“Am I an egotistical asshole? Ehhhhh, maybe.” This was Jason Momoa‘s response after I not-so-casually mentioned how outspoken he was, earlier that day during a See press conference, about how much he loved the script for the upcoming Apple TV+ show. Actually, Momoa had told a room full of people that he was so thrilled by the project that he immediately shouted that the role was his and no one else’s. Well, I think that Momoa’s question to me was a rhetorical one, or at least, I hope it was, but I feel pretty confident in stating that Momoa probably is not an asshole, in the egotistical sense or otherwise. We’ll talk that out here.
For one thing, Momoa insisted that I should finish a question when a handler stepped in to tell us that our allotted time had expired. For another, he’s so used to answering questions about himself that you can tell, just a little bit, that he’s amused by everyone’s fascination with him. But why shouldn’t they be fascinated? We’re talking about Khal Drogo and Aquaman and a smattering of other roles, all of which — let’s face it — slid his way largely because of his physical presence. In person, he’s everything you’d expect: somewhat imposing with goofiness looming just beneath the surface. That juxtaposition only grew stranger when I heard someone beg him, “No more burping” right before he stood up to warmly shake my hand. He probably could have crushed everyone in the building with one hand, and yet, he also was a total dork during our interview. This charismatic paradox caused me to wonder exactly why he slow-burned so hard on the way to becoming an A-lister.
Well, Momoa’s leading his own TV series for the first time. See, written by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) and directed by Francis Lawrence (Mockingjay, I Am Legend), arrives on a seemingly familiar, post-apocalyptic note. A virus decimated humanity 600 years ago, rendering all survivors blind. Yes, that’s going to remind people of A Quiet Place and (dear god) Bird Box, for better or worse, but the series distinguishes itself not only with stunning action scenes and incredibly lush visuals (shot in British Columbia) but with how it digs deep into human nature while confronting complex and tough questions. Momoa’s character, Baba Voss, is the adoptive father of twins who are born with the mythic ability to see. That makes his family, and his village, a target of outsiders.
Also in the room when I spoke to Momoa was Hera Hilmar, who potrays Baba Voss’ wife, Maghra. The three of us chatted about the massive challenges that the cast endured while making this series. Mind you, this discussion took place at the end of a long day that included a press conference and roundtables and an assortment of other demands. I watched as Momoa was asked to discuss himself, over and over again. That’s simply how things are for him: He’s used to always being the focus, and he never, ever complains about the process. He also knows that the success or failure of this show (a massively budgeted one) rests largely on his exceedingly broad shoulders.
Don’t get me wrong. We did talk about Momoa, but he really lit up when he realized that I wished to discuss See‘s action scenes, beginning with one where Hera’s character crosses a bridge — a perilous, rickety structure, and remember, she’s blind — while holding two babies. He was pumped to brag about the badass moves of his female co-star. “After she just gave birth,” Momoa raved. “Let’s talk about that!”
Witnessing a male A-lister who’s thrilled to shine the spotlight on his leading lady, well, that’s something. Not only was Momoa relieved to not have the focus solely on him, but he wanted the world to know exactly how much Hera Hilmar put into her role. The scene in question took place in harsh terrain and, yes, mere minutes after Hera’s Maghra delivered twins into the world.
“We put a whole lot of work into the whole birth scene in the first episode, and we wanted it to be as visceral and as real as we could. It wasn’t like we shot it after giving birth for real, but it was a difficult scene,” she admitted. “And then suddenly, they have to flee, and this woman has been just cut open. I would imagine that’s not going to be easy for anyone to walk really far to a new home, over bridges, over mountains, and everything, but at the same time, it’s like a life-death situation, and you just have to do it and trust it. And at every moment, they could die.”
The cast prepared for their grueling experiences by attending a “blindness bootcamp.” They wore sleep shades for hours every day, which Hera told me was a “scary” experience at first, but then she “realiz[ed] that we are capable of so much more” without sight, which causes the brain to heighten other senses. And the series poses the theory that the earth becomes a better, more beautiful place when humans can’t see. It’s telling, though, that Jason Momoa, who’s often recognized for his physicality, chose to star in a TV show where 99% of the other characters can’t see what he looks like. When I asked whether he saw the irony in this, Momoa did a double-take before considering.
