In the medieval fantasy series, Game of Thrones, Jason Momoa taps on his Hawaiian warrior heritage to make his character, the Dothraki chieftain Khal Drogo, come to life. Standing at close to 2-metres tall, the 32-year-old — formerly seen on Baywatch Hawaii and Stargate: Atlantis — makes for an imposing warrior-king figure. Which is perfect because Drogo, as Momoa describes him, is a "bad ass."
Game of Thrones is an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s bestselling fantasy book series, A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s set in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and revolves around the struggle for the Iron Throne — the seat of power in this kingdom — among warring nobles. One of those vying for the throne is the brother and sister pair of Viserys and Daenerys Targeryn, exiled children of the previous king. Daenerys is married off to Drogo, who in turn, has promised an army for Viserys to retake the Iron Throne.
As a warlord, Drogo is a fierce warrior and leader to his men, but as a husband, he displays a different side to his character. Momoa says, "He (Drogo) starts off as this lion and slowly you get to see he falls in love with this woman. He goes against his own clan because he believes in this woman wholeheartedly."
To bring out the dual sides of his personality, Momoa shares how some of his personal experiences have helped. "I like to pull up the history of my family, the warrior side of my heritage. But having said that, becoming a father brings out a certain protectiveness and strength. And I had a pretty bad accident in my life; I had my whole face sliced apart by this guy – I had 140 stitches in the left side of my face. It’s one of the things I can harness as an actor. I can show how that kind of thing plays inside when I am summoning up the warrior."
Momoa shares more about his experience as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones, which airs for local audiences on HBO on August 28.
How did you get the role?
Jason: I went into the audition and asked if I could try something different, so I did a haka. I thought (Drogo) is a king, a war lord who goes into battle, so how can I show it? I knew it would be memorable. I went into the audition as this 6ft 5 Hawaiian and did a haka – and there were two little white women sitting behind a desk and I looked like I was going to kill them. They remembered me. It also got me Conan because it was the same casting director. I’m half Hawaiian and the haka is a very sacred thing; something your family teaches you – my father taught me. I did it at my cousin’s funeral and I’ve been in New Zealand and Australia and learned different hakas. I was nervous but it worked.
You only say about two words in the first two episodes – do you get more lines?
He is a man of few words at the start, but by the fourth episode, I get tons of dialogue, but it is all in Dothraki, which is a new language made up for this, so it is like learning gibberish and trying to make sense of it. I had one big monologue that took a month to learn. It was really heavy. There is Dothraki in the book but the idea originally was that Drogo would speak in broken English but that didn’t make any sense. This one little white girl who arrives in his tribe is going to learn Dothraki. Drogo is not going to learn to speak English.
How difficult was it doing the sex scenes with Emilia Clarke (who plays Daenerys Targaryen)?
Those were my first ever sex scenes and they were very awkward because they are really rape scenes. Emilia and I are very close, I love her like a sister, but it was uncomfortable being naked and hurting my friend. It was a pretty horrific feeling, hurting someone like that. But then as an actor, I want to go to these places and feel these things. All I could do was give her a couple of big kisses afterwards and say I was sorry.
You star as Conan in the new movie this summer – this must be quite a year for you?
I got Game of Thrones before Conan. I got the script for Conan before we shot the pilot and they took four months and didn’t find their Conan before they came back to me. Conan is a great action adventure and I think people are going to love it. It’s not a remake of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie. We are using the same character but it’s a different story. I feel honored to be doing it. It has been a year of becoming a man, of success and providing for my family. The casting process took six or seven months. They hired only two Americans – Peter Dinklage (who plays Tyrion Lannister) and me.
You are shirtless for Game of Thrones and Conan. How do you stay in shape?
It’s not fun – I love Guinness. I tried to change my body for both roles. Drogo is a king so he has people who fight for him. He doesn’t have to fight himself anymore so he drinks and eats and ****s. I wanted to get bulky, to look really huge so I lifted really heavy weights and ate. Playing Drogo was perfect. For the pilot I wasn’t as big – I only knew I had got it two weeks before we started, but by the time I got Conan, I was big.
For Conan I had to get into shape again, get really fit. I was eating chicken breasts every six hours and spent six hours a day training to get really really fit. What sucked was at the end of playing Drogo there were some reshoots of Conan, so I had to get in shape again. I’m still trying to get back to my normal body shape. I started out as between 215 and 220lbs (97 – 99kg), I went up to 250 lbs but I may have changed my body shape for good.
Catch Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones, premiering Sunday, August 28 at 10pm on HBO (Starhub Ch 601).
Pictures and interview courtesy of HBO. Watch the trailers at www.hboasia.com/gameofthrones.