How Jason Momoa And James Wan Incorporated Polynesian Culture Into ‘Aquaman’

Jason Momoa talks making "Aquaman," incorporating Polynesian culture and never, ever watching HBO's "Entourage."

Jason Momoa is tall sitting down. He has poured his 6-foot-4 frame into a sorely inadequate director's chair answering questions with a renewed patience. Something or someone has caused his prominent eyebrows to furrow in disgust, and the Atlantian hero has asked me to save him. I tuck my icebreaker question about HBO’s Entourage and its fictional Aquaman storyline from 2005 into my back pocket and lead first asking about Arthur Curry’s biracial parentage, which is inspired by Momoa’s real life. (His father is of Native Hawaiian decent and his mother is of German, Irish and Native American ancestry.) Today it is still several weeks away from his now viral performance of a ceremonial Haka on the red carpet of the film’s premiere in Los Angeles, but you can still hear the pride in his voice as he talks about infusing Aquaman’s on-screen DNA with his own.


“That was Zack Snyder [director of Justice League]. It was his dream, and when I walked into the office, he said, ‘I want you to play Aquaman.’ That made no sense to me until he said, ‘You’re half white, you’re half Polynesian. Obviously, the Polynesians have their own water gods. Why wouldn’t you take this [points to arm with tattoos] and put it all over.’ And so he put it together that way. And I just think it’s kind of a neat perspective to go from two different worlds…he is the bridge that can gap land and sea together.”

Casting veteran actor Temuera Morrison as Arthur Curry’s father was one of several important elements used to bring that storyline to life.

“I really wanted to lean into the sort of biracial nature of Aquaman, right?” adds director James Wan. “He is a superhero character who actually is biracial in that he’s half Atlantian, half surface dweller. It’s great for someone like Jason Mamoa, with his background, he could really kind of understand that growing up and really sort of play it up.”

Aquaman is a visually stunning and action-filled translation of the comic book hero and is easily one of the best live-action DC films to date. But the cultural touches make this uniquely Jason’s character. At one point during a fight on a submarine, Aquaman lets out a battle cry that will make most think of the ceremonial Haka, but it was something a bit different.

“There wasn’t a Haka, but I said, ‘Ona Takai,’” he explains. “Here’s the thing with Maoris, I love Temuera Morrison, he was one of my idols. He was my father in the movie. I wanted him to play my dad, so I thought it would be good to just use Maori for it instead of Hawaiian. There’s no such thing as Hawaiian, it’s 'Nā Kānaka Maoli' with an L. That’s what Hawaiian means. That’s where the Maoris came from. So, I thought it was all right to go 'Ono Takai,' which means 'You deserve this', and I think it’s kind of neat to add a little more flavor in there, you know what I mean.”

As for the fictitious James Cameron-directed Aquaman, starring Adrian Grenier’s Vincent Chase, that question doesn’t hold much water around these parts, despite HBO’s social team having some fun with the whole thing in this tweet. 

“Never met the guy,” Momoa responds flatly when asked if he’s spoken to Grenier. “Never watched the show.”

“I’m sure Adrian Grenier is getting tired of getting Aquaman sh*t tweeted at him,” says Wan. However, the actor has been very active in efforts to clean up the world’s oceans, so at the least, they have that in common.

Aquaman is in theaters everywhere December 21.

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