Jason Momoa’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric. The 36-year-old actor has gone from stocking Hawaiian shirts in surf shops to starring in beloved TV shows, working with film icons like Sylvester Stallone, earning a gig as a superhero, and becoming a new standard for masculine characters.
Momoa has had an intriguing career, which is fitting considering his unique upbringing. An only child, he was born into an artistic family: his mom, Coni is a photographer, and his father Joseph is a painter. Momoa’s mom, who is of mostly German and Irish descent, raised him in the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa, but Momoa would travel to Hawaii in the summer to visit his father. Because of this, Momoa developed both a love for art and a love for travel early in his life.
After graduating high school, Momoa bounced around a couple of different colleges in Iowa, Florida, and Colorado while studying both marine and wildlife biology. He didn’t graduate, but Momoa continued to broaden his horizons, spending time in places as diverse as Paris and Tibet. He also developed interests in pastel painting and Buddhist spirituality.
At age 19, Momoa was discovered by international designer Takeo Kobayashi, who advised him to start a modeling career. He was named Hawaii’s Model of the Year in 1999 and that helped him gain a role on the TV spinoff Baywatch: Hawaii. While it was a major role that lasted for three seasons, Momoa’s career stagnated briefly after the show concluded; he once claimed that no one took him seriously after Baywatch.
Fortunately for Momoa, in 2005, he got a major part in the beloved cult classic show Stargate Atlantis, portraying the alien Ronon Dex. Often compared favorably to Chewbacca by Stargate fans, the character was an instant hit and Momoa received critical praise for the role. He also received a role as a series regular on the short-lived Hawaiian soap opera North Shore, appearing in 21 episodes and portraying a character named Frankie Seau.
However, for Momoa, the real fun began in 2011, when he landed his breakthrough role as the fierce warrior Khal Drogo in HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones. During his audition, he performed the Haka – the traditional New Zealand war dance that is associated with the All-Blacks (who happen to be Momoa’s favorite rugby team). He came away with the part and to this day, it remains Momoa’s most recognizable role, receiving critical acclaim for his performance in Season One.
Following the huge success of Game of Thrones, Momoa began to branch out into film work, starring in 2012 action thriller Bullet to the Head with Sylvester Stallone, and also portraying the title role in the 2011 remake of the Arnold Schwarzenegger action film Conan the Barbarian. While the remake of Conan was a box-office bomb, the film got the attention of director Zack Snyder, who cast Momoa in the upcoming Aquaman movie. Momoa also recently filmed the dark comedy Sugar Mountain with Cary Elwes; it is set to be released in late 2016.
When he’s not acting or painting, Momoa can usually be found spending time with his wife Lisa and their two young children, Lola (age nine) and Nakoa-Wolf (age eight). He’s a fitness enthusiast, having learned martial arts for his role on Conan the Barbarian, and also developing a love for biking, rock-climbing, and snowboarding. In addition to being a big fan of the All-Blacks in rugby union, Momoa is also a supporter of the Port Adelaide Power in the Australian Football League (AFL).