Interview with Jason Momoa on Den of Geek

Den of Geek are a day early for their interview with Jason Momoa, and there’s a fair amount of information on A Game of Thrones, and, of course, Conan the Barbarian. Since Momoa’s fairly salty in his language, I’ve replaced some of the colourful metaphors with asterisks for the benefit of those territories and individuals not conducive to sailor vernacular, as is the style of the time. In addition, I’m going to split my commentary after each relevant section, rather than put it all at the end in an editorial.

Art thou ready?

Were there a lot of stunts?

There wasn’t. I shot the pilot for this, went away and did Conan, and came back and shot the whole series. There was like one major scene we put into it that isn’t in the book. I went up to [writer and creator] David Benioff, and said, “I’m Conan. I’ve just done seventeen goddamn battles. You should probably have something that shows he’s this amazing warlord. He should have a little bit of a fight.”

I watch action movies, and you don’t remember when Jason Statham does a kick or punch. It’s character trait stuff you remember. Say, for instance, Indiana Jones, the guy with the sword. Indiana Jones shoots him, you remember that in the movie. The Joker in The Dark Knight, where he says, “Do you want to see a magic trick?” You remember that.

It’s certain punches you remember. I wanted to do something like that with Drogo. He never uses a weapon, he really gets in close. He’s such a badass. It’s like coming up against a silver back bear. You don’t look him in the eye. I wanted him to be that intimidating. I want to have that sense of, like, “Oh man, I’m f*****.”

I had this dream where I wanted to rip this guy’s tongue through his throat, and I thought that would be awesome. So, I had my dream come true. We did it. I said, “We don’t have to make a tongue. I can just hold a chicken breast covered in blood or something like that.”

They made a full throat with a tongue. So, I’m fighting this guy and he’s bobbing and weaving, and I’m talking in my Dothraki tongue, and he’s like, “You gotta kill me first,” and I’m like, “I already have.”

They made that come true for me. It was great to be part of all those great artists and writers. You could be free to create the character you wanted.

Since Khal Drogo was my favourite character in A Game of Thrones, I can’t help but endorse anything that brings us more Drogo, and it’s a little fun to think that Momoa’s experiences on Conan may have affected the series in some way. And I can’t be the only one who thought of Fist of the North Star on that final exchange, can I?

Do you fancy doing a nice little rom-com?

I love it. I’m funny as f***, you know? And romantic. But I really love- Drogo’s amazing. There’s no one like him on TV. He’s f****** amazing. And Conan, he’s the same, but not. He’s a king, but not. I created both in two different ways.

I don’t want to be like Spider-man or Batman, the do-gooder kind of thing. I’m this drinking, f******, eating machine. This pirate, thief, all these great things that I love. He’s an anti-hero. He doesn’t save the damsel in distress, he f**** the damsel in distress. After he takes over a kingdom, he slays some snakes. It’s awesome.

The stories that Robert E Howard makes, it’s so fun being this anti-hero. Because he is an anti-hero, but he’s in these circumstances that make him a hero. His life’s always on the line.

While I’m not going to comment on the whole antihero thing, I am going to comment on the “damsels in distress”: of the sixteen stories Howard wrote which feature prominent female characters (five don’t have any at all), Conan only gets lucky in eight, and of them, the most common thing we get is a kiss and perhaps some caressing: anything beyond that is left decidedly up to the reader’s imagination. There are only two in which we can be pretty clear Conan “f****** the damsel”: Yasmela in “Black Colossus,” where she’s the one dragging Conan to lie with her, and Bêlit in “Queen of the Black Coast,” one of the great loves of Conan’s life – and one can hardly call her a damsel at the best of times. Pedantic nerd mode, deactivate.

What was it like to play Conan?

It was hard. I’ve never been the lead of anything. It was my first experience of being a lead, the weight of it on your shoulders, performing at that level. Having to work out that much, staying in shape.

How much training did you do?

