An only child, Momoa was born in 1979 in Nānākuli, Honolulu, Hawaii to Coni (Lemke), a photographer, and Joseph Momoa, a painter. He was raised in Norwalk, Iowa, by his mother. His father is of Native Hawaiian ancestry and his mother is of German, Irish, and Native American descent. After high school, Momoa attended college and initially majored in marine biology before switching to wildlife biology.
Momoa during the filming of Stargate Atlantis in 2006 In 1998, Momoa was discovered by designer Eric Chandler and Takeo Kobayashi, who encouraged his modeling career. At 19 years old, he also worked part-time in a surf shop before being cast in the action drama series Baywatch Hawaii, where he appeared as Jason Ioane (1999–2001).
In addition to his appearances in North Shore (2004–2005), Johnson Family Vacation (2004), and Stargate: Atlantis (2005–2009), Momoa was cast as Roman in four episodes of the comedy-drama television series The Game (2009). He portrayed the title protagonist in Conan the Barbarian (2011), a reimagining of the 1982 film of the same name and a role made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Momoa gained his role of Khal Drogo on HBO's Game of Thrones through his audition, in which he performed a Haka, one of many intimidating Māori dances traditionally used to convey a challenge to an opponent, or a welcome to a visitor.
Momoa directed and co-wrote Road to Paloma (2014), an American drama thriller film, together with writers Jonathan Hirschbein and Robert Homer Mollohan. The film stars Momoa, Sarah Shahi, Lisa Bonet, Michael Raymond-James, and Wes Studi. It premiered at the 2014 Sarasota Film Festival in April 2014. The film had a limited theatrical release on July 15, 2014 in New York City and Los Angeles and a VOD release.
In March 2014, Momoa joined the dark comedy/thriller indie Sugar Mountain alongside Cary Elwes and Haley Webb; its principal photography was done in Alaska. He also starred as Phillip Kopus, a Ramapough Mountain Indian, on the SundanceTV drama series The Red Road (2014–2015).
In June 2014, Momoa was reported to have been cast in the role of Aquaman. He first played the role in a cameo in the superhero film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, marking Aquaman's live action theatrical debut. Momoa played the character in a leading role in the 2017 ensemble film Justice League. He then starred in the Aquaman solo film, which released in late 2018. He also reprised this role in The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part.
In 2014, Momoa portrayed Connor in the Canadian horror action film Wolves, and starred in the sci-fi horror movie Debug; it was written and directed by Momoa's former Stargate Atlantis co-star, British-born Canadian actor David Hewlett. In February 2015, it was announced that he would portray a cannibal in the drama thriller film The Bad Batch. In 2015, Momoa was cast in the Canadian action film Braven, which was released on February 2, 2018.
In early 2017, he signed onto the official Just Cause movie series.
In July 2018, Momoa was cast for Apple's upcoming future-based drama series See.
In February 2019, Momoa was cast as Duncan Idaho in the upcoming Denis Villeneuve film Dune.
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