Jason Momoa doesn’t get to play many ordinary guys. He’s Aquaman. He’s Khal Drogo. He’s Conan the Barbarian.
It’s part of the reason why he wanted to be in “Sweet Girl,” a new action drama out on Netflix. In the film he’s an ordinary Pittsburgh father named Ray Cooper who vows to get revenge against a pharmaceutical company he blames for his wife’s death. As a father himself, it was a natural fit, and he got to hand pick the actress who’d play his on screen daughter: “Instant Family’s” Isabela Merced.
Momoa and Merced spoke to the AP about the film and forming a bond on screen and off.
Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: Jason, how do you go about choosing someone to play your daughter?
MOMOA: The whole cast was full of my first picks. But it was all about Isabela. We had some mutual friends and I just thought she would be perfect to play my daughter. I texted or something, probably sent out a bunch of love and aloha, and thank God she said yes because I don’t know who else I would have hired.
AP: Do you remember your first meeting?
MOMOA: I was very excited to meet her. She was very reserved. And I was probably extremely nervous. But we loosened up. We went and looked at the car and I have all these pictures from the first time we met. She was just itty bitty. So I started calling her Oompa because she’s an Oompa Loompa. And so that became her nickname. But she warmed up. We hit it off. We’re very similar in our styles.
MERCED: I hadn’t watched a single episode of “Game of Thrones.” I still haven’t. And I’m so sorry.
MOMOA: Don’t watch it. That’s not how you want to see your father.
MERCED: I had seen him in “Aquaman” in some theater in my hometown and my little brother loves him and I loved him in that movie. And so obviously I knew who he was. But you never know. How people present themselves is usually different than how they are. But with him, he’s just the same. If anything, he’s more loving. Once you get close to him and he realizes you can trust him … it’s the same way with me too. I wasn’t going to be lovey-dovey with everyone on the first day. He had to gain my trust too.
AP: Is that easier to do when you’re shooting on location, like you did with this film in Pittsburgh?
MERCED: Yeah, you’re kind of isolated with those people. We would go out to dinner pretty much every other night. We would dance. We would eat sushi. We had a great time. I’m from Cleveland, there’s like a rivalry between (the cities), but I don’t really care, like, I don’t know, like leave that to the old folks. I love Pittsburgh, it literally looks like Cleveland.
MOMOA: (laughs) Leave it to the old folks.
AP: And I understand Isabela was doing her own stunts too.
MERCED: I think the only reason I did most of my stunts in this movie was because of the amazing stunt team. It was all about the trust that created between each other.
MOMOA: That’s where I felt most like a dad to her. Like I knew she could act, I knew she was beautiful, I knew she would play this role great, but I didn’t know she could fight like that at that level. I was just blown away. I’m extremely excited for her career and for people to see this movie because she’s a little force. And that’s coming from me who pretty much only does action. You can’t just teach that. You have to have that fire in you.
AP: Jason, you produced this and it’s been a bit of a passion project. Why did you want to throw your weight behind it?
MOMOA: I’m not in too many contemporary pieces. I wanted to play a bit of an everyday man. And it tackles some amazing topics and it has a phenomenal twist. And it gave me the opportunity to put all my resources of 20 years into it, from stunts to wardrobe down to the casting. It was a wonderful, smooth-running production.
And for me, I have two daughters and it’s a totally different bond than, you know, with my son. It would be a whole different energy. So I just feel like what Isabela offers, it’s like how I am with my baby girl. There’s moments in the movie where it just cracks me open. I have never really behaved that way in a movie before.
AP: Do you think this is the kind of movie fathers and daughters can watch together?
MOMOA: Absolutely. I got some of the best compliments in my life from my children when we watched this. It was really fun to watch it with them.