Some people say it’s the clothes that make the man. In the case of actor Jason Momoa, his dreadlocks are what first come to mind when you think of his Stargate Atlantis alter ego of Ronon Dex. After seven years, he was longing to shed his dreads, especially after they started to become a pain in the neck, quite literally. Unfortunately, because of his work on Atlantis, that was not an option, so a compromise was struck. The actor had his hair cut, but that meant wearing a wig as Ronon, which still had its drawbacks.
“My dreads were giving me neck problems, so I wanted to cut them off,” says Momoa, sitting down in the Atlantis make-up trailer, having finished his working day. “The writers were going to write it into the episode, but one of the gentleman at the network didn’t want me to lose the dreads because he didn’t think I could be Ronon without them. I’m an actor, and I don’t need my hair in order to do my job as an actor. So this [fifth] year I’m wearing a wig,” referring to the man-made hairpiece being removed from the top of his head. “Of course, these fake dreads weigh five or six pounds; they’re heavier than my real ones. What are you going to do,” he jokes.
It was in the Atlantis second season episode Runner that Ronon Dex, and his dreads, became a part of the Stargate universe. In it, he was befriended by Colonel John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan) and Teyla (Rachel Luttrell), who offered him a safe haven in Atlantis. A former military officer in the Satedan army, Ronon’s home world had been invaded by the Wraith. Captured during battle, he was fitted with a tracking device and spent the next seven years being hunted as sport by the enemy. Ronon was forced to keep his distance from other people or risk their planets being culled by the Wraith. So he had his doubts that his time in Atlantis and as a member of Sheppard’s off-world team would last long. Well, he was wrong.
“Each year it just becomes more and more obvious to Ronon that Atlantis is his home and that he’s comfortable being there,” notes Momoa. “That became even clearer to him after the story this year [Broken Ties] where he experiences that huge change. Relationship-wise, this season we picked up on my character kind of liking Dr. Keller [Jewel Staite], and you get a glimpse into his jealous side because McKay [David Hewlett] feels the same way about her. And as we know, Ronon doesn’t like to lose. We don’t get to touch on that too much, though, which is a bummer because it would have been nice to see him rub it in McKay’s nose just a little bit,” chuckles the actor. “We have one tiny scene in the episode we’re currently shooting [Infection], but that’s it.
“At least we get to see the softer side, I guess you could call it, of my character,” he continues, “just like we saw his darker side in Broken Ties. Now I would have liked to have seen that continue a little longer. I wanted him to stay evil for maybe a couple of episodes, but they [the producers] decided to resolve the issue by the end of the story, which didn’t leave time for a great deal of angst. You did, however, get to see a lot of his vulnerability and him having raw power. That was probably the strongest Ronon has ever been, being all cracked out on that [Wraith] enzyme. Then his friends took that away from him, and he subsequently begs to be killed.
“As an actor, I had the opportunity to go to a couple of places I’d never been before, and that was so much fun. You don’t get to do something like that on most TV shows, or for that matter in real life. For Ronon, it was like being on heroin times 10, and since it’s a make-believe drug, you can really go with it because who knows what it does to you. That was neat. So there’s been plenty of stuff and a lot of new colors for me to play this year as far as Ronon is concerned.”
When Ronon first came to Atlantis, Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson) was in charge of the expedition from Earth. When she became a prisoner of the Replicators, Stargate SG-1‘s Colonel Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) took over those responsibilities. In Atlantis‘ fifth season, the colonel was reassigned by Earth Command, and International Oversight Authority (IOA) representative Richard Woolsey (Robert Picardo) arrived in the Pegasus galaxy to take his turn in the responsibility seat.
“Woolsey has been good for my character in a shake-up sort of way,” says Momoa. “I mean, Ronon has a problem with authority in general. The reason he and Sheppard get along so well is because of mutual respect. He’ll loosely do what the colonel asks just because he trusts him and knows that Sheppard will watch his back. As for any outside authority, Ronon isn’t thrilled with it. He’s treated Woolsey like he treated Weir and Carter when he initially met them, and I think episode after episode they’ve become friendlier and friendlier. Woolsey treats Ronon with a lot of respect and their relationship is one of boss and employee. He doesn’t really understand Woolsey, but that’s OK because it’s what makes things interesting between them.”
Speaking of relationships, is Momoa pleased with how the one between his character and Jewel Staite’s has been written? “Absolutely,” he says. “I like that he’s fighting over someone who he might not necessarily like in a romantic sort of way. It’s not clear if he likes her because McKay likes her. It’s left to the audience to figure things out. Again, it’s nice, but I don’t think he should be with Keller. It was fun to have a couple of stories this season where there could have been something with them, but ultimately, no one wants to see Ronon with a woman. It’s like Samson losing his hair, you know? Once Ronon gets involved in a relationship he’ll lose his ‘powers’ if you will. That’s the way I’ve always thought of it. Having said that, there’s an episode towards the end of the season where you see another potential love interest for my character.”
