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Conan The Barbarian - Jason Momoa interview

Jason Momoa as Conan

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JASON Momoa talks about some of the physical demands of playing Conan and some of the many injuries he picked up, including a particularly painful bout of shin splints while training.

He also talks about how Game of Thrones changed his life in many ways, including helping him get Conan, and why working with Sylvester Stallone next is an honour.

Q. I gather you’re indebted to Game of Thrones both in terms of raising your profile and getting you cast as Conan?
Jason Momoa: Well, yeah. When I went out for the audition for Game of Thrones, the casting director happened to be there… another casting director the second time I went in and he was casting for Conan. So, that really helped. The presentation of doing the Haka is going to definitely secure your role as a barbarian.

Q. How did you know about the Haka?
Jason Momoa: Well, I’m Hawaiian and we all have our own Hakas… every island has got their own Haka. So, as a boy it’s just bred in you. I’m also a huge All Blacks fan… a huge All Blacks fan. I have All Blacks socks on right now, I think [checks, they are].

Q. Were you always a fan of Conan? I gather you read the books as a kid…
Jason Momoa: Yeah, it was Frank Frazetta that really set me off… when you see those images it really entices you to read the Robert E Howard stories.

Q. How physically demanding was the role for you? You’re in pretty good shape anyway…
Jason Momoa: It’s the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done in my life! I’ve never trained to that level either. I spent six hours a day on just constant training. You just go from action scene to action scene and you just try to keep injury at bay – that’s the hardest thing because you’re constantly bleeding somewhere!

Q. So, what was the worst injury you picked up?
Jason Momoa: I think I broke my ribs when I got bucked off the horse and just some pretty big sprains and pulls. Before I even started I had severe shin splints; they had to put me in a cast.

Q. How did you get those?
Jason Momoa: From doing sword work because your feet, when you’re training and you stick to the mats, it pulls the tissue away from the bone. I’ve never had shin splints before but you could hear my tendons moving [makes the noise]. It was insane. I thought it was brutal. I also broke my nose and there were a lot of groin pulls and things like that. My spine kind of went a little goofy and I had to get it straightened out a couple of times.

Q. But it remained important to you to keep doing as many of your own stunts as humanly possible?
Jason Momoa: Well, that’s the way Conan speaks – it’s through his movements. So, you cannot embrace the action or play the role correctly if you’re having someone else do the movements for you. I want to be doing it myself, unless it’s going to be a train wreck. You want to do it yourself.

Q. Is that why you also worked really closely with Leo Howard, who plays the young Conan, to ensure that your movements remained in synch throughout?
Jason Momoa: Absolutely, but he was already a phenomenal black belt and swords-man. But I worked closely with him because, for starters, I wanted to embrace those images so that they were seared into my memory of how I walked when I was a child. And second, we also wanted to have the same look and stare and the way we walked. I wanted to make sure we were both playing the same role.

Jason Momoa as Conan

Q. Had you seen the original Arnold Schwarzenegger films? Or were you tempted to watch them as part of any preparation?
Jason Momoa: I hadn’t seen them up until two weeks ago when I finally got to see the first one…

Q. What did you think?
Jason Momoa: It’s a different Conan. I think it was great in the ‘80s but our film is definitely different. I mean, you can’t take anything away from it because they are amazing and inspired tonnes and tonnes of people. But comparing ours to those is like comparing Sean Connery and Daniel Craig as James Bond – they’re completely different.

Q. What do you think makes Conan such an enduring character – that he can be brought back for modern audiences?
Jason Momoa: I just think it’s a fun world to go to and wonder around in. It’s a mythical, magical Lord of the Rings kind of world and then this character’s just such an anti-hero. He is a hero but at the same time he’s a pirate and a thief and he’s flawed as a human. He’s not a superhero but he does exceptional things in the face of danger and that’s fun to play that. Also, he’s always in trouble and he’s a loner and that’s fun to play as well.

Q. How was being a part of Game of Thrones?
Jason Momoa: Oh that was the greatest thing I’ve ever been a part of! That’s hands down the pinnacle of my career so far. I’ve never played a role quite like that. Khal Drogo is something else. I don’t think you’ve ever seen anything like that in movies or on television. He’s a phenomenal character. And also just to learn a language like that is extremely difficult and it was fun as an actor to go to those places.

Q. How gratifying was it to be able to offer your own input into a show like that? I mean, Drogo’s big fight scene isn’t in the books and was something you came up with and they embraced…
Jason Momoa: No, no I wrote that and it was kind of scary because… well, the thing is that George Martin’s got 50 characters in his head and 50 different worlds and when you embrace and you play someone like Drogo, that’s my job as an actor… you become obsessed with it and you make suggestions. It’s always hard because obviously you want to stay true to the novel but at the same time I felt like we could do a little bit more. So, you bring it up in the hope they’ll listen and they did. So, that’s really awesome. But I think once we said we wanted to try and do something [different] everyone really attached to it and put their own input it. It came out amazing.

Q. Are you also now writing a sequel to Conan?
Jason Momoa: It’s not really writing it. It’s just that we have our Conan now and the big worry was whether it was going to be good and could this kid play Conan. I think when it comes out, if it does well, then no one’s going to know as an actor what I can extract from myself and places I would want to go if I was playing Conan. I think there’s so many great stories and as a huge fan I just want to be a part of the collaborative process. When we did this one it was kind of a work in progress as we went. I think those moments involving his sense of humour and his vulnerability, you have to have those moments for people to identify with it. You can’t just go round killing stuff… it makes him more human if you have those moments. So, it’s really just being a fan and being obsessed with it and wanting to be a part of it.

Q. How are you dealing with the newfound celebrity that comes with a high profile role such as Conan? I gather you were nearly mobbed at the premiere at Empire Presents Big Screen on Sunday?
Jason Momoa: The new celebrity thing is going to take some time to get used to because I really am not used to that!

Q. Finally, how is working with Sylvester Stallone on your next film, Bullet To The Head?
Jason Momoa: It’s just an honour. He’s just an amazing artist and painter and father and he’s just filled with advice. I respect him simply because he’s a self-made man. He wrote Rocky, which is one of the greatest films ever… it’s phenomenal. Also, just as a director and a writer I really admire him because that’s the direction I’d want to go – the way of Clint Eastwood, or Mel Gibson, and Stallone.

Read our review of Conan