his fa­ther.

“As much as it’s an ori­gin story for Aqua­man, it’s also an ori­gin story for Black Manta,” says Yahya Ab­dul-Ma­teen II.

“You meet him when he’s on top. He ex­pe­ri­ences ex­treme tri­umphs and then a low – it hap­pens re­ally, re­ally quickly.

“He’s not a guy with plans to take over the world. He’s not a bad guy; he’s a guy who wants re­venge. Re­venge is a hu­man thing, it’s un­der­stand­able. Ev­ery­one doesn’t have to take it as far as this guy does, but I hope it’s rooted in some­thing that’s real and re­lat­able.” Aqua­man opens in cin­e­mas on Box­ing Day

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