Jason Momoa's Aquaman finally gets his long-awaited stand-alone film this weekend, with the release of the latest instalment in the Worlds of DC franchise. Momoa has already played the super hero in previous DC films, including Justice League, and the actor is also famous for playing tough guy roles like Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones and the title character in the 2011 reboot of Conan the Barbarian.
It comes as some surprise, then, that the fondest memory of the shoot for the man with one of the most intimidating CVs in the business was the moment he slipped into his new costume.
"I actually never told James [Wan, director] this, but my first experience was really beautiful," he says. "I didn't have a mirror, so I put it on, come out of wardrobe, and I get to see his face. And James is always extremely passionate; he lets you know right away. But, like, the absolute joy … he looked like a kid when he beamed. He was super proud. He didn't say anything – I could see it on his face. It was a really beautiful moment."
Being cast as Aquaman
With his surfer dude good looks and Hawaiian heritage, Momoa may seem a natural choice to play DC's amphibian anti-hero, but the actor insists he was surprised when Batman vs Superman and Justice League director Zack Snyder first selected him for the role.
"When Zack first told me I'd been cast, I mean, I wish I had a picture of my face because, you know, I can see Patrick [Wilson, who plays Aquaman's villainous King Orm] being hired for Aquaman," he says. "I am the last person you should be hiring for Aquaman! I thought I'd be playing a villain. But when he explained to me, it was just such an honour. Zack's perspective is so radical, and what it offered to the team in Justice League was something we hadn't seen."
Once the news had sunk in, Momoa admits that he did begin to see parallels between himself and his character – not least through that Hawaiian heritage, and the split personality nature of spending his early years in Hawaii, then growing up in rural Iowa, compared to Aquaman’s dichotomy as a land-dwelling Atlantian:
“Coming from the Polynesian islands, there are so many water gods that we have and so much folklore and mythology about how the islands came about – from Kanaloa to Tomaloa and Maui. I just think it’s the Poseidon story, and I get to play that,” he says. “It is cool being able to relate as someone who is truly of two different cultures, when each of those cultures doesn’t know of the other one. I mean, Hawaii definitely doesn’t know what it’s like in Iowa, and Iowans don’t know much about Hawaiians, so that was something I could draw upon.”
Similarities to his childhood
Momoa found more similarities to Aquaman in his own childhood experience too: “The other thing that helped was just being raised by a single parent, which I think a lot of kids are now,” he says. “I just had me and my mother my whole life, so I could relate Arthur being that close with his father and then running far away and then to come back to my roots. So, those things were definitely relatable to me.”
With so much in common with the comic book character once he scratched the surface, Momoa slipped easily into Aquaman's psyche, but it was a somewhat more prosaic moment when the actor says he really felt he became Aquaman: ""When was the first time I really felt like Aquaman?" Momoa ponders. "I definitely felt it during Justice League. I'm sitting on the Batmobile, staring at Batman and Wonder Woman. I'm like 'I'm surfing the Batmobile. This is the coolest thing ever!' And my kids looked at me in that same way. So, it definitely sunk in on Justice League."
Why he's waiting to watch the film with his kids
We may have met Aquaman as a supporting character in previous DC movies, but this is his first chance to shine in his very own film. So what can we expect to learn about the character that we don’t already know? “What I think is so great about this story is that he really is this reluctant hero. He’s someone who has a great power that isn’t harnessed. He’s tried to save people. He’s lost people. He’s loved people,” Momoa says. “And he isn’t really accepted. Atlantis doesn’t want him and he can’t just go do that on land; he’s going to be a freak. So, he’s alone. And I think it’s the strong women behind him, and his father who’s always believed in him, that get him there. He’s heard that all the time: it’s the people that we’re surrounded by that make us kings.”
In fact, Momoa reveals that he doesn't yet know himself exactly what we might learn about Aquaman, and his alter ego Arthur, from the film – he hasn't watched it yet. Once again, there's a surprisingly soft-hearted reason for the hard man's abstention: "I'm actually waiting – and I don't mean to be disrespectful – but I haven't seen Aquaman because it's the first time I'll be able to watch something with my kids," he said. "And I'm going to be really probably emotional and affected, and then being able to hold their hands. I'm getting affected right now. It's going to be a really cool moment to be a dad with a ten year-old and an eleven year-old. It's pretty special."