On paper, it makes perfect sense why Jason Momoa would be cast as main character Phillip Kopus in the Sundance Channel drama “The Red Road.” He’s had plenty of television experience and is a native American himself (Hawaiian, not Mohave like his character), but surprisingly it wasn’t either of those factors that caught Sundance’s eye.
Instead, it was Momoa’s directorial debut. The film, called “Road to Paloma,” was submitted to the Sundance Film Festival at around the time that “The Red Road” was casting. It has since made its premiere at the festival, and it was because of that project that both Momoa and his wife Lisa Bonet, who plays his love interest in “Road to Paloma,” were brought into Sundance’s second original scripted series.
“When we submitted it to Sundance, they were looking for a Native guy,” Momoa tells Zap2it during a recent lunch promoting “The Red Road.” “They liked the role, and obviously she’s in it and they like the chemistry. It came out of, ‘This guy can write and direct and produce it and make the whole thing.’ A lot of people didn’t think I could speak English, and so that helped knowing I could write Engrish (sic) and put this major thing together and it was my vision.”
“Road to Paloma” is based on a real-life problem on Native American reservations where non-Natives cannot be tried under tribal law. Because of that, instances of violence and rapes and other heinous crimes take place on reservations and are never resolved in federal court. Momoa’s character in the film is someone who decides to take revenge after a rape on Native land seriously affects his life.
Momoa calls this his “road movie,” which he made with seven of his closest friends — including Bonet and “Person of Interest” star Sarah Shahi. They filmed on a small budget in five different states, and eventually ended up selling the project to Anchor Bay for a very limited theatrical release and a VOD release in July.
“That was a lot of years of our life that went into that film,” Bonet says at the lunch.
“It’s definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life because it’s very close to us,” Momoa adds. “I just don’t want to suck. That’s my whole goal: Not sucking in front of my wife.”
Bonet plays a love interest who Momoa’s character meets when he’s on the run. Though the audience can tell they’re made for one another, the timing of their relationship makes it not fated to work out. They even share a love scene together, which Bonet describes as a “really safe” experience but which made Momoa “really nervous.”
It was their chemistry together that got Bonet cast as a lawyer for the Native American tribe in “The Red Road.” The way Momoa talks about her character, she could end up becoming his love interest on the Sundance Channel series in the future, though that doesn’t happen in Season 1.
“It’s completely the opposite of what we just played. We never thought we’d do this again,” Momoa says. “It was great because it was the opposite of the thing we were playing in the movie and she really dug it and wanted to do it.”
Bonet continues, “[Sundance was] like, ‘We don’t normally like husbands and wives working together,’ but they really enjoyed our chemistries so it was super flattering too.”
For Momoa, he finds the stories being told in both “The Red Road” and “Road to Paloma” very personal to him.
“How far would you go to protect your family? I love that idea, like in ‘Road To Paloma,'” he says. “If something were to happen to the people that I love — and obviously I’m a father, son, grandson, husband — if someone were to hurt the women in my life and the law didn’t take care of it, what would you do? Some pretty awful things. With that, there’s the repercussion of that.”
He admits that he now enjoys directing more than he does acting, because he is concerned he’ll “run out of faces.” He would like to direct episodes of “The Red Road” Season 2, and also has another feature planned that he’d like to make several years down the road.
Described as his “Braveheart” or “Dancing With Wolves,” it’s a period piece set in Hawaii that is based on a true story, and will likely cost around $15 million to make. Until then, he’s going to continue acting and honing his directing skills on commercials.
“Road to Paloma” will open in theaters in New York City and Los Angeles on July 11 before its VOD release on July 15. “The Red Road” premieres on the Sundance Channel on Feb. 27 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.