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The Untold Truth Of Jason Momoa's Aquaman

To say that Warner Studios' superhero cinematic franchise, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), has had a messy journey so far would be a massive understatement. The DCEU is known more for its backstage drama than the films themselves, including the reshoots and re-edit that yielded the Snyder Cut of "Justice League," the cancellations of "Batgirl" and multiple other projects in development, and the arrests, assault charges, and controversies of "The Flash" star Ezra Miller.

One of the few unexpected bright spots for the franchise is Arthur Curry aka Aquaman as played by Jason Momoa. After years of being mocked by the comics community for being a lame hero who talks to fish, Aquaman has today become the DCEU's leading male superhero with a billion-dollar grossing solo movie and popular appearances in other corners of the franchise. But the path to box office glory was not always so assured.

Before turning into a household name around the world through his association with the character, Momoa had to take a long and winding journey toward becoming Aquaman. With the sequel to "Aquaman" forthcoming, let us take a look at some lesser-known facts about Momoa's time portraying the sea-dwelling superhero.

An unexpected casting choice

Before "Aquaman" came along, Jason Momoa was best known for playing the role of the barbarian warlord Khal Drogo in "Game of Thrones," and a less-than-stellar turn as Conan the Barbarian in a critically derided reboot of the action franchise. Basically, the actor had made a name for himself playing rough, uncouth anti-heroes rather than kingly superheroes.

When Momoa first got the call from Warner to audition for the DCEU, he did not imagine for a second that he was being offered the role of Aquaman. Rather the actor thought he would be portraying a negative character. "I had no idea what I was going to be playing," Momoa said on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." "I'm like, 'I'm just going to basically be the bad guy. I'm going to fight Batman and Superman. I'm gonna play the villain.'"

But Momoa was soon informed by filmmaker Zack Snyder that he would instead be auditioning to play Aquaman. The actor had a hard time imagining himself as the character from the comics, whom Momoa thought of at the time as, "Blond. White. Blond. Shaven. White." However, Snyder, who was a huge fan of Momoa's turn as Khal Drogo, assured the actor that he would be the right choice to bring Aquaman to the big screen.

A sense of kinship with the character

On the surface, there seems to be little in common between Jason Momoa and Aquaman. The character in the comics is very blonde, very white, and, in his initial appearances in comics and animated television, seems lighthearted and Golden Age-inflected, not quite in line with the warrior physique and brooding presence of Momoa. But the actor found he had more in common with Arthur Curry than previously suspected.

Momoa is of Native Hawaiian descent in real life, and ocean-based activities were a part of the actor's life long before Aquaman came calling. In fact, the actor has real-life experience doing something Aquaman is well-known for in comics and cartoons, which is dolphin surfing. "I've rode some dolphins before," Momoa stated in an interview reported by Comicbook.com. "So I can pull on that."

Additionally, the actor revealed that he had been studying to become a marine biologist before he decided to take a chance on becoming an actor. But the greatest thing about playing Aquaman for Momoa was that it allowed him to pay tribute to Polynesian gods. "Our gods, Kahoali, Maui, all these water gods," Momoa says in the same interview. "It's really cool and an honor to be playing a [water] character."

Different from any other superhero movie

Despite fans liking Jason Momoa's take on "Aquaman" during his initial cameo in the DCEU in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and then as a full-fledged supporting character in "Justice League," the character still had to prove himself with a solo movie. Luckily, Momoa had the help of perennial hitmaker James Wan, who was able to craft "Aquaman" into a blockbuster movie that fans and critics alike could get behind.

Making "Aquaman" was a big departure for Wan from his earlier projects, and he chose the character because Aquaman was relatively unknown to mainstream film audiences at the time. "[The studio] asked me which superhero I would be interested in," Wan told Business Insider. "I picked Aquaman because it's the one everyone makes fun of, so there wouldn't be a lot of pressure."

