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Jason Momoa's Breakout Role That Almost Ended His Career Before It Started

Since "Game of Thrones" aired its first season back in 2011, Jason Momoa had gathered a massive following due to his performance as Khal Drogo, a warlord of the Dothraki warriors. "Game of Thrones" itself became a monumental hit as well, arguably one of the biggest shows to ever air. As for Momoa, Drogo actually wasn't his first significant role, as he previously played the lead in 2011's "Conan the Barbarian" as Conan, along with his first ever credited role as Jason Ioane on the original "Baywatch" alongside David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson.

If you haven't seen Momoa in these two early roles, or even in "Game of Thrones," you have likely seen him star as Arthur Curry/Aquaman in the DC Universe movies, or his Apple TV+ series "See." He also played the famed character of Duncan Idaho in the 2021 "Dune" film adaptation. Suffice to say, the actor has amassed a great resume. With how popular the star has become in both the film and TV space, you might be surprised to know that one of these roles nearly stunted his rise to the top — and, no, it isn't "Baywatch."

Casting directors thought Momoa couldn't speak English after Game of Thrones

As Jason Momoa spoke about in an interview with Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show," the actor's breakout role as Khal Drogo in "Game of Thrones" actually troubled his career, rather than boosting it. Apparently, his performance as Drogo — particularly his adept handling of the fictional Dothraki language — was so convincing that many people in the entertainment industry thought that Momoa couldn't speak English that well, which "pigeonholed" him, as Momoa put it.

Momoa went on to recall an encounter with "Portlandia" actor Fred Armisen, when they met due to Momoa's stepdaughter Zoë Kravitz acting in "Portlandia." Momoa said that Armisen professed how much he was a fan of his performance in "Game of Thrones," but that he hadn't known that the actor spoke English. "It was heartbreaking," Momoa said. "I was like, 'That's why I'm not getting any jobs.'"

Fortunately for Momoa, Zack Snyder was an even bigger fan of his than Armisen, and the director soon called Momoa to come in to audition for a vaguely described DC movie, supposedly for the role of Batman (via Jake's Takes). Weeks later, Snyder offered Momoa the role of Aquaman instead, and the rest is history. Thankfully, it's pretty clear to mainstream Hollywood now that Momoa is a native English speaker. Nonetheless, the actor's ability to speak other languages, especially the fictional kind, is clearly better than most.

Momoa had financial troubles during and after Game of Thrones

Knowing that Jason Momoa struggled to break out of his typecast image for years after amassing popularity in "Game of Thrones" is heartbreaking enough, but the portrait the actor paints of his life during this time is even darker. In an interview with InStyle, the "See" star revealed that during the period between "Game of Thrones" and his casting as Aquaman, he struggled to support his family, including his two newborn children and his then-wife Lisa Bonet. "I mean, we were starving after 'Game of Thrones,'" Momoa said. "I couldn't get work. It's very challenging when you have babies and you're completely in debt."

Even while he was still filming for "Game of Thrones," Momoa was already contending with financial troubles. In a 2019 Instagram post, the actor recalled a story from when the mega-popular series had paused production in Ireland and he couldn't afford a flight home. Not one to wallow in a bad situation, however, Momoa seized the opportunity to go on a cross-country road trip with his friend, film producer Brian Andrew Mendoza. "We rented a panel van aka UHAUL in Belfast and drove around beautiful amazing IRELAND searching for the greatest pint of Guinness," Momoa wrote. "So many wonderful people and stories. I treasure those times."

While Momoa may have struggled during this early-career period, it's nice to know that the actor still looks back on his time filming "Game of Thrones" with some fondness.