THE HAWAIIAN-BORN ACTOR AND CONSUMMATE NICE GUY IS BOOKENDING 2023 WITH TWO VASTLY DIFFERENT ROLES, FROM THE SADISTIC MOBSTER DANTE REYES IN FAST & FURIOUS’ TENTH INSTALLMENT FAST X TO REPRISING HIS SUPERHERO PERSONA IN THE DC SEQUEL AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM
BY BLUE SULLIVAN
When someone describes a big-ticket celebrity as “really down to earth, a totally normal person,” it’s typically a dubious cliche. In most celebrity encounters, it becomes immediately evident that the nice guy persona is mostly a PR fantasy, designed only to create the illusion of, “Stars: they’re just like us!” In fact, most celebrities are so insulated by insane wealth and unimaginable fame that their perspective is so perversely different from our normal day-to-day existences that they’re closer to an alien species than us mere mortals. All this is a preamble to say: Jason Momoa is a down-to-earth guy, a totally normal person.
Yes, he’s the star of one of the most successful comic book blockbusters of all time. (That would be Aquaman, which nabbed $1.15 billion at the box office worldwide.) Yes, he’s a global heartthrob, becoming an object of lust for millions following his breakout role as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones. Sure, he has his own liquor brand (Meili Vodka), and OK fine, he was married to a gorgeous ‘80s icon, television star Lisa Bonet, thus making him the stepdad of Cat woman herself, Zoë Kravitz.
Admittedly, these glittering accolades don’t exactly scan as “normal.” Most people you meet cannot say they’ve played Conan the Barbarian on the silver screen (circa 2011; an underrated remake well worth your time on a lazy Saturday afternoon), for instance. Most of us haven’t been tasked with resurrecting the vitality of a legendary super franchise like Fast & Furious (his portrayal of the sadistic villain Dante Reyes was a highlight of this year’s Fast X). But for a 6’4” demigod who has accomplished so much in his 44 years, Jason Momoa also lives a surprisingly normal life in those moments he isn’t being paid millions of dollars to be the type of charismatic dynamo one can imagine as a genuine superhuman. (Fun fact: in addition to Aquaman, Momoa was once very close to taking over the role of Wolverine in the Rebirth of X-Men on celluloid.)
Still not convinced? Here’s how Momoa described himself in a recent interview with Men’s Health: “I’m just a dude from Hawaii who loves to surf and ride motorcycles. I’m not a celebrity.”
That isn’t just PR flack, either. Take a look at the pictures from his recent tour of meet and greets to promote Meili Vodka. He’s not surrounded by a halo of bodyguards and marketing drones. He’s just a guy in a T-shirt with a woolly beard, smiling, talking to fans, signing autographs, and happily interacting with the people who waited in line for hours to meet him. He looks like the normal guy he described in that interview, just vibing with other everyday people he encounters in unassuming cities like Des Moines, Iowa. He’s the kind of guy who will give a fan a hug for her birthday which he did during the stop in Iowa.
Momoa can easily mingle in places such as this because he himself was raised among everyday people. Though Momoa is primarily associated with Hawaii (he was born in Honolulu, and his ancestry largely traces back to the island), he was actually raised in a town of less than 14,000 people: Norwalk, Iowa.
Momoa is a huge source of pride for Iowans, as a fan named Victoria Pickering noted during his visit there:
“It’s just really great that we have such a really big star from Iowa because most places kind of forget that we exist, or the only thing they think of when they hear about us is that we’re a giant farm state. It’s also good that he’s from a small town; he’s not from Des Moines or a big, well-known town.” (For reference, that “big town” she’s referring to is roughly 1/50th the size of metro Los Angeles.)
If all this isn’t convincing enough to make it clear just how truly relatable Momoa is, go online and search, “Jason Momoa at Costco.” Look how easily and naturally he handles the throngs of people who surround him in every direction. That isn’t the pained smile of a mega-star who wants desperately to get out of a public place and back into his idling limo. That’s a dude who loves meeting these people, who doesn’t look at his time spent mingling with fans as a necessary evil to promote his brand, but as a chance to give back to the strangers who have made his career possible. He can walk among the regular folks ably because he knows what it’s like to attend a high school prom in a senior class of fewer than 200 people.
In fact, Momoa recently even reunited with his high school prom date, Lindsay Aaron. She surprised him by waiting outside with other fans at the Norwalk Fareway, one of the few grocery stores in his hometown. On Instagram, Momoa gushed over how elated he was to reunite with Aaron and spend time in the humble place that raised him, writing: “I missed you; mahalo nui loa for always taking care of me…You’re home for me.”
All this is to say, without a drop of irony: Jason Momoa, he’s just like us.