Free of the burden of expectations, Wan was able to craft his own unique take on the superhero genre. "My template [for 'Aquaman'] wasn't other superhero films," Wan told Vital Thrills. "My template was more like traditional adventure-fantasy films or coming-of-age stories, rite of passage and all of that kind of stuff." Inspired by fantasy films from the '80s, Wan was able to chart a radical narrative for Aquaman's big-screen debut that feels excitingly different yet comfortingly familiar at the same time.

Preferring Aquaman over Batman

If you were to ask most actors about their dream DC superhero role, chances are the answer is going to be Batman. Few actors would choose Aquaman, who had long been seen as a walking punchline due to his garish orange and green uniform and the weird nature of his water-based powers. But Jason Momoa always knew he had the opportunity to do something special with the character.

The actor told The Independent that when he was hired to play Arthur Curry aka Aquaman by Zack Snyder, he was given the freedom to interpret the character in a new way "from the ground up." According to Momoa, he was hired for the role by Snyder due to certain personal attributes that he could transfer to the character while bringing Aquaman to life in a compelling manner.

When it was time to make his solo movie, director James Wan also encouraged Momoa to continue to interpret the character in his own way. With so much creative freedom and its resulting success, Momoa prefers playing Aquaman over becoming yet another Batman. "It's nice not being the seventh Batman," the actor explains in the same interview. "It's nice to be the first one. And good luck being the next one."

The line Jason Momoa hated

With most cinematic debuts of superheroes, the lead actors face the uphill task of making audiences care about an unknown character. But when Jason Momoa signed on to play Aquaman, he had the even more difficult task of making the public like a superhero who had been actively mocked and treated as a joke for decades.

Warner Studios took the right step initially by having Aquaman be played by an actor who could look badass doing literally anything. Momoa was very aware that he needed to reinvent Aquaman as a commanding and imposing figure, which is why he had a strong dislike for a line in 2017's "Justice League" when Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) mockingly tells Arthur Curry, "I hear you can talk to fish."

"I'm like, 'Don't put this line in there, because that's all people are going to talk about,'" Momoa told EW (via CBR). "[I asked,] do you want me to make [Aquaman] cool or not?" Fortunately, that single joke was not enough to detract from the level of badass biker energy that Momoa brought to the role. Aquaman ended up being one of the best parts of "Justice League" before the character found massive success with his own solo movie.

Different from the comics

Heroes like Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man have such iconic backstories that fans can be up in arms if the slightest change is made to the backstory in the hero's live-action adventures. Aquaman's origin story is less well-known, and filmmaker James Wan made plenty of changes to the character's comic backstory while making the 2018 movie.

The most readily obvious difference is that Aquaman in the comics is blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and pale, whereas Jason Momoa has long dark brown hair and a menacing glare and is of Polynesian descent, and his version of Arthur Curry is shown to be of mixed race. Then there is the fact that in the comics, Aquaman is usually depicted as a very serious character who is acutely conscious of his royal heritage, and his manner of speaking reflects his noble birth.

But in the movie, Arthur is closer to Momoa's real-life personality, a fun-loving dudebro-type who drinks beer in bars and doesn't take himself too seriously. Aquaman's journey to becoming a superhero and the King of Atlantis also shakes out much differently in the movie than it does in the comics.

The octopus is more important than you think

2018's "Aquaman" is sometimes described as an over-the-top movie, and the biggest example of this over-the-topped-ness is generally considered to be the scene where an octopus can be seen playing the drums while the people of Atlantis prepare to watch Arthur and his half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), fight to lay claim over the throne of the underwater nation.

The drum-playing octopus might seem like a bizarre addition to the movie, but there are actually a couple of solid reasons for its presence. First of all, the octopus in the film is inspired by Topo, Aquaman's long-time octopus ally in the comics, who played a variety of musical instruments. "If you Google 'Topo Aquaman,' you see all these really goofy characters of this octopus playing musical instruments," Wan told Huffington Post (via Comicbook.com). "So I'm like, 'OK, how do I take that and bring it into my movie and make it cool?'"

