Jason Momoa Talks Body Count, His Sadistic Villain Character, and Axe Fights on the Set of BULLET TO THE HEAD

     January 24, 2013

jason momoa bullet to the head

If you enjoyed watching Jason Momoa kick ass as the warlord Khal Drogo on HBO’s awesome series Game of Thrones, you’ll probably want to check out Bullet to the Head.  In director Walter Hill’s action flick, Momoa plays a mercenary who really enjoys killing.  During a group interview on the New Orleans set, Momoa described his character as an, “evil sadistic bastard who likes to shoot people in the head.”  In addition, Momoa also talked about getting to fight Sylvester Stallone with an ax, how he prepared for the role, the way the action compares to his previous projects, and a lot more.  Hit the jump for what he had to say.

Question: Who are you playing?

bullet-to-the-head-jason-momoaJASON MOMOA: I’m playing a character named Keegan who is a mercenary, a gun for hire.  And I work for Morel, who is Adewale, and I kill Stallone’s partner and Sung Kang’s partner and they’re trying to kill me.  I just play this evil sadistic bastard who likes to shoot people in the head.

Are you after something specifically?  We saw you going after the safe.  Is that something you’re chasing the whole film?

MOMOA: That’s one of the things…  Morel has some dirt on him so I’m going to grab some confidential material.  So I go in and shoot 10 guys.

What is the body count you’re responsible for?

MOMOA: [Laughs] I’m not sure.  Today’s four.  We might be up to 16 to 18.  I’ve never really shot guns before either, so that’s fun.  I grew up with a single mother and I wasn’t out shooting too many guns.  I got to do this great S.W.A.T.  training and shoot all these guns that are just…  lots of letters, lots of numbers.  HK45…  69er…  huge.

You deliver a little bit of dialogue in the scene — does your character have a lot of dialogue or is he mostly a physical presence in the film?

bullet to the head posterMOMOA: We try to make him a lot more lighthearted.  This is probably the only [scene] where he doesn’t say too much.  He’s definitely the imposing, physical person in it, but he doesn’t say too much.  He does talk.

Dry humor?

MOMOA: It’s got some really great dry humor to him.  He enjoys his job.

Is he sadistic or professional?

MOMOA: He’s sadistic.  I’m playing him that way.  I’ve got these contacts.  His eyes are black, mine are green.  I wanted him to have shark eyes.  Cold.  Doesn’t have romantic comedy eyes.

We saw you in the scene today saying, ‘Please open the safe’….

MOMOA: I thought it would be fun.  He loves it.  It’s like, ‘Open the safe.’ Maybe I didn’t get it right.  ‘Please, open the safe.’ Just wasted everyone in there.  ‘Thank you.’ Then shoot his face off.

You were talking about the training…  just what do they put you through and how demanding is it?

MOMOA: It’s not that demanding.  It’s fun.  That’s one of the great things about being an actor.  You get to learn all these things normal people don’t get to learn.  Going through hallways where it’s basically like S.W.A.T.  tactical stuff.  Around hallways, how to cross, how to signal everyone.  Then how to hold a gun, holster the gun — everything.

Where do they take you to do that?

jason-momoa-bullet-to-the-headMOMOA: We went to the gun ranges and stuff like that.  87-11 they hire a bunch of guys, stunt coordinators have a room and we go over everything.  At the very end there’s a big axe fight and I pull out my gun…  it’s fucking great.  In a dilapidated building after I kill everyone.  [Stallone] is looking around, I’ve kidnapped his daughter, and I have all these guns and stuff.  And I say, ‘Ready for another round?’ And I throw the bags of guns away, and there’s this plaque — ‘the people who tried to save this building’ — and there are two fire axes.  So I basically smash that thing open and grab the axes.  He shot me a couple of times by surprise.  I had a Kevlar vest.  I throw him the axe, ‘What are we, Vikings?’ and we star going like a Cuisinart.

How does this action compare to the stuff you’ve done before and how have those movies helped you prepare for this one?

MOMOA: Well it was the first time I ever shot a gun.  My character on Stargate Atlantis was basically…  I had a laser beam.  It was pretty hard.  Looked like an idiot putting it in there.  So this is my first time with the gun stuff.  But with the axe fight, all the sword stuff I did on Conan really helped me.  They loved that.  Definitely different.  I never played a villain before.  I wanted him to be this sick, charming, sadistic psycho.   An air of elegance.

Do we see his background?

bullet-to-the-head-jason-momoaMOMOA: Originally when they wrote it they had him down in Australia.  When I came on it changed to Africa, Blackwater down there.  Something like that.  That’s where he met Morel.

We were hearing about Sarah’s tattoo experiences.  I see you have tattoos — did you give her any advice?

MOMOA: No, but everyone wants to get tattooed by her.  She did a really good job.  She did a pig’s hind end.  She did a really good job.

You’ve played characters who have wreaked a similar amount of havoc, but as good guys.  What’s the difference in playing a homicidal good guy versus a homicidal bad guy?

MOMOA: You know what?  Not very much.  Not so much difference.

Is it just a glint in the eye?

MOMOA: It is.  This guy’s cold-blooded.  It’s a lot of fun doing this, man.

