When her debut album She’s So Unusual was about to be released, Cyndi Lauper reportedly butted heads with the record label executives who wanted “Time After Time” to be its first single. She told them: “Listen to me—releasing a ballad first defines you in a certain way. You become known as a balladeer, and it can kill your career.”
The same warning could apply to getting your big break playing Khal Drogo, the Dothraki warlord in Game of Thrones. The character is built to be noticed: pecs larger than most actresses’ chests, a perpetual scowl accented by a Husky’s arched eyebrows and tons of eyeliner, and a beard with its own man bun. It didn’t help that the imposing actor hired to play him, Jason Momoa, leaned even further into his beast persona by playing Conan the Barbarian the same year his GoT season debuted on HBO. Was the Hawaiian-born model-turned-actor dooming himself to a career playing action heroes whose only big pop cultural moment was raping the future Mother of Dragons?
But anyone easy to dismiss Jason Momoa as the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the New Millennium clearly underestimates his talent: After all, he had to make audiences root for his love story with Daenerys while speaking a language that doesn’t exist. He also has three things that the Muscles from Brussels lacks. The first is a preternatural ability to seamlessly meld his beast persona with a goofy sense of humor. Witness his car-humping scene in 2017’s little-seen action-comedy Once Upon a Time in Venice, in which his gang leader’s exaggerated thrusts gave the convertible he was riding in additional horse power.
Or the lower-card-gets-you-wet game he played while guesting in The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, in which he didn’t just drench, but water-bombed the host with all the force of a bullet ricocheting off concrete. The message is clear: You may think twice about rolling around with a grizzly bear...but he just looks so effin’ adorable!
The second is social media, where Momoa gets to curate and expand his beast-with-a-ticklish-underbelly image into real life. By now, the Internet has been saturated with videos of Momoa drinking beer—the foam on his beard giving him frothy wolf canines—and effortlessly throwing pick-axes at wooden targets; of Momoa climbing rock walls, only to have a wide shot reveal that he was only four feet off the ground; of Momoa serenading fans in a queue at an Aquaman premiere with a ukulele. Social media allows Momoa to plead his case directly to the fans: I’m not really a beast, I just don’t know my own strength.
These two tools are undergirded by his third advantage: a self-awareness that allows him to accentuate or puncture his image as needed. When Schwarzenegger does action, it’s theater. And when he does comedy, it’s like going into labor. Momoa has the smarts to make both action and comedy look easy. (He confessed to Jimmy Fallon that “I almost, like, gave up acting, just so I could come here [to New York] and struggle and get on Saturday Night Live.”) Whether they’re aware of it or not, it’s those smarts that make Jason Momoa such catnip to his fans, who will get a chance to scream at their idol once he touches down in Manila on the Asian leg of his global Aquaman promo tour. And that definitely includes the ladies—if girls just want to have fun, it seems this actor/former model/full-time beast does too.