When Canadians think of the Hudson’s Bay Company, they think department store. They don’t think Game of Thrones with fur pelts.
That may change after Sunday, when Frontier premieres on Discovery Canada. It’s also set to debut outside of Canada on Netflix.
Set in the late 1700s, the historical drama runs decades of Canadian high school history through a bandsaw.
It depicts the fur trade as a ruthless turf war with several factions in the mix: the English, the French, First Nations and a “Black Wolf” rebel force led by actor Jason Momoa as Declan Harp.
Vancouver-native Landon Liboiron (Hemlock Grove), Alun Armstrong (New Tricks) and Allan Hawco (Republic of Doyle) all have starring roles, but it is Momoa who towers over them, literally and figuratively.
Fake snow needed for winter scenes
Listed at 6-foot-4 but appearing even taller in person, Momoa played warlord Khal Drogo in the first two seasons of “Game of Thrones.”
The 37-year-old Hawaiian-native has headlined several other action adventures, including the reboot of Conan the Barbarian. He plays Aquaman in DC’s upcoming Justice League and will soon star in his own Aquaman spin-off.
The production base for Frontier was the same converted studio that housed Republic of Doyle for six seasons.
While “winter is coming” is a Game of Thrones motif, it looked like winter might never come last January and February in St. John’s for Frontier.
Director/executive producer John Vatcher had to order fake snow to be rolled around teepees during an unseasonably warm spell.
“It was the weirdest winter,” says local boy Hawco.
Hot or cold, the winter was no matter to Momoa. For one thing, he had a fireplace in the jumbo trailer that had to be brought in to accommodate him. He also really wanted to get out with the crew and play hockey — for his first time on skates.
“I grew up in Iowa so I love the cold,” he says. “We just played street hockey, I got really good at roller hockey. I can stickhandle, I just can’t stop on skates.”
Momoa warned his Frontier hockey mates: “If you see me coming, just move.”
‘You could see how big his smile was, he was busting out of his cage.’
– Allan Hawco
Hawco says Momoa took to pond hockey like Aquaman to water.
“Every time he’d pass me on the bench he was like a two-year-old,” says Hawco. “You could see how big his smile was, he was busting out of his cage.”
Momoa was just as excited to play his character on Frontier.
He was the first choice of executive producers Brad Peyton, Rob and Peter Blackie. Momoa invited them to his house to illustrate just how much he had in common with his character.
House looks like it was furnished by a trapper
What they found was a wolf’s lair of homemade artifacts. It looked like it was furnished by an original Hudson’s Bay fur trapper. Here were forged swords and knives and fur-covered clothing.
“I just like the period,” says Momoa. The coat he wears in the series “is based on seven coats I have in my house.”
Momoa and his actress-wife Lisa Bonet (The Cosby Show) have two children; their eight-year-old son’s middle name is “Wolf.”
Still, Momoa insists he’s nothing like Harp or Drogo or Conan or any of these other barbarians he’s played.
He grew up with an artistic single mother who took him to see Gone With the Wind and Rear Window. After graduating from Colorado State University, he travelled the world rock climbing.
He studied painting in France and Buddhist teachings in Tibet.
He got an agent, was cast on Vancouver-based Stargate Atlantis and got married to Bonet.
Things were going well until he took a bottle to the face. “That kinda set me back a year,” he says, matter of fact.
He’s loath to get into it, would much rather talk hockey.
“You can find that on the Internet,” he suggests.
‘The biggest guy in the room’
On Nov. 15, 2008, Momoa was slashed in the face with a broken beer glass by a customer at a Hollywood tavern. He was only in the bar for two minutes.
“It was just ‘the biggest guy in the room’ kind of thing,” he says. The slash required 140 stitches and reconstructive surgery, leaving him with a permanent scar.
“If I didn’t have a Neanderthal forehead I would have lost an eye,” he says. “It was scary. My son was born a month later and I have a daughter.”
‘He would hate me for saying it, but he’s actually a really sweet guy.’
– Landon Liboiron
Then there was the time he nearly drowned while surfing and — well, why dwell on the past?
Worse things happen to Harp in Season 1 of Frontier. But Momoa loves playing this mountain man and will be back for more. He’s tickled that Harp gets to speak some Cree.
Just don’t confuse him for his character.
“He would hate me saying it, but he’s actually a really sweet guy,” says Liboiron.
“He’s a big teddy bear,” adds another co-star, Jessica Matten.