A lot. Like, six, seven hours’ training a day. And you’re eating boiled chicken breast, which sounds good, but it’s not. It’s like wet cardboard. You eat wet cardboard every two hours. I put a lot of work into it.

I got to see a rough cut, and people are going to be stoked. We’re not remaking anything Arnold did. It’s a totally new story. The same legendary character. We’re taking these tons and tons of great Robert E Howard stories from the 30s, and combining a couple and bringing it to audiences in a way that’s new and fresh.

It’s been clear for a long time that Momoa’s been pouring himself into this role. The sheer amount of bulk he amassed in the space of a few months is testament to that.

However, this statement that they’re combining a couple of Conan stories is news to me. Nothing from the cast sheet, official synopsis or what I know of the first few scripts suggests anything like combining a few stories, certainly not in a way that’s recognizable to me. One can see threads of “The Tower of the Elephant,” “A Witch Shall Be Born” and “Queen of the Black Coast” in the weave of Conan the Barbarian, as well as “Rogues in the House” in Conan the Destroyer and “The Hour of the Dragon” in Kull the Conqueror. I haven’t seen anything like that for the upcoming film.

Perhaps this is another Lobel/Hood addition: we know that Hood has at least added some Howardian dialogue, as in “I live, I love, I slay, and I am content” seen in the teaser, so perhaps part of his alteration included adaptions of some Howard tales or scenes. Without knowing exactly what they entail, I can’t comment, suffice to say that the same problems I had with including scenes from Howard stories in Conan the Barbarian may apply: that it could poison the well for future adaptations. If they were more like homages or similar situations, I might be interested: if they’re just Howard moments shoehorned in…

There’s obviously a lot of scope in Howard’s stories. Is it something you’ve talked about, returning to that role?

Yeah. Absolutely, trying to honour the Robert E Howard fans. That’s what I love. One of the biggest things for me was seeing the Frank Frazetta paintings. My parents were both painters, and seeing Frazetta – have you seen them? Of Conan standing on the pile of skulls? Those paintings are phenomenal.

You’ll forgive me if I’m still mighty sceptical about whether the film will succeed in honouring the Howard fans (though we shouldn’t be the ones they’re honouring, just Howard himself). Nonetheless, as I’ve said before, I believe they’re genuine in their desire to be faithful: it just depends on whether that desire ends up successful, which is something they’re going to have to prove come 19th August.

So, there’ll definitely be sequels?

Oh, yeah. There are sequels to everything. There’s a Fast & Furious seven, isn’t there? There’s like four Pirates Of The Caribbean. There’s sequels for everything.

Jason’s a bit off with the numbers (five Fast & Furious with a sixth on the way, three Pirates Of The Caribbean with a fourth on the way) but he has the gist of it. Many seem to be highly skeptical of a Conan sequel considering the first film hasn’t even been released, but I would be surprised if there wasn’t. It would take a monumental box office bomb to put plans for a franchise to rest, and if horrendously reviewed films like Clash of the Titans and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen can generate enough gross to greenlight a sequel, then Conan the Barbarian could.

Arnold/Conan the Barbarian (1982) fans may want to brace yourselves for the next part:

Are you prepared for the fanbase to explode when this film comes out?

I just hope they like it, because I’ve been bustin’ my ass, and I hope people love it, and embrace it. You’ll probably have dips***s who’ll be, like [adopts whiny voice] “It’s not like the 80s film.”

Well, I hope not, ‘cause that was the f*****’ 80s. There’s a lot more we can do now, dude. Some people will be like, “Oh, it’s not Arnold.” Well, no s***, Sherlock. I didn’t plan on being like Arnold. In anything.

Would you care if Arnold gave you his blessing?

I don’t care if he gives me his blessing. I love Arnold. I respect him, and love watching all his movies. I love True Lies. I love watching everything from that to Kindergarten Cop. It’s a great career.

Obviously, I’m going into action, so I’m following in his footsteps in a sense, but I can’t ever compare myself to Arnold. He’s one of a kind. I’d never put myself in his shoes. So, I think he may like it, he may not. It’s not like I’ll quit acting if he doesn’t like it.

