By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Action star Jason Momoa makes his directorial debut with “Road to Paloma,” a gritty road drama he co-wrote and stars in that is reminiscent of classic ’70 films like “Five Easy Pieces” and “Easy Rider.”
Momoa, 34, best known for his roles on “Game of Thrones” and the SundanceTV series “The Red Road,” says making his own movie, which he co-wrote and also stars in alongside his actress wife Lisa Bonet, is the fulfillment of a longtime dream.
A mix of Hawaiian, European and Native American (Pawnee), the conscientious filmmaker wanted to make a film about the ongoing injustices taking place on Native American reservations. He co-wrote the film with Robert Mollohan, who also stars in the film.
Momoa plays Wolf, a Native American wanted by the FBI for the murder of a man who raped and killed his mother on their reservation. After staying low for several months, he risks everything to collect his mom’s ashes so he can give her a proper sendoff. With the Feds on his tale, Wolf and his traveling companion (Mollohan) have only a short time to make it to the Teton mountain range before they are caught. Momoa calls the drama a soliloquy of a man saying goodbye to his life.
The first-time filmmaker recently spoke about making “Road to Paloma” and returning for another season of “The Red Road.”
Q: You shot “Road to Paloma” at the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation in Needles, California, right?
Momoa: We started there, but we actually shot it in five states: California, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada.
Q: You had a pretty small budget. How did you do manage such an extensive shoot?
Momoa: I hired very talented people and made them wear 10 hats. I made sure they drank beer and didn’t mind living in the dirt, while making art. I just wanted them to have a good time. That’s the way I want to make my movies. I’ve been on so many sets. From big ones to small ones, there’s just so much money involved. For my movie, I didn’t set out to make this look like any of those, so I knew what was possible. The whole thing, in the can, was $250,000. We hunted down the light and hunted down the moments, and literally, it was me and seven people.
Q: Where did the idea come from?
Momoa: I’ve always wanted to do a road movie because I just love being on the road, and I felt like there wasn’t one that I really was my favorite. I loved certain road books, like (Jack Kerouac’s) “Dharma Bums.” I love “Five Easy Pieces,” and I wanted to make one of these road movies and do it on motorcycles. I wanted it to be purposeful and my writing partner, Robert Mollohan, who plays Cash (in the film), brought up the subject of what was happening. It was during the Democratic National convention, and he had learned about what was happening on the American Indian reservations and the injustices.
Q: What do you hope to achieve with this film?
Momoa: We’re trying to bring awareness to the fact that if a non-native comes onto the reservation and commits a crime, such a rape to a native woman, tribal law can’t prosecute the case. It would have to go to federal court. It’s crazy because it’s a free-for-all for a bunch of sickos. If I were a husband or father or a son or a grandson, and someone messed up the woman in my life and got away with it, what would I do? That’s what was interesting to me as an actor and a director and a father. What would I do? I’m going to kill this man. What interested me were the repercussions about it so I wanted to make a movie about a man saying goodbye to his life. I didn’t want to make a chase movie. I didn’t want to make it about revenge. That’s been done. I wanted to see a man doling out his soul and literally saying goodbye to his life.
Q: When you were shooting this in late 2011, your kids were pretty young. Did you take them along on the shoot?
Momoa: They did. When we shoot my wife’s scenes, for sure. We started at Joshua Tree, Calif., and it took an hour to get to Amboy. We shot her stuff there. When mama was with us, we definitely brought the kids. I actually did a little test shoot with my daughter (Lola). We were testing the light while running through the orchard with a flare and she was in my arms. She was very small at the time.
Q: What did you learn about being a director from this experience?
Momoa: Balancing family and my mind and work. My work is my passion. I love it. I love everything about it. Being an actor is not as fulfilling as being a director. So it’s just a balance of family and everything else because it’s all consuming. I have a lot of love and respect for my wife and my family for being beside me and supporting me. It takes a toll; it’s very hard, especially when it’s such a small production because we’re literally doing everything.
Q: Is the ’57 pan head motorcycle you ride in the movie yours?
Momoa: Oh yeah! I’ve had Mabel since I was 19. It’s the first bike I bought. That’s my girl.
Q: Do you work on it yourself?
Momoa: I transformed her with Jeremiah (Armenta) with Love Cycles. He’s in Arizona. He helped me take the vision that I wanted to change my bike in. He did it. He made it look like Wolf’s bike. He did a lot of those changes. I don’t know how build tanks. I can do wrenching on the bike, but not fabrication.
Q: How authentic were you to Native American culture?
Momoa: All the native traditions captured in the film are authentic to the Fort Mojave Indian tribe, where they granted us complete access. When I built the pots in the film, they are direct replicas of pots that they would make. Some of the burial stuff. The language was all legit. That’s important to me, being half-Hawaiian, to respect that. When I was on “The Red Road,” I played a Native American who doesn’t care about his tribe. But, in this, I absolutely care about getting everything right. It’s fun in “The Red Road” playing the guy who’s the antagonist toward his tribe, but eventually he will be the hero for his tribe. (He laughs.) Spoiler alert!
Q: Speaking of “The Red Road,” once you get back to work on the second season, will you direct an episode of the show?
Momoa: I would love to but I would like (show creator) Aaron Guzikowski, our writer, to do it first. We’re only shooting six episodes (next season) but in the third season, I’ll definitely be putting my name in the hat (to direct).
Q: What are you looking forward to in the next season?
Momoa: It’s super-exciting, because I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m so excited to shoot. I love that show. I love being on it and I love being that character. I’m looking forward to going back and finding out what’s happening next. It’s going to be fun.
Q: Do you have any hints about what’s coming up in the next season?
Momoa: (He sighs) I’ll tell you this, it’s not picking up from exactly where we left off. Everything’s a year later.
Q: So anything could have happened?
Momoa: Yeah, so let your mind go.
Q: The makers of “Game of Thrones” say their one regret is that they killed off your character.
Momoa: We had a great time together and it was an amazing character. They’re very dear friends of mine. So it was awesome. It was probably the greatest thing I’ve ever shot in my life. The whole process, everything, was top notch. Eventually, I’d love my sets to be like that and have people around me like that, for sure.
Q: When and how are you going to tell us you’re going to play “Aquaman?”
Momoa: (He laughs.) I have no idea what you’re talking about! I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see.