“I’m always kind of scared of acting. I’d rather direct or produce than act,” says Jason Momoa with a conspiratorial laugh. You wouldn’t know it, from the way the 42-year-old performs in his newest Netflix release: action-thriller film Sweet Girl. Playing gruff but soft-hearted family-man Ray Cooper, Momoa takes audiences through an hour and a half of high-octane drama and action as a widower out for justice, left only with his daughter by his side.
The film brings to light a new side to the actor, one that he is exploring for the first time in his 23 year-long career. “With action movies, you don’t usually get an opportunity to express an emotional side. But this is a real heartfelt family story, tackling a lot of intense topics,” he shares. Indeed, this role is different from what Momoa is best known for—whether it be his hulking superhero debut as DC’s Aquaman or his stoic, violent portrayal of Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones. There’s a good reason this feels palpably different. As Momoa reveals, his performance in this film is shaped in part by his own experience as a parent alongside wife Lisa Bonnet.
“There were definitely times when I was holding Isabela while filming and it was like holding my Lola bear”
Here, the actor opens up about parenthood, his new role as a producer and what it feels like to embrace his softer side in a character.
Your character Ray shares an incredible bond with his daughter, Rachel. What went into developing this onscreen relationship with Isabela Merced?
Many things drew me to Isabela—whether it was mutual friends, or her career and what she had done up till then. We also kind of resembled each other, so if Adria [Arjona] and I had a kid, that would kind of work out. And right from the moment I met Isabela, it was really effortless. She’s just a very good actress. So I definitely credit her, because she made me feel at ease.
How much did your experience with real-life fatherhood play into it?
You know, I try not to bring my kids into any role that I’m playing, but there’s no other way to express what it really feels like to be a father, to be willing to do anything in the world for someone other than yourself. It’s a beautiful thing to be a parent. There were definitely times when I was holding Isabela while filming and it was like holding my Lola bear. I am really close to both my kids, but it’s also different with daughters, it’s just way more nurturing. And that’s the kind of thing I don’t think most people have seen in any character I have played, so it’s really nice to be able to do that in this movie—be a softer father and show that side of me.
You show some really intense emotion in this movie in a way I have never seen you do before. How did it make you feel to explore that as an actor, especially in your scenes with Adria Arjona?
It’s definitely emotional even talking about it. It’s a tough thing. When we were doing that scene with Adria, I told my director, you know, I can’t just do this right here. I would run away from this. Even though my daughter’s there, I have to get away. I remember my own father—he told me that he would never cry around me. He would be really stoic, and then he would paddle out in the middle of the ocean and yell and scream out in the water. So I felt like in that scene, Ray just had to get away from everyone, so he goes down this one hallway and the emotion just takes over him. Our director Brian [Andrew Mendoza] was pretty accepting of that, so it was just this really beautiful tracking shot following me through all this pain. And that’s the reason why I wanted to play this role, to be able to express that part of myself. I think people are going to love it, and hopefully they get to see another side of me.
This film displays both your dramatic side as well as the adrenaline-fuelled action that your fans have come to expect. How did you balance those two sides of your character?
I always say the action is easy because I’ve been doing it my whole life, but I’m getting older, so it hurts. We’ve got to start swapping out these action movies for some comedies. [laughs] But I do enjoy the action and I have a really phenomenal stunt team, so I feel very taken care of in that situation. As for the acting, you know, I never really get to do these harder acting scenes. But I’ve just been doing it now for a while and I really am hard on myself—I want to make sure that I succeed for myself and really disappear into a role. I have my own silly weird process. Acting is very, very challenging.
On that note, you not only star in this film but are also a producer. As a producer, what do you look for in a script and what made Sweet Girl stand out?
Well, my producing partner from frontier brought me and Brian this project. There are a lot of flags in this film that we just haven’t done before. I haven’t done that many contemporary films where it’s just a normal, everyday man. I liked how this film depicted some of the corrupt things that are happening with politics, the pharmaceutical industry, the government, and it was about people wanting to take things into their own hands and seek justice. Obviously, I wouldn’t do that, but in this movie, I liked crossing those boundaries.
As far as producing it goes, this is my first really big movie—we have produced a lot of commercials and my movie that I directed, so this is the first really big one. It was great, because we have a really strong producer, along with Brian and I, and we have an amazing small team that can do many things. And there’s a lot of proof in the pudding. I’m excited for many more projects from this team.
Sweet Girl is screening on Netflix from 20 August.