How 'booby trapped' audition handed Momoa role of his career

Invited by director Zack Snyder to audition for the role of Batman - an audition actor Jason Momoa now describes as a "booby trap" - may well have handed the 38-year-old Honolulu-born former Baywatch star the movie role that will define his career.

"I'm like, what the f---, I'm not Batman and they said listen, it's just a scene, you go in, you read it," Momoa says. "So I went in and played the rudest, crudest version of what they made for me, because I knew it was a booby trap."

Impressed with what he saw, Snyder offered Momoa the role of Aquaman, both in the new Justice League ensemble piece and a standalone Aquaman film, which will be released in 2018.

Recalling that encounter, Momoa says: "Auditions are pretty gnarly man. I don't even consider them the same sport. Some actors are amazing at auditioning. There's others like me that are just absolutely horrible at them.

"But sometimes it can spark something, so I didn't think necessarily I was going to be right for Batman," he adds. "But there was a reason Zack was calling me in. I just played it a little bit different. It definitely attracted Zack."

As Aquaman, a character historically played in the comics and in animation as a blonde caucasian, Momoa brings a 1.93-metre tall, 106-kilogram frame and Hawaiian, German, Irish and Native American ancestry. It's a formidable blend, and Snyder's instinct is obvious the moment Momoa walks into the room: he exudes charisma from every pore.

In many respects, Snyder's casting of Momoa as Aquaman is an antidote to the character's historical perception in broader media. Against Superman's super strength (and X-ray vision) and Batman's arsenal of gadgets, Aquaman's aquatic telepathy sometimes seemed, to put it politely, a little superpower-lite.

"He's the butt of many jokes and [Zack] needed a guy who was going to be able to hopefully stop those," Momoa says, laughing. "And to stop all those people making fun of him."

The standalone Aquaman film will explore the origin story of Aquaman - real name Arthur Curry - in more detail, and his parents Thomas Curry, played by Temuera Morrison, and Atlantean queen Atlanna, played by Nicole Kidman.

"It explores where this beautiful boy came from, how he was raised, who loved him and what was taken away from him, what he lost and what made him put up all those walls and become the thing that he is," Momoa says.

In Justice League he is teamed in a more traditional action piece with other heroes from the DC Comics canon: Batman (Ben Affleck), Superman (Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller).

In Momoa's eyes Aquaman is a true loner, but different from the orphaned Superman and the tormented Batman. "He was mistreated [in the oceans]. He's mistreated on land. He kind of lives with the tides. He is really, truly a loner," Momoa says.

As both a single piece of casting and a broader strategy for the character within the DC Comics film canon, the move appears to have paid off.

The fans embraced the idea of Momoa's Aquaman from the moment it was rumoured, a sort of social media group-think that agreed immediately the role belonged to him.

For Snyder's part, Momoa notes he was a big fan of Game of Thrones, in which Momoa played the Dothraki warrior Khal Drogo. "He wanted some of that masculinity in this role," Momoa says. "I think he just wanted a little more gruffness to him."

For the fans, Momoa says he just "tried to talk to them about how important it is going to feel to someone like me who is a half-breed and who is someone of Polynesian culture".

"Our gods are water gods," Momoa says. "It felt right to be doing this because he's half-Atlantean and half-human. It just felt really spot on."

And water, Momoa says, has been one of the greatest teachers in his life. "It teaches me patience, it teaches me love, it teaches me courage and bravery and also it puts fear in me and lets me know where my place is," he says. "It grounds me."

"When I jump in the Hawaiian water, it's the salt ... it feels like I get younger and just pulls out any negativity that I have," he adds. "So I have a huge, huge appreciation and love for being in the ocean."

The role also curiously bookends Momoa's own adult life; as a college student he studied marine biology. To come full circle and be playing an iconic superhero with command over the oceans is, frivolity aside, curiously serendipitous.

"All of my family are water men," Momoa says, noting his uncle is high profile Hawaiian surfer and lifeguard Brian Keaulana and his great uncle is the legendary Buffalo Keaulana, a surfer and pioneering lifeguard who was the chief lifeguard of Hawaii's Makaha Beach for more than 25 years.

"Some of the best water men in the world and saved numerous lives," Momoa says, proudly.

"So a show comes along, Baywatch Hawaii, and then I fell in love with acting, the act of studying life, so now ... the crossover of marine biology, Baywatch and now I'm Aquaman. Dude, it's a trip."

Justice League opens November 16.

This story How 'booby trapped' audition handed Momoa role of his career first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.