The character of Phillip Kopus, the counterpart to Martin Henderson’s Harold Jensen on Aaron Guzikowski’s The Red Road, fits the popular “male antihero” archetype nicely. But at his core, the audience knows Kopus means well, yet he often finds himself on the wrong side of the law. According to Momoa, playing the character has not only been a challenge but a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “There’s some huge life-changing things for him every episode,” says Momoa. “That’s Aaron’s thing: he constantly drills you over the head and keeps you guessing. It’s brilliantly written, so there’s constantly new things happening to my character. There’s a real redemption quality for my character this year that I’ve never experienced as an actor. I’ve never gone to the depths of my own self or have lived the things that I’ve seen on this show, so it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, hands down. When you get to the end episode – I’ve never lived anything like that, seen anything like that in my life… so there are some real moments that are heart wrenching and twists that you don’t see coming. It’s hard because when you play the character you’re like, ‘Oh, I can see this coming, I know where this is going,’ but I had no clue.”
For Momoa, who might be best known for his work on Game of Thrones or as Conan the Barbarian, does he enjoy working outside of the fantasy genre and in a world more grounded in reality like The Red Road? “I mean, that’s kind of why I did Road to Paloma,” he reveals. “I didn’t want to do just action stuff anymore. A lot of people who know who I am, they don’t see and they still don’t know another side of me, so I wanted something that’s deeper, that’s based in now, not in the fantasy world or sci-fi and I love that genre but… by doing Road to Paloma and getting that in Sundance that’s how we got Red Road and that’s how dreams came true and I’m very, very, very happy and pleased to be on the show.”
No matter what genre, it’s clear that Momoa is thrilled to be steadily employed which he relayed by telling me, “I think it’s just kind of kicking off. I’ve been acting since I was 19; I’m 35. I’ve been trying for a long time to put food on the table. Now, I’ve said no to a couple of things and said yes to a couple of things, but now we’ve made a definitive choice, myself and my company, to make the things I want to make, direct the things I want to direct, act in the things I want to act in so there’s a lot of things I want to be a part of. It’s just hard to get jobs so I’m just happy that hopefully with Aquaman, it will be a huge movie, and Justice League, that will open up the door to a lot of other things and doing this [The Red Road] is satisfying for the soul. It’s like doing a play and I’ll always want to do that. I’ll always want to act and do good material so if they’ll have me and the role is right, I’ll be there.”
Speaking of Aquaman, I ask Momoa if he ever pictured himself in that particular role. His response? A candid “F*ck no!” That’s fair enough and I agree, telling him that when I look at him, I can picture a lot of heroes but none of them include the traditionally blond hair and blue eyed Arthur Curry. “No, and that’s kind of why,” said the actor. “You know, I know why Zack [Snyder] called me up and I know what he wants to do with the character. I’m called to duty for a certain reason so he definitely has his own vision for what he wants to do and hopefully I’m that tool that fulfills what his vision is. I think he’s definitely a genius, so I’m just going to do as I’m told and do the best that I can. Hopefully people like it. ”
Is he a fan of comics himself? The actor responds with an enthusiastic, “Yeah! For sure. I thought for sure, I was like, I could see Lobo. I’d love to play some Lobo! Definitely didn’t see the Aquaman thing coming. But, if you think about it, you go, yeah, a Polynesian should be playing Aquaman! From Kanaloa to Maui, those are our gods. Fished out the islands. I mean, that’s our god, Kanaloa – one of the gods—and so that’s a really cool thing. For the brown kids in the world, it’s very white and even minimal black and it’s really cool that there’s going to be a brown superhero and its really neat for the Islanders and the Natives… It’s really cool to be able be that and to see the kids, and my kids grow up with that. Not that it’s wrong or bad that Aquaman is blond, but I’m not blond and I’m not white, you know, it’s not your typical choice so it’s pretty exciting that they’re thinking that way and that they chose to do that.”
Season one of The Red Road is streaming now on Netflix. New episodes of season two air on The Sundance Channel Thursdays at 10/9c.