Warlord. Warrior. Baywatch Lifeguard.
Yes, you read that correctly. Jason Momoa, star of HBO’s Game of Thrones and the upcoming Conan the Barbarian movie is quite popular these days, but you’d never guess that it all started from being on Baywatch Hawaii over a decade ago.
Yet, because of a fortuitous audition that lead to him being cast in the two biggest roles of his career to date, Momoa has been able to shake off the beach sand and pick up the steel.
Curiously, Momoa inadvertently auditioned for the role of Conan while he was auditioning for Game of Thrones. He tells Moveline, “You know, when I first got it, it was because of Game of Thrones. I went in to HBO and did the audition for Drogo — I went in and did haka, which is Maori, because Drogo doesn’t speak English and I wanted to portray what he would be like commanding his officers or going to war. So in the audition they were just like, ‘Holy shit’ … So I did the haka and one of the casting directors was like, ‘All right, I’ve got your new Conan.’ They called up but I was already going to do Game of Thrones, but I came back and Conan wasn’t cast yet. I went in and met Marcus Nispel and he fell in love, he told me his ideas of what he wanted to do for Conan, I said here are my ideas — this is how I’d want to play him. They liked it and I had to prove it to Lionsgate and everyone.” Once he met with eventual Conan director Marcus Nispel and had that in-depth conversation about the character, Momoa was thrust into one of the more unusual screen tests I’ve heard of, pointing out that for the screen test “they did full make-up for and there were three other guys, I think. We went and did the full screen test, which was great. Marcus, it was on his own bill. He went in there and shot it on film, he went all out for it. He had me going in and out of plants. He was like, ‘Kill the plant! Kill the plant!’ I’m grabbing a sword, killing this thing. It was crazy.”
Of course, Momoa’s new-found fame wasn’t instantaneous — in fact, Momoa’s first role was on the final two seasons of Baywatch, which was retitled Baywatch Hawaii. Certainly hanging out with many beautiful woman (and David Hasselhoff) was a great perk, but Momoa recognizes now that the role did his career more harm than good: “I love that it got me into acting, because I was 19 when I got it and it’s now 13 years later. I love that it gave me the opportunity to fall in love with acting, but it also really, really hurt me, being on it. Just because it’s Baywatch, people don’t think you can act. I’m constantly fighting that stigma. When I got cast as Conan, people were like, ‘You’re hiring the Baywatch dude to play Conan?’ It’s such a far-fetched thing… I was born in Hawaii but I was raised in Iowa. It’s the last thing I would be, to be on Baywatch. It’s just so weird that I was. But I’m still very close to those friends, the people that I worked with. Jason Brooks is a dear friend of mine.”
In fact, Momoa demonstrates the stigma from the show by pointing out, “It took me four or five years just to get an agent … I couldn’t get a job afterwards. No one would take me seriously. So I went, screw them — I went to school, trained, I traveled the world and finally got in there a little bit. Then Stargate Atlantis was very great to me. I loved Stargate, and I had fantastic crews and cast. It was like getting paid to go to school. It set me up to play Conan.”
Conan the Barbarian opens in theaters on Friday.