Jason Momoa stars in remake of Conan the Barbarian
Published Tuesday July 26th, 2011
by CHRIS LACKNER
SAN DIEGO – At a pop culture convention brimming with superheroes and superpowers, Conan stands alone. No mutant healing factor or radioactive spider bites required: Conan the Barbarian is a hero who has never needed anything more than his wits and a trusty broadsword.
Jason Momoa stars as Conan in the remake of of Conan the Barbarian.
First introduced by pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard in 1932 and brought to life in the 1982 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Conan is about get a big-screen reincarnation in the form of the Hawaiian-born Jason Momoa.
Momoa is one of the biggest stars of this year’s annual ComicCon, and he owes it all to embracing his inner savage. Momoa was a highly-anticipated presence on HBO’s panel for Game of Thrones, the acclaimed series in which he played the primal warrior king Khal Drogo. His work on Thrones has paved the way for audiences to accept him as the ultimate barbarian, Conan of Cimmeria.
“Oh, they hate me,” he said of Conan fans’ initial reaction to his casting. “Everyone’s like, ‘Who? Baywatch? Stargate?’ It’s like, ‘I can do more than that.’
“Once Game of Thrones came out, people were like ‘holy sh-‘, Conan is going to be badass,” Momoa said in an interview at ComicCon. “After seeing Drogo, they were like ‘all right, this guy can do it.'”
Before being cast as the two barbarians, Momoa was probably most known for stints on the TV series Baywatch and Stargate: Atlantis. He said Conan and Drogo are different beasts altogether.
“This is a lone warrior,” he said of Conan. “At any given time he could take over a kingdom, but he wouldn’t know how to run a kingdom. (Conan) is just a pirate, a thief, he’s also more adolescent, too. Drogo is just this silverback, he’s this monster of a man and he has to have this certain air of elegance about him … but to carry yourself around like that (was) difficult. I’m not used to being the king.”
During the Thrones panel, Momoa did reveal one tidbit that Conan fans might dispute. When asked who would win in a battle between the two skilled fighters, Momoa was far from neutral.
“Between you and me, Drogo would kick Conan’s ass,” he said before yelling a Dothraki war cry into the microphone.
As for Conan, Momoa admits he’s never watched Schwarzenegger’s original film or its sequel.
“I’ve never played a role that had already been played before and I really don’t feel that I would need to see Arnold’s performance to help me with mine. There is so much source material, tonnes of stories, comic books and the (art was) big for me. I wanted to build my character from the ground up.”
When asked whether Schwarzenegger ever tried to reach him after being cast, Momoa is quick with a quip.
“He did all the time, I was like you’ve got to leave me alone bro,” he said before breaking up into laughter. “No … I was excited to find out that he actually watched it and liked it a lot and was proud of me … so I’m going to go watch his movie. I just wanted to see mine first.”
The hulking Momoa even looks like a barbarian in person, albeit one cleaned up for a GQ photo shoot. Dressed in head-to-toe black, his shirt is unbuttoned nearly halfway down his chest, rings of triangle tattoos circle his left wrist and a skull ring and thick metal bracelet adorn his right hand. His hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and his trimmed beard and stubble show signs that he puts more effort into grooming than his savage fictional counterpart.
Momoa said he studied Conan stories and artwork to help shape his performance.
“It’s movement to me, all movement,” he said of the character. “In those Dark Horse (Comics) … I tried to train my body and (do) stance work. Also the way he prowled, I felt like he was just a big cat, so I went and studied lions and watched how lions and panthers moved … I also studies a lot of old samurai movies, I wanted to be able to wield a broadsword like a samurai sword … and having to shave your body and put 20 pounds of weight on absolutely changes the way you move.”
Conan was shot in Bulgaria, where the landscape lent itself to recreating Conan’s pre-historic world. Ironically, Momoa shot Conan before his turn in Game of Thrones, though the HBO series reached audiences first. Momoa had to be in peak physical form for the role, but admitted he let things go a bit for Drogo.
“I got to play Drogo right after Conan,” he said. “Conan’s a big drinker, but you’ve got to keep the abs and that’s hard. You just eat boiled chicken and raw meat and you can’t drink as much. When I got (the part of) Drogo, I was like pizza, beer, pasta. I went straight to Rome.”
Producer Fredrik Malmberg said it was a drawn-out process for the film to find their Conan, auditioning nearly 150 people around the world,
“It was a little funny because either they were huge, muscular and couldn’t act or they were scrawny and it was like “that’s not really Conan.”
And one of those auditions was Jason but he was in Stargate: Atlantis at the time, so he had dreadlocks and he had this beard and he’s got this deep voice.”
Malmberg said it was director Marcus Nispel who watched Momoa’s audition tape and knew he had his Conan immediately. Soon after, everyone was convinced.
“He’s just a natural barbarian,” Malmberg said.
Malmberg thinks it’s easy to understand Conan’s enduring appeal,
“It’s the them of barbarism versus civilization – action (and) consequence,” he said. “A barbarian will just react immediately and I think today’s audiences will (respond to that). Today’s people feel a sense of frustration. Bernie Madoff rapes half of the world and nobody can do anything about it, whereas if Conan was there, he’d chop his head off. He’s just talking to those primal instincts we all have.”
When asked what draw the sword and sorcery film might have for a female audience, Conan co-star Rachel Nichols did not hesitate.
“I think it’s Jason’s abs,” she said.
“I think I’ve got about four good reasons why,” Momoa followed with a big grin and a burst of laughter, while moving to begin slowly unbuttoning the rest of his collared shirt. “One… two…three.”
Momoa’s mighty abs aside, fans of realistic combat scenes will also be drawn to the film. Producers wanted as much of the film grounded in the real world- they can expect the 3-D fight scenes to feel up close and personal. And there may be more to come; Momoa said he is signed on to do sequels.
“(There are) so many more adventures we could do,” Momoa said. “I love the fact that he’s not this superhero…I love the fact that he’s a self-made man, he is a thief, he is a pirate, he loves his drink, he’s just this barbarian. He’s a man’s man. I liked playing that.”