Additionally, Wan saw a drum-playing octopus placed in the middle of the action as essentially fulfilling the same role as the guy from "Mad Max: Fury Road" who plays a fire-belching guitar in the middle of the film's chase sequences. "In [Fury Road] there is literally a guitar guy having flames shooting from his instrument," Wan told Metro. "It doesn't do anything for the narrative. But it creates a really unique world. That was my goal for [the drum-playing octopus] as well."

Influencing the comics

While Aquaman is one of the oldest superheroes in DC Comics, he has never been a very popular draw. Aquaman was generally seen to work best in larger ensemble groups like the Justice League, and previous attempts to launch a franchise based solely around the Atlantean superhero never took off

All that changed when James Wan and Jason Momoa teamed up to make 2018's "Aquaman." Suddenly Arthur Curry was seen as not just a cool superhero, but one of the coolest characters in the entire DCEU. Despite the movie making many changes to the comic backstory of the character, it became the chief source of information about Aquaman for a whole new generation of fans around the world.

The comics decided to piggyback on the success of the movie. In "Aquaman #49," the King of the Seven Seas gets a bunch of body tattoos very similar in design to the tattoos sported by Jason Momoa in the movie. The in-comic explanation is that the tattoos are a gift from the Old Gods of the Sea to keep reminding Arthur of his status as a hero. Now all we need is for comics Aquaman to lose his blonde locks and claim his Polynesian descent and the Momoa-fication of the character will be complete.

A special parental bond

One of the things that makes "Aquaman" better than the average superhero movie is that it does not wholly revolve around Arthur Curry but is filled with other interesting characters who make a real impact on the plot. Two such characters are Arthur's parents, whose relationship with each other and Arthur powers the central narrative of the film. 

The role of Arthur's dad Tom is played by veteran actor Temuera Morrison, who credits Jason Momoa with getting him the part because the latter was hugely inspired by Morrison's role in "Once Were Warriors," which Momoa saw at a young age. "Jason saw 'Once Were Warriors' when he was growing up in Iowa," Morrison told Now To Love. "And because his father's Hawaiian, it really impinged on his cultural consciousness and identity."

Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman agreed to play Queen Atlanna in "Aquaman" mainly due to her desire to work with the film's director, who is also Australian. "[James Wan is] a really good friend of mine, and he offered to let me play Queen Atlanna," Kidman told EW (via Screen Rant). "As soon as he said I could wear mother-of-pearl and be a mermaid warrior, I said I'm [in]." The actress saw the role as an opportunity to "have some fun" while working with a director whom she had long admired.

Part of the Conjuring world

The DCEU is the sum total of every live-action movie ever made based on characters from DC Comics. Then the franchise got even bigger when Ezra Miller's Flash cameoed in the CW's Arrowverse, thus linking that world with the DCEU as well. And now thanks to James Wan, the franchise has even wider links to a completely separate cinematic universe.

In "Aquaman," there is a point at which a doll can be seen lying on the ocean floor. This doll is none other than Annabelle, the evil possessed doll from the "Conjuring" franchise, which Wan had a hand in crafting. Intriguingly, Patrick Wilson plays a major role in the "Conjuring" franchise as Ed Warren, and he also plays Arthur Curry's half-brother, Orm, in "Aquaman," which makes you wonder about the connection between the two characters.

When CinemaBlend asked Wan about the malevolent doll who shows up in "Aquaman," he had an interesting response about the possible connection between the two franchises. "Maybe Patrick Wilson is really Ed Warren pretending to be King Orm?" Wan teased. "What can I say? I'd like to see that film, how about that?" Come to think of it, now we want to see that film too.

