Ja­son Mo­moa owes his gi­nor­mous suc­cess to ac­ci­dents, happy co­in­ci­dences and a cou­ple of (fairly big) white lies


The Aqua­man star tells us about his roller coaster ride to make it big in Hol­ly­wood.

For lunch he would like meat on a stick (specif­i­cally: “var­i­ous meats”). To wash it down: dark hops and lots of it (though he changes his mind to “green juice” on the day). Later, he will con­cede to en­joy­ing dark hops so much that he drinks it as of­ten as he can. “I drink it be­cause it tastes good.” When I how-long-is-a-piece-of-a-string him about the amount of it that would the­o­ret­i­cally take to fell a Ja­son Mo­moa, he shrugs; it is im­pos­si­ble to tell how much of Ire­land’s most fa­mous ex­port would be re­quired to down this bull-sized, lus­cious-locked be­he­moth – best known for Game Of Thrones and, now, for play­ing Aqua­man – be­cause it has never hap­pened. We may never know.

Mo­moa pos­sesses an ex­treme, al­most dan­ger­ous amount of vigour. He is ec­static when he sees the log cabin we con­structed for his Short­List cover shoot. He loves the gar­ish and lux­u­ri­ous knitwear, even when he FaceTimes his wife, the ac­tress Lisa Bonet, and she con­sid­ers one of the jumpers “Bill Cosby-ish”. ”Ha ha!” he bel­lows, as he thun­ders around the room, wear­ing his own stressed-look­ing pair of work­boots be­cause his feet are too wide to fit into any of our fancier, cap­i­tal-F fash­ion shoes. He is cheery, de­spite find­ing out the pho­tos he sup­plied for his China visa have been… diplo­mat­i­cally de­clined on ac­count of his chunky jew­ellery, his shaggy hair fill­ing too much of the frame, and his fa­cial ex­pres­sion. His photo has been de­clared far too in-your-face, too Mo­moa-ish, for some­thing as prag­matic as con­di­tional au­tho­ri­sa­tion to a for­eign coun­try, so

he must take it again.

“I don’t nor­mally get to do ‘silly’ things,” he says later, re­flect­ing on the shoot while bit­ing down on a skewer of chicken. “I’m nor­mally hired to play that guy – the bar­bar­ian, the brute. Af­ter Game Of Thrones, no one was think­ing I’d be per­fect for a rom-com.”

Be­tween pho­to­graphs, he amuses him­self by swing­ing an axe around his mus­cu­lar per­son with a play­ful­ness nor­mally re­served for a sparkler on bon­fire night. At his home in Cal­i­for­nia, Mo­moa col­lects knives, tom­a­hawks, plus the oc­ca­sional ‘hog-split­ter’ – that’s a heav­ier blade de­signed for cleav­ing through large an­i­mal car­casses. He says he has more than 60. “You should def­i­nitely call be­fore you come visit,” he says, “They’re huge. I could prob­a­bly throw one, though.”

We meet in Van­cou­ver at the tail-end of sum­mer, as he is be­gin­ning work on a TV show called See for Ap­ple. Be­ing in Canada – with the fresh air, al­mostau­tum­nal leaves on the trees and roughly hewn rock­faces he is des­per­ate to scale with his big arms – makes him think of life af­ter this. Af­ter in­ter­views, film­ing and ne­go­tiable vis­its to China. Af­ter act­ing.

More than any­thing, he wants to ride his mo­tor­cy­cle to Patag­o­nia from Alaska, where he has a buddy.

Mo­moa men­tions many name­less bud­dies who must, I as­sume, all re­sem­ble him in stature and rugged­ness – hulk­ing masses of mus­cle and hair – and live in real cab­ins like the fake one we’ve built. He wants to take a jour­ney last­ing two, maybe three months, through gor­geous vis­tas, meet­ing in­ter­est­ing new peo­ple, spend­ing a bit of time in his own head.

But he can’t. Not yet; there is, un­for­tu­nately, act­ing to be done.

In­clud­ing Aqua­man. Mo­moa cameoed in 2016’s Bat­man V Su­per­man: Dawn Of Jus­tice and then ap­peared in a more fleshed-out role in last year’s Jus­tice League, and now it’s time for Arthur Curry to take cen­tre stage in his own film. De­spite the dol­lar-in­ten­sive na­ture of these gar­gan­tuan su­per­hero movies, the DC uni­verse has not en­joyed the crit­i­cal ado­ra­tion of other such films. Mo­moa knows he’s signed up to some­thing all-con­sum­ing, though, and it doesn’t bother him that this kind of gig will push the bucket-list road trip back many years.

