Outtakes Online: Momoa hits the road
BY MIKE GORDON / firstname.lastname@example.org
When Jason Momoa dreamed of making his first feature film, he wanted to include his friends, tell a poignant story and set it on the road.
He was able to accomplish all that in “Road to Paloma,” the directorial debut for the 34-year-old Hawaii-born actor. The story, which Momoa co-wrote, is a spiritual quest for redemption that he delivers on a 1957 Harley-Davidson panhead motorcycle rumbling through the American West.
Momoa stars as Robert Wolf, a Native American on the run from the FBI after beating to death the man who raped and killed his mother. The depth of Wolf’s actions is a core theme of the film, Momoa said in a phone call from New York. Wolf avenged his mother, Paloma, but he has to live with the impact of that action.
“I wanted to play on the theme of what hangs in the air when you are gone,” Momoa said. “And I wanted to play on the theme that here is a good man and are you judged by the choices you make. Does that define you? Am I a murderer?”
Wolf is a man whose soul is pieced together with “duct tape and rubber bands,” but he’s a good man, Momoa said.
“He was a good son. He was a good friend and a good brother. He stood up for his family.”
Momoa wrote the movie in 2011 with Robert Homer Mollohan, a “dear friend” who also stars in the film, and Jonathan Hirschbein. They finished the movie about two years ago. (It also stars Momoa’s wife, Lisa Bonet.)
They were moved by an alarming number of violent rapes of women on Native American reservations that were perpetrated by outsiders, Momoa said. Tribal cops could arrest the suspect, but if that person is a non-Native American, the case can only be prosecuted in a U.S. federal court.
“It’s kind of a disgusting loophole,” Momoa said.
The film is a visual treat. Its open-road shots, with Momoa and co-star Mollohan rumbling along forgotten blacktop, will do for bikers what surf films do for surfers.
Momoa, who grew up in Iowa but moved back to Hawaii after high school, said he’s always loved the inspiration that comes from a long ride. When he left Iowa, he spent time on the road.
“I do my best thinking on the road,” he said. “I liked seeing the seasons and traveling around and living in the little, small corners of life.”
Momoa rides his own motorcycle in the film, and it’s the first one he ever bought, purchased in Hawaii when he was 19. He calls it Mabel, after his grandmother. It was customized for the film by bike builder Jeremiah Armenta of Love Cycles in Phoenix.
The film was shot across five states: California, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Its final scene was shot deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Mammoth, Calif. The crew camped out in the snow for several days to get just the right shot.
The whole thing cost about $600,000. It was a labor of love for everyone with a whole lot of roughing it thrown in for good measure.
“We lived in the dirt,” Momoa said. “We edited in my Airstream (RV) and my garage. It was very grass roots. My buddies lived with me. Everyone sacrificed and wore 10 hats.”
MOMOA HAS been a steadily working actor since 1999 but experienced a breakthrough in 2011 when he portrayed Khal Drogo in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and starred in “Conan the Barbarian.” Earlier this year he played Philip Kopus, the menacing ex-con in Sundance Channel’s “The Red Road.” (Season two is already set for production beginning in September, Momoa said.)
In recent weeks Momoa has also been the focus of rumors linking him to the role of Aquaman in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” but he wouldn’t confirm that.
“Road to Paloma,” which is being distributed by WWE Studios and Anchor Bay Films, opened last week in theaters in New York and Los Angeles but isn’t scheduled to screen in Hawaii. It will be available on DVD on Tuesday at Walmart and Target stores and is already on iTunes.
Momoa hopes his fans in Hawaii will find it and enjoy the journey he took.
“You find it in books, where you can go on journeys in your mind, and I wanted to do a movie on that,” he said. “It’s very high caliber to do, but I think we really captured the spirit of the West.”
Mike Gordon covers film and television in Hawaii for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter. Read his weekly “Outtakes” column Sundays in the Star-Advertiser.