Three iconic looks

The character of Aquaman had quite a few changes from his classic look in the comics when making the jump to live-action film. But the truth is 2018's "Aquaman" manages to portray three distinctly famous looks for Arthur Curry from the comics by having those looks sported by members of the character's extended family. 

First up is Arthur himself as played by Jason Momoa. His look closely resembles the Aquaman from the comics in the '90s, when the character had long locks, body armor resembling the tattoos from the film, and a disinclination to wear a shirt. Then there is the classic, bright blonde-haired, clean-shaven look for Aquaman from the comics, which was given to Orm in the movie.

Finally there is the suit given to Arthur and Orm's ancestor King Atlan. It consists of the classic green and gold colors of the Aquaman suit from the comics combined with a royal cloak and a crown. This look closely resembles a much older Arthur Curry's uniform in Alex Ross and Mark Waid's classic graphic novel series "Kingdom Come." 

A new stealth suit

There was a time when superhero movies were all about nailing the look of the primary suit of the main character from the comics. But thanks to Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in the MCU and his many different armor suits, today fans are happy to see other superheroes also sport a variety of looks. While the first "Aquaman" saw Arthur Curry in his classic gold and green outfit, the upcoming sequel will see him in a very different costume.

In 2021, director James Wan took to Instagram to show Aquaman wearing a new kind of suit for "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom." The suit is much darker in color, and Wan explained its function in the caption as "the stealth suit. Atlantean tech based on cephalopod's camouflaging ability." The filmmaker also mentions being inspired by a similar suit from Aquaman comics he called the "blue suit." 

The blue suit was a look for the superhero that debuted in 1986 in "Aquaman #1." The special thing about the suit is that it has the ability to mirror the colors of the ocean below, allowing Aquaman to become practically invisible while swimming underwater. Now that it's clear Wan is fond of drawing from comics lore while crafting the live-action Aquaman's looks, fans are hoping they will also someday get to see the character sporting his iconic "hook hand."

Black Manta almost didn't make the cut

While Arthur Curry and his half-brother, Orm, are the center of the story in 2018's "Aquaman," fans also loved the supporting villain Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). After Arthur lets Manta's father die early in the movie, the latter burns with a desire to kill Arthur, and his journey toward taking revenge makes for a compelling subplot of the film.

In the comics, Black Manta is one of Aquaman's most famous enemies. But he almost did not make the cut when the studio was preparing Aquaman for his first live-action movie. It was the combined efforts of director James Wan and producer Geoff Johns that kept Black Manta in the script and looking like he does in the comics, complete with a preposterously large oval helmet.

"There was a moment when the script was really going and James texted me or emailed me, and said Black Manta's story may be too big for this movie. What do you think?" Johns told Geeks of Color. "And I didn't reply, I just went to his office and I said, 'Black Manta has to be in the movie.' He was like, 'I know!'" Fortunately, Manta did become a part of "Aquaman" and its upcoming sequel, although his future in the franchise might be in jeopardy after Abdul-Mateen's recent comments about the role.

Jason Momoa took over as a writer

Many eyebrows were raised when Jason Momoa was first cast as Aquaman in the DCEU. But the actor proved all the naysayers wrong when he became a huge fan-favorite and helped bring the solo "Aquaman" movie to a billion-dollar gross at the box office. And now the actor is all ready to kick his involvement with the franchise up a notch.

In 2021 while talking about the upcoming "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom" on The Drew Barrymore Show, Momoa revealed that he felt so strongly about the direction the superhero franchise should take that he came up with a treatment for the sequel. "[My writing partner and I] did the first treatment [for Aquaman 2]," Momoa explained. "And then [filmmaker] James [Wan] and our original writer, David [Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick], finished it off, and all of our hearts are in it."

The actor also revealed that he felt much more involved in the project as a writing partner than he would have if he had simply been following a script that someone else had written for his character. Clearly, the cast and crew behind the "Aquaman" movies are very dedicated to taking the series to the next level in terms of fan-favorite characters and world-building.