Ask former Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa for a one-sentence pitch for his new drama Frontier, premiering Jan. 20 on Netflix after airing on Discovery Canada, and he knows exactly how to sell it: “The funny version: me, wrapped in fur, covered in blood, killing English people, avenging my family’s death,” he says. “It gets a little bit more complicated than that, but to get us going, I now speak English, still covered in blood, and wrapped in fur.”
Set in the late 1700s, the six-part first season (Season 2 has already wrapped filming) is a battle for control of the fur trade and the wealth and power that go with it. The key players are Momoa’s half-Irish, half-Native Declan Harp, who wants to destroy the dominance of England’s Hudson’s Bay Co.; the HBC’s evil Lord Benton (Alun Armstrong), who raised and betrayed Harp; and Landon Liboiron’s Michael, a young Irishman who Benton blackmails into infiltrating Harp’s band of rebels.
Here are 3 things you need to know, courtesy of Momoa and executive producer Jeff Fierson.
1) Momoa loves this role. Fierson and fellow EP Brad Peyton spent a half hour “role-playing, game-playing” before they first phoned Momoa to try to convince him to take the part, Fierson remembers. But they needn’t have bothered. “He spent an hour selling us on why he needed to be on the show. And at the end of the call, he said, ‘You guys have to come up and see my place. Don’t cast me until you come over,‘” Fierson says.
“First of all, we arrived there, and you know what he looks like physically. He was climbing a rock wall that he had built himself for him and his kids, shirtless. He jumps down from the top in a very hero pose, walks up, shakes our hand, and then just starts in with like, ‘Come over here. This is how you throw a tomahawk.’ He has a range to throw tomahawks and this entire bin full of tomahawks that he’s made. He has me, Jewish me, throwing tomahawks by the end of the night.”
“Yeah, you definitely want to knock before you come into my house. You want to let me know you’re coming over,” Momoa says with a laugh. His deep connection to this era — which he traces back to growing up in Iowa, learning from his outdoorsman-uncles and watching movies like Jeremiah Johnson — has also manifested itself in him owning period furs, adopting wolves, and forming a collective of artists, the Black Wolf Co., which made all the hand-crafted blades wielded in the series. “They were actually modeled after my grandfather’s knives,” Momoa says. “I kind of am this dude.”
He also connected with Declan Harp on an emotional level. “I just love the idea of him because I’m a father of two and a husband. If someone were to hurt your family what would you do, especially if that person was a would-be father figure to you? He’s going to chase down this man,” Momoa says. “It’s a revenge tale, but then you get to see Declan’s side and where he’s coming from. I’m drawn to those characters. I had a similar thing with Drogo, too. You’ve got to sit with it for a little bit and see where he’s coming from and I enjoy that.”
The six-episode first season is slow to reveal the full history between Harp and the HBC’s Lord Benton, so patience will be required. But there should be a payoff. “I’m very proud of episode 5, because I’ve never really went to those places before as an actor,” Momoa says.
“It gets pretty violent and intensive from a drama perspective,” Fierson says. “I always say he’s Daniel Day-Lewis trapped in Dwayne Johnson’s body.”
2) The first season is seen largely through Michael’s eyes. Liboiron’s poor Irish lad Michael soon finds himself tasked with spying on Harp for Benton, who’s threatened the young woman Michael loves. But will resourceful survivor Michael remain bound to Benton by default, side with Harp, or switch back and forth depending on the situation? The show will keep you guessing. “You start to realize Michael picks everything up very quickly, but then you realize he starts to make mistakes,” Fierson says. “You realize Harp, even with mistakes, is going to sacrifice himself for anyone that is affected by the HBC.”
For those not familiar with the Hudson Bay Company, allow Fierson to explain: “Britain had literally funded a private company and militarized it to go in and take out indigenous people so they could control the fur trade — all because these beaver-tailed hats were all the rage in the King’s court,” he says. “Harp is an amalgam of a bunch of different characters. We wanted to create the guy who banded all of these disparate groups together to try and take on the HBC. Everybody who read the pilot was like, ‘All I want to do is follow Harp.’ You open the show and he slits three people’s throats and you just want to know what’s going on with this guy: Is he a villain? What is he doing? You realize throughout that all of these things have been done to him.”
3) There is a strong female character. Tavern owner Grace Emberly (Zoe Boyle) knows everything that goes on in her town and uses that information to strike an interesting arrangement of her own. After Peyton directed the first two episodes of the series, the cast and crew broke for hiatus and the scripts for the other four hours were written. “We had the benefit of seeing how amazing Zoey was,” Fierson says. “It’s one of the amazing things about TV: you can start to switch midstream and lean into characters that are really shining. Emberly was so great that we were like, ‘She has to be one of the pillars of this show.'”
Bonus: Momoa will find time in his film career to do this show, as long as there’s an audience for it. He was still shooting Justice League when the cast returned to film the second season, so his scenes were shot in just five weeks. “It was good to be able to come back and raise the bar like 100%,” he says. “If you’re already satisfied with Season 1, it’s just like 100% better. I’m looking forward to, hopefully, [Seasons] 3 and 4.”
Season 1 of Frontier hits Netflix on Jan. 20.