“Oh, I guess so? When you put it that way,” he chuckled. “I was gonna have a little bit of frustration, taking on this role. I wanted it because I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve obviously played a lot of the action roles and probably dressed and looked the same, but I’ve never — I feel like in a lot of these roles, they’ve been capped at a certain place. Drogo was never able to get into a fight, he never really went into battle, he never had a baby, like, he just fell in love. Deckland Harp in Frontier, he never got to see his kids and what it was like beforehand, it was just the death of his kids, and now it’s just his revenge.”
Momoa went on to explain that See finally gives him a character with full range. Boba’s worried about survival, of course, but he’s a father, and as a result, he gets to do a lot of “beautiful” things on screen that he’s never been allowed to portray until now. As far as the blindness-bootcamp experience was concerned, though, Momoa admitted, “I was extremely uncomfortable, and then I learned a lot.” He elaborated about how the experience was a personal struggle, and one that involved “just letting go of ego.”
That’s because, although you might not expect it, Momoa’s a planner. He entered the production with elaborate ideas about how he’d handle the blindness training, but then he found himself letting it all slide away.
“You have to feel, and you really just have to be available with all of your senses because you’re gonna eliminate one,” he explained. “It’s re-feeling all of your senses because you’re not gonna have one, and that really shuts down your brain and makes you think a little bit.” Hera added that the process “took us to places that, creatively, I wouldn’t have been able to go otherwise.”
When it came time for us to return to action-y talk, I wanted Momoa to discuss an absolutely insane third-episode scene that he helped create with Francis Lawrence. This would be where Baba Voss ambushes a slaver in an elaborately choreographed fight that includes weaponry and Momoa’s character using “echolocation” to take on his opponent. He had a big hand in planning the scene, which he discussed with Lawrence in their first meeting.
“I was really excited that he chose that style of fighting and stuff,” he gushed. “Because it’s not like your normal fight scene, it’s really sensual.”
Of course, by sensual, Momoa doesn’t mean “sexy.” He means that his character, who’s a little mysterious, uses all of his available senses to get things done. Momoa didn’t really want to talk about how kickass he was, though, while making the scene. Instead, he suggested that I ask another cast member about what they thought of the scene.
And with that I went straight from talking to Jason and Hera to my next engagement, which was speaking with the actors who play the twins, Archie Madekwe (Kofun) and Nesta Cooper (Haniwa). When I informed Archie — whose character was present during the action scene in question — that Jason wanted his co-stars’ reactions on what it was like to watch the action go down, Archie began by …. making this face.
What Archie actually said was this: “Well, I actually haven’t completely seen it yet. I’ve seen a very early assembly of it. What I did see?” [Makes this face] “Oh. My. God.” Nesta then burst into laughter, and Archie realized, “Oh, that’s going to be a meme.”
Archie believes that this particular scene explains a lot about how Apple handled this series. “It was insane,” he offered. “What I found most interesting and what people will be really surprised at? Everybody thought Apple was gonna be really family-friendly, [but] it’s 100% Rated R, and it’s gruesome, especially that slaver fight scene.”
The pair then launched into an avalanche of praise about Momoa.
“He’s so good at that stuff. He’s just so, so strong with the fighting stuff. It’s always so much fun watching him. He’s so entertaining!” declared Nesta. “He comes up with so many of those ideas himself. He brings so much to the table. Even down to weapons, Jason would just have an idea: ‘Can we make this? Can we put this together?'” added Archie. As he further explained, the See production team went to great lengths to put these ideas to work, making the series a true collaborative effort with their leading man.
It’s worth mentioning that Nesta and Archie play the “outsiders” within the cast, given that they’re able to see. For that reason, they, according to Archie, “isolated ourselves a lot during the shoot.” They felt an “instantaneous” bond and “a kinship” to each other and spent every moment together, away from everyone else. The effect of this fostered connection comes across onscreen, especially when they gain knowledge in a way that humanity hasn’t been able to do in decades. There’s a “Pandora’s Box” of sorts involved with See, and one that raises plenty of questions about whether humanity can use this knowledge for the better when given a second chance.
To say any more right now about how the show (we’ll have a review next week) solves this dilemma would dive into spoilers. Yet the knowledge question is only one example of how See is obviously a series starring Jason Momoa, but it’s so much more. Leading up to the premiere, it’s clear that the leading man wanted to do everything he could to give his co-stars a spotlight during a whirlwind press junket. Yes, they ended up praising him in the process, because that’s what people unavoidably end up doing, but he would rather divert attention to them, so they can highlight their own accomplishments and badassery.
In other words, Jason Momoa is definitely not an “egotistical asshole.”
Apple TV+’s ‘See’ will premiere on November 1.