The reboot of the Conan The Barbarian franchise hits theaters today, but the leading man in the film — Jason Momoa, filling in the sandals left empty by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1982 — is still barely known by most audiences. Momoa's rise to the iconic warrior role, though, was no overnight success.

Born in Honolulu to a native Hawaiian father and a mother with German, Irish and Native American roots, Momoa, 32, grew up mostly in Iowa with his mother. After moving back to Hawaii in 1998 and launching his modeling career, Momoa was quickly chosen as Hawaii's Model of the Year — a distinction that led to his being cast in the tenth season of the popular lifeguard series Baywatch, known by then as Baywatch Hawaii.

After he retired his red Speedo, Momoa's acting career idled for a bit, as he took roles in fledgling productions such as the Cedric The Entertainer film Johnson Family Vacation and Fox's short-lived soap North Shore, both in 2004. The non-success of these ventures may have been blessings in disguise, since in 2005 he was cast as Ronon Dex in The Sci-Fi Channel's Stargate Atlantis, which became a cult hit that ran for five seasons. During this time, Momoa grew out his hair in long, knotted dreadlocks and a scraggly beard — a far cry from the touched-up spruceness of his modeling days.

Around this time, Momoa met and moved in with The Cosby Show actress (and Lenny Kravitz's ex) Lisa Bonet, with whom he has fathered two children: daughter Lola Iolani, 4, and son Nakoa-Wolf, 2. Bonet, who attended Conan's L.A. premiere with Momoa and her daughter Zoe Kravitz earlier this month, has stuck around longer than the dreadlocks. Near the end of Stargate Atlantis, Momoa chopped them off, accusing his heavy head of hair of causing him neck pain and whiplash during fight scenes.

In 2010 Momoa auditioned for and won what may incidentally turn out to be his most important role yet — as Khal Drogo in HBO's Emmy-nominated Game of Thrones, an adaptation of author George R. R. Martin's best-selling medieval fantasy series. “When I read that Khal Drogo role, I was blown away,” Momoa told in June. “I couldn’t believe it was happening, I had to have that role. I was like, ‘Nobody is going to take that role from me.’”

And even though Kahl Drogo was killed off at the end of the first Thrones season, taking the role was well worth it for Momoa. The same casting director that was impressed with Momoa's Dothraki (an invented language) just happened to be looking for the new Conan, and the rest is history.

Watch the trailer for Conan The Barbarian here:

Read more about: