Alison Prato (writer),
Christopher Beyer (photographer)
For every million struggling actors in the world, there’s one guy like Jason Momoa. He never even really dreamed of becoming an actor—until one day, there he was, starring on a hit TV show. “It was a dream job that literally fell into my lap,” Momoa—referring to his big break on Baywatch—recalls with a laugh. “It was such a shocker to me because it was the last thing on earth I thought I would ever be doing. But it gave birth to my love and passion for acting. It just opened up that world to me.”
Momoa, 32, has parlayed a stint wearing those iconic red bathing trunks into a regular gig on the sci-fi hit Stargate: Atlantis and his most recent (and highest-profile) TV job as Khal Drogo, a savage warrior on HBO’s critically acclaimed series Game of Thrones. This month, Momoa takes on his biggest role yet: starring as Conan the Barbarian on the big screen.
We talked to Momoa as he drove through Los Angeles (alongside his wife, Lisa Bonet) about skateboarding, doing his own stunts, and his familial tattoo.
Inked: Struggling actors must hate you for falling into show business so easily. How exactly were you discovered?
Jason Momoa: My father lived in Hawaii, so I went to see him during a semester off from college. I was 19 years old and working in a family surf shop. Baywatch Hawaii came down there, and so my cousin and I went down there to meet chicks. We thought maybe we could make $100 a day being extras.
Ah. So it was all about getting chicks.
Yep. But you’ve got to have a résumé to get in the door, so we made up a whole bunch of bullshit that we were Gucci models and Louis Vuitton models, and that got us in. Then a month later, I got the lead role on Baywatch. And my whole life changed after that.
So your Wikipedia page is a lie?
Yeah. [Laughs.] It’s hilarious. You had to have something to get in the room, so we made that up. We were just bullshitting.
As a good-looking guy, did you always get a lot of girls?
Barely. I barely even kissed any girls in high school, man.
That’s hard to believe.
It’s true—because their mothers never liked me. I had some girls who were friends, but I didn’t date many people. I wasn’t very big with girls. I had some problems of my own. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I was a virgin until I met my wife. Well, that’s what my wife just told me to say. [Laughs.]
You were born in Hawaii but grew up in Iowa. Were there any kids that looked like you in Iowa?
No, it was all white when I was growing up. It was a farm town, a pretty small town. I was an only child with a single mom. It made me an individual. But I love Iowa. You can eat so much fuckin’ food there, biscuits and gravy and all that stuff. So I lived there but I’d spend summers with my father in Hawaii. Life as a gypsy, you know?
What were you like as a teenager?
There were a lot of wrestlers in town, but I was a skateboarder. Though I wasn’t really a troublemaker. I was actually a good kid until I got out of school.
What about that 2008 bar fight where you got hit with broken glass?
Yeah, I walked into a bar with a friend and a guy hit me in the face with a pint glass, and I had to get 140 stitches. They had to put my face back together. I think he got, like, seven years in prison. He was already on probation for carrying a loaded firearm, so he was a real piece of work.
Was it random?
Yeah—I think he attacked the biggest guy in the room.
You’re 6´4? now. Were you always huge?
No, man. I was short. I started growing my freshman year of college. I didn’t get to 6´4? until I was out of high school. And I think I’m 6´5? now. I’m still growing.