Momoa plays the Netflix series’ Declan Harp, a character so tough — the actor would have you believe — that he could make even his Game of Thrones character Khal Drogo back down. Declan lives in the wilderness with the tribes of 1700s Canada — right about the time the residents of that region to the south were about to declare it their own country.
Declan’s already lost everything when he shows up all bloody from battle. He just wants to find the people who took his family and serve them frontier justice, when the politics of the fur trade get in his way.
Momoa’s Drogo had only one season — and one ghost appearance — on HBO mega-hit Game of Thrones, but remains a beloved character in the series. Now he’s DC Films’ Aquaman — seen briefly in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, to appear in this November’s Justice League movie, and then headlining his own Aquaman film the year after.
In between blockbusters, Momoa has been concentrating on telling Native stories. He played Native Americans in the series The Red Road and his directorial debut Road to Paloma. In Frontier, he plays a Métis who can speak Cree.
Momoa spoke with Rotten Tomatoes by phone this week to discuss Frontier and his superhero career, including the truth about his role in The Crow reboot.
Fred Topel for Rotten Tomatoes: Since you did The Red Road and Road to Paloma too, are Native American stories and the history of indigenous cultures really important to you?
Jason Momoa: Absolutely. It’s an honor to be a vehicle that actually can get these stories made and out there. I think the more that these superhero movies are helping me get a bigger name and people want to see me — or maybe Game of Thrones helped — it’s an honor. These are the stories I want to tell. The movies I want to direct pretty much revolve around that.
RT: You’re from Hawaii, so what is your connection to Native Americans and Indigenous Canadians?
Momoa: My grandmother has a small amount of Native in her. She’s Pawnee, but when it gets to me, there’s little to nothing but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to bring justice to a lot of stories and a lot of things people don’t know about. It’s what I find interesting, the disenfranchised and people that don’t get to tell their story.
RT: The Red Road and Road to Paloma were modern-day Native American stories. What did it mean to you to get to portray one in the historical frontier period?
Momoa: I had a lot of Canadians come to me and be like, “Wow, we had to learn this in school.” They definitely had to learn more in school than we did in America, but the fur trade was huge up there. They’re just so bored and didn’t want to learn anything about it. In actuality, it was pretty horrific what was happening in those times, all the different warring nationalities — the Scots, French, and Irish fur traders to the Métis and the Cree and then obviously the English [Hudson’s Bay Company]. It’s a neat and interesting time to see how Canada was shaped — North America was shaped for that matter.
RT: Is this era really in the heart of when the worst oppression happens?
Momoa: Absolutely. We just shot the second season, and I didn’t really want to sugar coat anything that was happening in those times. We definitely pick up some controversial things that are happening with every nationality. There’s a lot in this season and then there’s even more in the second. Hopefully, people love it, but we took a big step this year for putting a lot more out there.
RT: Given the fraught history of this time, is Declan inevitably a tragic figure?
Momoa: He definitely is a tragic figure. When the writers came to my house and told me what this guy was made of, it mirrored Drogo a little bit for me, where you’re not going to like him in the beginning, but you’re going to be really curious what this guy’s made of or what his story’s about. You’re really drawn into this. It’s not evil, but you’re pulled in by him.
When you find out why he’s doing the things that he’s doing, then it really sets in as a father and a husband. If you take my wife and my children away from me, what do you think is going to happen? I can’t really fathom that, but as an actor to be able to play that, wrapped up in this time period in this lawless land, I get to take my revenge. It’s got heart to it, and I wanted to experience that. In episode five, I’ve never, ever, ever, ever been to those places before as an actor, as a human. That’s definitely why I signed on. This is two months of my life, six weeks of my life, to dedicate to really good material in this little timeframe that I can fit in between doing these movies and do great characters, and stories that are American stories.
RT: What should we look forward to in episode five?
Momoa: They torture me pretty much most of the episode. They can torture me as much as they want to. I’m already a shell of a man. I’m already dead. They tell me every detail of what they did to my family. It’s pretty horrible. There’s really no way to practice as an actor, because I’m not going to sit in that mindset. I don’t want to think about it or talk about it. You just have to show up, know what you need to say, and disappear into that world. It’s tough to shake off and some grip or sound guy comes up and says, “Bro, I couldn’t even hold the boom, I was bawling.” You can’t really talk that day. I don’t have too many of those moments because most people hire me for other reasons, so I was really honored to be able to play those things.
RT: Did you learn to speak Cree?
Momoa: Oh no, I did not. It’s interesting because I have a lot of native actors surrounding me: Zahn McClarnon who was in The Red Road.
RT: And Fargo.
Momoa: Yeah. You talk to them and they learn all these different Native languages. Which one’s the hardest? He just finished on as a Comanche whisperer. One was a Navajo. It’s hard. It’s tough enough just to get your lines out when you’re doing something and do it respectfully. To learn the whole language would take more time than I had.
RT: Did you take on a specific Native American style of fighting?
Momoa: You know what really inspired me? One of my favorite all time movies is Last of the Mohicans. I definitely watched some of my friends who are Natives. I kind of take on certain things and if I see something, I’ll put it in there. So I definitely take inspiration from that.
RT: Justice League is coming before your Aquaman movie, so how much of Justice League is underwater?
Momoa: I don’t even know if I’m supposed to answer that. We’ll just say there are some underwater moments.
RT: Have they figured out how you can speak underwater?
Momoa: Yeah, we shot it. We sure can.
RT: James Wan has been talking about the sea monsters he wants to create for Aquaman. Have you had those conversations with him?
Momoa: Seen ’em. Oh yeah, I’ve read it, I’ve seen it, I’ve been to show and tell. It’s amazing. I’m ecstatic to start.
RT: Did you have reservations about doing The Crow both for the tragic history of the first film and all the troubles the current one has had?
Momoa: Well, I’m not signed on to The Crow.
RT: Has Hollywood been trying to groom you to be a new action hero?
Momoa: I just would rather be able do really good work. I think I’ve pretty much got my hands full with playing Aquaman. I’m excited to direct my own stuff where I’m not going to be the action figure. I can’t wait to do a comedy. I’d love to do it all. I don’t want to set any limitations, but if they need me to action, it’s easy to do that for me. I enjoy it, but there’s a lot of other things I’d love to do first. I definitely have a lot of action coming out.
RT: When do you direct again?
Momoa: After Aquaman. I had to wait until my name’s big enough. I’ll do Aquaman, if season 3 went, I’d come and do that for this show which would take me pretty much into the year 2018, and then probably start prep. I’d love to start prep unless something huge came up where I couldn’t do it. That’s my goal, to be shooting in late 2018.
Netflix will release Frontier on Friday, January 20