Living in the Dirt, Making Art: Jason Momoa Explains ‘Road to Paloma’
Actor Jason Momoa had some good news this week — news unrelated to his current high-profile project, Sundance TV’s series The Red Road. WWE Studios and Anchor Bay Films announced that Road to Paloma, a film Momoa wrote, directed, co-produced, and stars in, will be released in Los Angeles on July 11, and four days later will be available on-demand and on DVD.
The Red Road and Road to Paloma are not formally related — and yet, there’s a connection. As Momoa, who is Native Hawaiian and was recently seen as Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones, has explained, the success of Road to Paloma in the Sundance Institute helped him get noticed by Sundance TV.
Road to Paloma was made on a budget of about $250,000, and involved guerilla-style filmmaking and the goodwill of a diverse cast that includes Wes Studi, Sarah Shahi, and Momoa’s wife, Lisa Bonet. In a candid interview with ICTMN, Momoa discussed the details of Road to Paloma, and what inspired him to make it.
Road to Paloma looks like a modern-day, grittier version of Easy Rider — was that your intent?
We are big fans of Five Easy Pieces, Easy Rider, and things like that. I love the road movies. I wanted to do a road movie that was really poignant.
What inspired you to make a film about rez life?
We were reading these articles in the New York Times where there are horrible crimes on reservations in which little girls were being raped and beaten and the law was letting it go. I was like, “What the fuck is going on?” We found out there is a loophole where a non-native can go on a reservation and commit a crime and tribal law says you can only hold them for a year. You can catch them red-handed, but federal court is just too busy and homeland security just tosses it out. This is horrible — but because of poverty, and people don’t have the time for it, and fucking depraved people go around and do this shit, it made me sick.
I am a father, and a son, and a grandson, and a husband — if someone were to mess with the women in my life and the law didn’t take care of them, what would I do?
Momoa's 'Road to Paloma' character contemplates helping damsel in distress Lisa Bonet, played by the actor's real-life wife.
Can you elaborate on the storyline and your character for us?
This guy, the violent offender, is held for a year, and my father, Wes Studi is a tribal officer. His wife was raped and beaten. He caught the man red-handed and can’t do anything about it. He has to let him go and I can’t deal with that shit. So I end up killing the guy and now I’m on the run. So Wes has to bring in his own son, and the FBI gets involved. The whole movie starts six months later. This guy is just trying to get by, doing migrant work, and he’s trying to get home to get his mom’s ashes. He knows that if he gets caught, he’s going to go to prison — it’s the soliloquy of a man saying goodbye to his life. He is trying to see his sister and at the same time the FBI is chasing him down.
There is also the FBI’s perspective in the film. There is one guy who works on the rez and he understands that this is not black-and-white — it’s gray — he sees that the guy I killed was a piece of shit. You really get to see the injustices of life. We do some work with the Mojave as well as with Steve Reevis and his daughter.
You worked with your wife Lisa Bonet in this film — what’s their relationship on screen?
She plays a wayward gypsy who lives off the rez in some sort of hippie encampment. My character meets her broken down on the side of the road, and they fall in love. You want them to be together, but they can’t, obviously.
Was it fun to act with your wife in the film?
Yes but it’s also nerve-racking because your love is there — but at the same time is a dream come true to work with her.
What can you say about the experience of making a real movie on what is, by Hollywood standards, a very small budget?
I was tired of waiting for this role to come along. This was what I wanted to do. We did this with several of my friends and in the can it cost about $250,000. We went and shot it we lived in the dirt and made art. It was one of the greatest times of our lives.
Just being on set all the time, you don’t need all those people. Every one of us who worked together wore ten hats — you just get in there and do what you want to do and have fun with the project.
Would you say the playing field is leveling for filmmakers?
When technology is at our fingertips the way it is now, yes the playing field is leveled. Things are cheaper to make now. What this really comes down to is just sitting by a fire and telling a good story. You can blow the shit out of all kinds of things, color it up and 3-D it, but the truth of it is a story is just a story and that will never change. It’s just a matter of learning your craft so you can go out and tell it.