“Peo­ple get this idea that I had a choice with re­gards to what I do,” he says. “Be­ing an ac­tor – for me, any­way – it’s slim pick­ings. At one time, I’d be 20th down the list for a part. I know I’m not first. But I’ve had a ca­reer, I’ve taken ter­ri­ble roles, and I’ve made them good. Most ac­tors can start be­ing picky af­ter a while. I haven’t been in that po­si­tion.”

I ask him what he’d change, then, if he could re­v­erse any de­ci­sion in his 39 years. He ex­cuses him­self to the bath­room to think about it. “To pass judge­ment, on ev­ery­thing that’s come to pass,“he says war­ily, “feels like a tough thing to do.” But here goes.


His act­ing ca­reer was built on a sim­ple white lie. Aged 19, work­ing in his fa­ther’s surf shop be­fore head­ing to col­lege in Colorado, Mo­moa was of­fered an au­di­tion for Bay­watch: Hawaii. When he wasn’t fold­ing T-shirts, he spent his time stand­ing on the beach, with his shirt off, check­ing out girls. One day some­one asked if he’d like to be an ex­tra on the show – which paid $100 (AED367.70) a day for him to stand on the beach, with his shirt off, check­ing out girls. He fig­ured since he was do­ing ex­actly that and mak­ing no money, it was a savvy busi­ness move. “It’s not as though I took Bay­watch to hone my craft,” he says, arch­ing an eye­brow.

But they needed a re­sumé, and he had noth­ing of the sort. “When they asked if I’d done any mod­el­ling, I just said, ’Yeah.’” He was a clean-cut, hand­some dude – who would ar­gue with that? He holds his pad­dle-sized palm out and counts the names: “Louis Vuit­ton, Gucci…” He pauses – had he


fake-mod­elled for Prada? He can’t re­call. “I just made that stuff up. I mean, what are they go­ing to do?”

He was cast, and suc­cess­fully played a head­strong loner, also named Ja­son, be­tween 1999 and 2001, and then again in 2003’s thrillingly bad made-for-TV-movie Bay­watch: Hawai­ian Wed­ding.

Mo­moa then found mod­er­ate suc­cess in the cult mil­i­tary-sci-fi spin-off Star­gate: At­lantis, ap­pear­ing as a dread­locked mer­ce­nary, but it was Game Of Thrones

that made him a global name, af­ter he was cast as Dothraki war­lord Khal Drogo, a bar­baric war­rior who, in the pi­lot episode, weds Emilia Clarke’s ex­iled teen princess Daen­erys Tar­garyen and as­saults her. He fea­tured heav­ily in the show’s first sea­son, be­fore suf­fer­ing the worst fate of all on Thrones – a medi­ocre death (he is smoth­ered with a pil­low af­ter a witch’s ‘treat­ment’ for an in­fected wound leaves him cata­tonic).

Mo­moa’s in­fant daugh­ter used to hang out with him on set, and was there dur­ing film­ing for a scene where Drogo kills one of his sub­jects, an em­bit­tered xeno­phobe called Mago, and rips out his tongue.

“I’d come over to her, cov­ered in blood, and be, like,

‘Hi baby! Papa’s just busy at work.’ She’d look at me, hold­ing this pros­thetic tongue and say,” he puts on a cutesy voice, “‘You’re so silly, Papa.’” The tongue cur­rently re­sides in one of his of­fices.

Com­ing off Thrones hit Mo­moa hard. As Drogo speaks a fic­tional lan­guage in the show, many cast­ing di­rec­tors as­sumed he couldn’t speak English and dis­missed him en­tirely. “Peo­ple didn’t know what to do with me,” he says. When Mo­moa ac­com­pa­nied his step­daugh­ter, the ac­tress Zoë Kravitz, to her ap­pear­ance on hip­ster-bait­ing sketch show Port­landia, he met her co-star Fred Ar­misen, whose “mind was blown” when he heard Mo­moa speak English. Mo­moa was heart­bro­ken; he dreamt of play­ing more than a brute, but that seemed like the only thing peo­ple con­sid­ered him ca­pa­ble of.


Thirty years ago some­one of Mo­moa’s stature could walk into a cast­ing agent’s of­fice and book lead­ing role af­ter lead­ing role. Back then, rugged and out­doorsy was mar­ketable. Broad and beefy was as­pi­ra­tional.