Do you think you could beat him in a fight?

No, I’m sure he’ll kick my ass. [laughs] I always thought that’d be funny, to be on Saturday Night Live, and do a little skit and have him come out and beat the s*** out of me. I think that’d be funny. I’m always full of jokes, and I think it’d be great to just have him f*****’ throw me around the room.

Gotta admire Momoa’s candidness. I wouldn’t be nearly as charitable if he took such a dismissive tone about Robert E. Howard’s original stories, but then, Robert E. Howard is the ultimate source material for Conan, not Conan the Barbarian (1982). All roads lead back to the original stories, be it in literature, comics, games, television, or cinema. This film doesn’t have an obligation to a 29-year-old film any more than Batman Begins had to Batman, or the upcoming Hobbit films have to the Rankin-Bass animation.

I totally want to see that SNL sketch now. Perhaps Momoa could be up for a fictional reboot of Kindergarten Cop, and the original Richard Kimble tosses Momo around a classroom. “Stranger!”

Did you have any injuries while doing these roles?

Yeah, I’ve got a few marks. But it’s character building. Chicks dig scars, right?

Puts him in company with Arnold, who had a few famous injuries on the set of the 1982 film.

Were you an expert horse rider before?

No. I f*****’ hate horses. [laughs]

You chose a bad genre.

Yeah! [laughs] What? Shirtless? No words? On a horse? I’m your man! You watch Conan, and think, “Wow, he looks amazing on a horse.” But inwardly, I’m s******* my pants. That’s me acting like I know what I’m doing. I hated every moment.

I was going, “I hate this horse.” Conan 2‘s gonna open up with me eating that f*****’ horse, man. Straight up. I can’t stand that horse.

Having said that, on Game Of Thrones, I loved those horses. So, it was kind of like I started liking them again, then I went back for reshoots on Conan, and now I f*****’ hate ‘em again.

So, if either Game Of Thrones or Conan get picked up for another…

…I’m definitely gonna get a new horse. There’s no, like, “We want this one because it’s pretty and big.” I’ll be, like, “Nah.” I’m gonna find one that’s not dumb, and not gonna try to kill me.

You got thrown off a lot?

Yeah. Its feet gave out while we were at full gallop, and I slid down its neck and went ass over. I’m sliding on the grass.

The first time I got on the horse in Conan, I got on the horse and couldn’t stop him. I’m going like, mach one on this horse, and he wouldn’t stop. I broke my ribs before I even started. I got bucked off. Not a good start to a movie.

How did working on Game Of Thrones compare to Stargate?

Well, there were no horses and I got to wear clothes, for one thing. [laughs]

This was a delightful exchange for me to read, since one of my biggest initial complaints about Momoa’s casting was his issues regarding equestrianism. A shame he had such a tough time with the beast in question, but who knows, perhaps that’ll translate well to film. After all, part of what made Tippi Hedren so compelling in The Birds was her genuine fear of avians. (Well, at least when they were being thrown at her by Hitchcock)

Is that the type of genre you like to watch or read?

Not at all, which is weird. Not at all. I like to read. I don’t have a TV. I don’t have email. I don’t have a phone. I read books, I take care of my children, I play guitar. I love Japanese haiku poetry. I love Charles Baudelaire, biographies, whatever catches my fancy.

I’m a throwback. Maybe I am a barbarian!

I never would’ve picked Momoa for a Baeudelaire man. Reminds me of something Howard said in a letter to Lovecraft in September/October 1933:

If I can enjoy (for instance) both Service and Baudelaire, I see no reason why I should feel inferior to the man who can enjoy only Baudelaire, any more than to the man who can enjoy only Service. You must admit the scope of enjoyment is broader, whatever is to be said about the aesthetic value. It strikes me that the life of a man who is able to enjoy only things with a high aesthetic value is about as narrow as that of a man who is able to enjoy nothing of aesthetic value.

Jason Momoa, Robert E. Howard and Charles Baudelaire. Who’da thunk it?