One of the season five episodes that has both Ronon and Dr. McKay “competing” for Dr. Keller’s attentions is Tracker. In it, the physician is kidnapped while off-world by Kiryk (Mike Dopud), who, like Ronon, was turned into a runner by the Wraith. He needs Keller’s help to save the life of a little girl who was injured during a Wraith culling of her village and is not about to let either Ronon or McKay get in his way.
“Tracker was fun because it was just me and David Hewlett, and working with him is always a pleasure as well as laughs and good times,” enthuses Momoa. “Our two characters are good together because they’re obviously brains and brawn, and now this year they’re fighting over Keller and it’s been great to feed off of that.
“I have to say, too, that Mike Dopud, who played Kiryk, does a terrific job in the episode. He’s a fantastic actor and we had such a good time working with him. Like Mike’s character, Ronon brought death upon an entire village because of the Wraith, so my character is able to relate to him on that level. However, they’re two testosterone-driven don’t-show-any-emotion guys, but they do share one tiny moment of understanding in the episode. I’m really pleased our writers did something like that, rather than having Ronon put the blinders on and have him just seeing red because this Runner took someone who he loves and respects. It would have been neat if they were able to bring back Mike’s character and have him and Ronon take on some Wraith together.”
Ronon and his teammates could have used someone like Kiryk to help them in the aforementioned Infection, where our heroes board a Wraith hive ship that, along with its crew, is suffering from a strange sickness. “In this episode, the Wraith we’re dealing with no longer have feeding openings on their hands,” explains Momoa. “So they have to eat using their mouths, and they have these really nasty, ugly faces and teeth, which we get to see. Ronon and the others are stuck on a hive ship with a bunch of freakin’ hulking eating machines, one of whom bites my character and gets his head blasted off. Our guys have to team up with Todd the Wraith [Christopher Heyerdahl]; they unfreeze him from stasis and he helps us.
“Andy Mikita is directing Infection and he’s one of my favorite directors. It’s very much a collaborative process with him. Sometimes it can be difficult to convey your ideas to a director, and Andy is really cool about it. I’ve always found him to be like a father figure. You can shoot the breeze with him. He’s very down-to-earth and that’s what I like about him.”
No stranger to series TV, Momoa was a regular on Baywatch Hawaii and North Shore before being cast on Atlantis. It seems, though, that his time playing Ronon Dex has had the most impact on him and allowed him to further stretch himself as an actor.
“I’ve been with this role for four seasons, and at the end of my first year playing him I really began to grasp the character, so much so that now it’s easy to slip into,” he says. “As far as the action goes, it’s a lot easier than it used to be. I mean, I’ve been walking in these shoes for a long time, and I’m going to be a little sad when this show ends and I’m not playing Ronon. I’ve never really felt that way before. This is the hardest role I’ve ever had. There’s no way that I relate to most of the stuff he does, but I really like Ronon and I think the writers have done a good job with him. Sometimes it’s hard not having much to say as my character, but, hey, that’s Ronon, so I’ve had to let go of that.
“When it comes to the acting, I’ve learned a great deal on Atlantis. I get really nervous on-camera, so I’ve tried to relax and slow down. This season I’ve had the chance to go much deeper into this character and really experiment with him. Broken Ties was a huge breakthrough for me, especially when it came to the scenes where I cried. I find it very difficult to cry, and as an actor you have to look inside yourself as much as possible and be aware of your emotions. Thank God I got to work with [director] Ken Girotti on Broken Ties, who’s incredible. He got me to relax and would say to me, ‘You know you can do this.’ When you’re on-set and, for example, the lighting people are doing their thing, the camera guys are moving the camera into place, and someone from make-up is powdering your face, it’s hard to channel your emotions. It takes a lot of practice, and I’m not good at getting all emotional and crying. Ken just came up to me and said, ‘Jason, you know what you want to do. You’re there, just relax.’
“When I heard Ken tell me to relax I thought, ‘OK, just breathe into your stomach and listen for a second to what he’s saying.’ When that one word [relax] hit me, it was just awesome. That’s where you think, ‘This is why I do what I do.’ I’ve had times in my career where I’ve been able to stretch myself acting-wise doing those types of scenes. Action helps that entire process because it throws you into that particular moment. As far as the acting, though, when you get to just perform and do your thing, that’s when you truly realize why you love your job so much.”
As noted above, all photos are copyright The Sci Fi Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any fashion. Thanks!