You’re working with Sly in this.  Is this one of those things where you guys are on different paths through the whole thing and you only have that one big fight scene?  Or are you constantly battling each other?

bullet-to-the-head-sylvester-stallone-jason-momoaMOMOA: We have, I think, three encounters and he always gets the upper hand on me.  I’ll like bring a knife to a gunfight.  Obviously he shoots me in the chest and it just pisses me off, so I steal his daughter and kill his partners.  There’s the one where I kill his partner and then we fight in this bathroom and he ends up shooting me in the chest.  And then I kidnap his daughter and that’s the next time we me is at this power plant in the end.  So he’s kinda the guy that always…  I kinda kill everyone except for Stallone and I really like the fact that he’s been living.  So that’s why I do the axe.  I pull out the axe.  I don’t want’ to shoot him.  I actually just want to cut him open.

Following up on the axe fight, was that a multi-day shoot?  How much did you guys prepare for that particular fight scene?

MOMOA: I prepared probably two-to-three days worth and then I shot for three days on it.  Stallone worked on it for two days and then the third day we did a lot with the stunt double.

Walter makes it sound like this isn’t an action movie, it’s a character-driven drama that has some fight scenes with axes.  Did you find that you have that opportunity to really develop your character, to have the intense moments of acting as performance as much as you do fighting with weaponry?

bullet-to-the-head-sarah-shahi-jason-momoaMOMOA: Yeah, that was kinda the important thing I was really excited about is that it wasn’t just the fight.  I think if you don’t have those little moments of character, then it’s just like two guys fighting and there are a billion things that I like that.  I like to inject a little bit of character traits, so it’s good.  Walter’s big on that, so that’s one of the reasons why I signed on for it.  It wasn’t just a shoot-em-up.  There’s some really, great scenes with Keegan.  He’s definitely a solid character.

How’s working with Walter compared to some of the other guys that you’ve worked with?

MOMOA: You know, Walter’s really an actor’s director.  I was really shocked at how he just built this beautiful space.  Even on the smallest of scenes, we had a little corner set up where we would just rehearse and go over it and he writes a lot of the scenes and changes them on the spot.  He wants it to be the best product.  I have only the greatest things to say about him.  I’d work with him again if he’d hire me.

How many times has he said, “No more prosciutto” to you?

MOMOA: He says it to me a lot, because I try throw a lot of ham in there.  I definitely like my prosciutto, so he’s done a couple…  Like, for instance, on one, where I shoot everyone, at the very end of it, I start whistling [he whistles the “Andy Griffith” theme] after I just completely murder everyone.  That’s from “The Andy Griffith Show.”  I did that and he’s like, “Don’t do that.  We can’t get the rights to that.”  So then I did Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Patience” on the second take, but he’s like…  I’m like, “We can put something in there,” but I just like the idea of, “It’s just another day at the office,” killing five guys and I’m whistling on my way out.

One thing we were wondering: Obviously you’re a good deal taller than Sly and a good deal younger, how much does that play into the action scenes?  How much is that a central aspect of the dynamic between the characters?

bullet to the head jason momoaMOMOA: That’s what’s kinda cool about it…  I know that Sly’s in greater shaper than I am.  We’re 30 years different, maybe 33 years in age, and probably a good nine inches in height and it looks great.  I saw cuts of it.  Obviously I’m the one that’s gonna be waving the axe a lot more and taking the attacks, but there are some great spots where he wanted to do this homage to “Rocky” and he’s like, “Hey, got this idea, you know.  I’ll lock you up and I’ll throw a couple in the ribs” and I was like, “Oh, that’s be great! Man, it’ll be awesome.”  And he’s telling stories about him and Dolph and there are production still of him just sinking it into his ribs and I’m like, “Well, I can put a pad in here” and he’s like, “No, no.  I’ll pull the punch.  I’ll pull.”  I’m like, “Alright.  OK.”  I’ve got this fucker on tape, too.  He comes in and he lights me up three times.  It’s like BOOM, two, three.  And it’s just that pace.  One.  Two.  Three.  And the third one, I was like, “Awww.  I felt it.”  I’m like, “That ain’t shit.  That ain’t shit.  65, man, that ain’t shit.”  And he does it again and he’s like, “Alright, alright.”  He comes in and he goes, ONE.  He takes a beat.  I’m like, “Aw, fucker.”  And he just goes [he’s pantomiming the whole thing.] He  rocks me and then he switches to his right hand.  And then he he nails me in the right.  I was like, “Awww.”  It was great.  He’s having fun.  I’m having fun.  Shit.  The other day was like, “I’m fighting with Rocky.  It’s the coolest thing in the world.”

Can you talk about the pace of this movie.  Is it really frenetic and really fast-paced?

MOMOA: Absolutely.  What’s going on with my character absolutely is.  So, definitely.

Is there a certain like honor among thieves?  It sounds like when the axe fight is happening, somewhat you have to respect him to [muffled] like he’s gonna go for this.

MOMOA: Yeah.  Absolutely.  That’s one of the things I love about the axe fight.  It’s just like I wanna take my time…  There’s a part where I wanted to lose my axe, where I wanted to get like thrown and so I totally lose it.  I’m making fun of him the whole time.  Like if he escapes, I’m just like, “Oh, very lucky guy.”  I’m just having fun, like I’m just gonna take my time shaving off little parts of his body.  And then there’s a moment where I was like, “Oh, it’d be great if he wraps me up and throws me and then I lose my axe.”  And then I’m just clapping and he comes at me and I’m like, “S***!” It’s fun to have those little character moments in there.

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