Be­ing nat­u­rally swole – be­fore ‘swole’ was even a thing – was as lu­cra­tive as it gets. But we stopped re­quir­ing our lead­ing men to be larger than life, and now the mas­sive man-units of Hol­ly­wood some­times feel like more of a nov­elty.

“It would be nice to play a doc­tor or a lawyer,” Mo­moa con­cedes. “But the truth of it is, they’ve got some­one to play those roles.” He per­fected the hulk­ing bruiser and sought to do new things with the archetype. Even if his turn as Co­nan The Bar­bar­ian wasn’t a com­mer­cial suc­cess, he still took it on. Maybe he could work some changes from the in­side? His Co­nan starts out wild and vi­o­lent, but lib­er­ates slaves, stands up for the lit­tle guy and avenges his fa­ther’s death – a bar­bar­ian done good. “If I have to play a brute, how about a soft brute or one with a heart of gold? If I got of­fered that then let’s do it, it’s on.”

His take on DC’s Aqua­man is an at­tempt to build on that. The story plays up to Curry’s oth­er­ness: he’s a half-At­lantean, half-hu­man who feels he doesn’t be­long to land or sea but must unite both if he has any hope of pre­vent­ing a war. “I re­lated to Arthur’s feel­ing of ex­clu­sion,” Mo­moa says. His fa­ther, Joseph, is of Na­tive Hawai­ian de­scent, and his mother, Coni, is of Ger­man, Ir­ish and Na­tive Amer­i­can an­ces­try.

“I un­der­stood it com­pletely. I knew it would be an hon­our to play him, but I was scared. Ex­cited that some­one trusted me to do it… but scared allthe



Af­ter the green-screen over­load of Jus­tice

League, Aqua­man al­lowed Mo­moa to do more of what he loves to do: run­ning across stuff, jump­ing off stuff, fight­ing stuff. Get­ting sand in his fin­ger­nails and feel­ing as though he earned the blis­ters on his feet, dili­gently wash­ing the sweat and gunk out of his hair each night and re­al­is­ing that, if act­ing can feel this much like real life, then maybe it’s OK that the mo­tor­bikes and his road trip and his bud­dies and heavy-duty axes have to wait a lit­tle longer.

He’s di­rect­ing next, a film called The Last Man­hunt, and is thrilled that he doesn’t have to be in it. “I’ve had to take many roles just to put food on the ta­ble. It’s not a hard choice. But now, I feel I’ve paid my dues. Some peo­ple get lucky in their ca­reers,” he says, im­ply­ing that he was not one of those peo­ple. “But I’m not wor­ried. I know who I am, and I’m OK with who I am.”


Maybe it’s for the best. He’s got an un­healthy re­la­tion­ship with money any­way. “It’s not my strong suit. But I’m a work­horse. I’m built to work. And I’m do­ing what I love to do, and I’ve got here. But it’s been 20 years of hard work, and you know what? It was never handed to me. What­ever I go on to do, no one can take that away from me.”

As a di­rec­tor, he wants peo­ple to see what’s been in his head – his ideas, his feel­ings, the things he has learned – be­cause it seems as though no one in the in­dus­try is ca­pa­ble of look­ing be­yond the brawn and the beard and the big­ness. And his aim is to do more than com­mand a room by his sheer phys­i­cal pres­ence. “I want peo­ple to see me be funny, and ro­man­tic, not just some big lug,” he says. He launched a YouTube chan­nel so he can let peo­ple in. “I can make some­thing beau­ti­ful and bring aware­ness to the things that I’m stoked about.”

As he’s get­ting ready to leave I re­alise he never told me what he’d change. He stops in the door­way and looks at me.

“Ev­ery wrong de­ci­sion got me here,” he says, shrug­ging. “Yes, bad things hap­pened, but they al­lowed me to be a good dad and raise my kids. I didn’t have to sacri­fice any­thing. I feel like the luck­i­est guy in the world.”

Maybe the prob­lem was ex­pect­ing some­thing pro­found in the first place. Later that day, he shares videos on In­sta­gram chug­ging tankards of black hops, and as I board my plane home he’s driv­ing along a frosty moun­tain road, stick­ing his head out the win­dow, gale forces whip­ping his long locks, grin­ning like a ma­niac. This is Ja­son’s world and, hon­estly, it’s never looked more invit­ing.

Aqua­man is at cinemas na­tion­wide now



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