From Conan the Barbarian to Ronon Dex in Stargate: Atlantis to Dothraki ruler Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones, Jason Momoa has specialized in playing larger-than-life warriors in the fantasy realm. But this summer the muscular movie star breaks new ground as director, producer, co-writer and star of the contemporary indie film Road to Paloma. The story? A Native American—wanted for murder after avenging his mother’s rape and killing—embarks on an epic motorcycle road trip to scatter her ashes.
Opening in select cities on July 11 and available on Blu-Ray, DVD and On Demand on July 15, the film features Sarah Shahi and Momoa’s wife, Lisa Bonet, in key roles. Momoa, who just signed on to play Aquaman in 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, discusses Road’s road to the screen, sex scenes with his wife and the downside of speaking Dothraki.
“I was selling T-shirts in Hawaii and Baywatch just happened. Then it took me eight years to prove to people that I can actually act.”
What inspired Road to Paloma?
My friend Robert Mollohan [co-star and co-writer] heard some stories about the crime epidemic on reservations. In 2011, when we made the movie, 86 percent of the reported crimes were committed by non-Natives. We wanted to bring attention to it. And we wanted to make a road movie. This one makes you think: If someone came in and hurt your mother and the law didn’t take care of it, what would you do? This is a man who can’t go back to his old life. He’s made a choice but does it define him as a murderer?
How was it wearing all the hats—writer, director, producer, actor?
I wanted to tell an amazing story, and you wear what you gotta wear to make it happen. You don’t sleep a lot, I’ll tell you that much!
You’re Hawaiian on your father’s side but you have some Native American ancestry on your mother’s, right?
Yeah, my grandmother does, but by the time it gets to me it’s so small. Hawaiian Islanders are native, too—we’re just across the big pond.
Do you have the directing bug now? What does it give you that acting doesn’t?
I want to continue acting but ultimately I’d like to be behind the camera. I really enjoy it. It’s nice seeing something through from writing to wardrobe, making all those choices.
You were also involved in the music.
I love music and I wanted to hook up all my friends and expose their talents. The Road to Paloma soundtrack will come out July 24; we’re going to release some vinyl later. We’re on Instagram under Pride of Gypsies.
You ride your own motorcycle in the movie. Any mishaps?
That’s Mabel, named for my grandmother. I’ve had her forever. We had some close calls. I went down, so did my buddy Robert.
We’re pretty sure this is what Mars Bonfire pictured when he wrote Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild.”
You have a very intimate scene with your wife Lisa. Does the fact that she’s your wife make shooting it any less awkward?
It was awkward. It always is. But we’re being the characters, not us—you’ve got to protect that, you know? I wrote the part for her and she was amazing. She killed it. I always wanted to work with her.
You also did The Red Road together for Sundance Channel.
Yeah, we’ll be doing the second season of that in September. That’s something that’s happening in society too, with the Native tribes.
When did you know you wanted to act?
I don’t think I did. I think it kind of just found me. I was selling T-shirts in Hawaii and Baywatch just happened. Then it took me eight years to prove to people that I can actually act. But I got a lot of great friends out of that show and I fell in love with acting. I did North Shore and Stargate: Atlantis after that.
Then Game of Thrones really put you on the map.
It really did. When I read it I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever read. It was an honor to be a part of it. But it kinda ticked me off ’cause no one thought I spoke English. I was like, “I want to direct my own film and show people what I can do.”
How hard was it to learn Dothraki?
Extremely hard. I have a hard enough time speaking English!
Do you still watch?
Absolutely. It’s family. Some of my best friends are on it. We’re all very close.
Do you like playing badass characters?
I’m not a badass in real life so it’s kind of funny that I play these badasses. But it puts food on the table so I’m happy about that.
How do you prepare physically for a role?
I train two hours a day—hard work and sweat, no tricks. I eat chicken and broccoli every two hours and drink a gallon of water a day.
What else is on your to-do list, professionally and personally?
The script’s done on my second movie, a period piece set in Hawaii in the late 1800s called Enemy in the Valley, It’s my dream project. I’m excited about that and The Red Road. Personally, to be a great father and husband.
Do your kids show interest in show business?
I hope not. There are so many other beautiful arts to take up. I’ll support them in whatever they do but I will definitely not push them into that at all. They’re beautiful children. I’m very happy. I’m a lucky father.
What’s the best thing about fatherhood?
I never loved anything so much in my life. I love watching them sleep and teaching them things that I love to do. Hopefully, they’re your greatest piece of artwork if you do a good job.