Momoa in Star Advisor, Digital Spy and Associated Press

Not one, not two, but three new Jason Momoa interviews and articles for your perusal today!

First is an article for the Honolulu Star Advisor, where he again regales us with the story of how he got the part of Khal Drogo by utilizing the haka:

Jason Momoa is about to unleash his inner barbarian so you’d best find a safe seat. Things are going to get bloody.

After 12 years as a steadily working television actor, the Hawaii-born Momoa will star in a pair of sword-swinging epics that he believes will redefine his career: “Game of Thrones,” the sprawling HBO series that premieres Sunday, and a new version of “Conan the Barbarian,” a big-budget movie scheduled for release in August.

“It’s been a lot of work but I’m on the forefront of something huge,” the 31-year-old actor said by telephone from Los Angeles.

The two projects have kept him busy for nearly three years. The part of Khal Drogo, the fiercest warlord in “Game of Thrones,” required an emotional and physical transformation for Momoa, a former model whose previous roles were as a lifeguard in “Baywatch Hawaii,” a bartender in “North Shore” and a dreadlock-sporting alien in “Stargate: Atlantis.”

When Momoa auditioned, the 6-foot-4, part-Hawaiian actor politely told a pair of HBO producers — “two small haole ladies” — that he was going to try something different. Then he got in their faces with a haka — a Polynesian war chant.

“I said, ‘Don’t be scared, I am not going to kill you,’ and they were just smiling,” Momoa said. “And I went off.”

People in other offices thought something was wrong, but his intensity sealed the deal for Momoa.

“I just wanted to show them that if you are going to look any great king or warrior in the eye, here is what their soul is,” he said. “It’s a fierce thing to be in front of, if you really put your heart and soul into it.”

Although Momoa has often spoke of his enthusiasm of playing Conan, as well as testimony to his dedication by cast and crew, it appears that Khal Drogo was even more important to him:

MOMOA WANTED the part of Khal Drogo more than anything else he’s ever done.

“I have never been so consumed and passionate about a role,” he said. “It was a real breakthrough in my career.”

He hit the gym and packed on 35 pounds of muscle; Momoa weighed 250 pounds for the series. He also had to learn to speak a fictional language well enough to sound convincing during an extended speech.

“It’s a great war speech in front of a big fire,” Momoa said. “This is the greatest scene I have ever done in my life. You never get to say these words on TV. You don’t get to say, ‘I am going to rape your women and bring their children back as slaves.'”

But that level of intensity had a dark side: He would act with such aggression that he would leave the actress who plays the wife of Khal Drogo — Emilia Clarke — in tears. “It is exhilarating and scary and fearful,” he said.

It turns out that his audition for Game of Thrones may well have been a crucial factor in momoa’s eventual casting in Conan the Barbarian (2011):

THE HAKA that Momoa performed inside HBO’s Santa Monica headquarters also helped him land the part of Conan. He was asked to perform it for a second group that included a casting director who was involved with the “Conan” film.

“Right after that, he called up his people and said, ‘I got your next Conan,'” Momoa said.

Conan was created in the 1930s by American author Robert E. Howard. Momoa grew up reading the Conan stories in paperbacks and comic books and was a huge fan of the stylized artwork that was an inseparable part of the character: the muscled barbarian slaying demons and rescuing busty, half-naked women.

This seems to square with other articles, where Momoa admits to never seeing the original film, yet also claims to have read the original stories growing up. I see no reason to doubt him. (And I shan’t bore you with another tirade on how there’s so much more to Conan than “the muscled barbarian slaying demons and rescuing busty, half-naked women,” since I think you can fill in the gaps yourselves.)

The final part of the article brings up the elephant in the room that is the 1982 film, and as ever, Momoa is quick to emphasise the distinction:

In the early 1980s, Arnold Schwarzenegger brought “Conan the Barbarian” to the big screen, but don’t compare the two efforts, Momoa said.

“I am not remaking an Arnold movie,” he said. “We are rebooting something that has so many stories by Robert E. Howard that haven’t been told. When you take on a character, you want to build it yourself.”

Momoa has seen some of his “Conan,” which was directed by Marcus Dispel (sic), and he called it amazing. He’s contracted to do two sequels, but only if this one does well.

“There are a lot of roles on the horizon,” he said. “If ‘Conan’ goes well you will see a lot more of me. It is a dream come true to be on the big screen.”

A shame none of Robert E. Howard’s stories are actually being told in this film, but if the reports on Blackman’s sequel script are accurate, that could change in subsequent films – should this one be successful enough.

Momoa’s desire to keep the 1982 and 2011 films separate is unquestionably the best idea possible: the last think you want is people comparing a modern film by remake specialist Marcus “Dispel” to a nostalgic ’80s classic by John Milius, so concentrating on what makes the film different is essential on selling the film to those unconvinced by the “adventures across the continent of Hyboria on a quest to avenge the murder of his father and the slaughter of his village.”

Digital Spy discusses that aspect for the main part of its article:

“A lot of people are like, ‘What’s it like being in the shoes of Arnold?’ but it’s not a remake of the 1982 film,” Momoa said. “There’s just such a bountiful amount of Robert E. Howard stories. So it’s taking a couple of Robert E. Howard stories, the same legendary character and throwing him through that.”

Momoa then goes through the things that did influence him beyond Arnold:

“Fans of Arnie, unfortunately I’m not Arnie and I’m not going to try to do anything remotely like Arnold. I think what I tried to model myself after was the things I was inspired by, the stories and Frank Frazetta.

“Both my parents are painters and I grew up doing that and being an artist and I saw the Frank Frazetta paintings when I was a boy. They’re just badass, you know what I mean? He’s got a chick on his leg and he’s standing on a bunch of skulls with this sword and he’s just ripped. It’s cool! I’m a big kid inside.”

More confirmation that Momoa is more familiar with the Howard stories and Frazetta illustrations than the 1982 film. Momoa also offers his own thoughts on Conan’s character and psyche:

Momoa explained that he sees the Conan character as an “antihero” who “fights and f**ks and drinks”.

“He happens to get into situations where obviously he saves the day and he’s a badass but he’s also very troubled,” the 31-year-old said. “He’s this rogue warrior and he’s the peak warrior.”

I’ll leave my comments for the editorial. The final piece of news in our Momoa trifecta comes from the Associated press, in a video interview with our man Jason:

Conan’s a relaunching, it’s a 3D action adventure, it’s an epic. We’re just reimagining and rebooting the franchise with the Robert E. Howard stories. We’re not really focusing on, you know, what has been done: just embracing some of the stories that need to be told.

What we’re doing is basically starting at the birth of Conan, and we’re going through the events of his life that turned him into the ultimate warrior: and in that time frame, his father is killed, he’s avenging his father’s death. (faux Bronx accent) And he falls in love on the way!

… (See Editorial)

I could never compare myself to Arnold, so you just have to do your best interpretation, and build the character from the source material. As an actor I took on the role, trained, tried to do my best, in much the same sense that Arnold did, and you’re comparing – what, Val Kilmer to George Clooney to whoever’s Batman, you know? Like how do you compare Sean Connery?  And they’re always going to compare. I don’t want to be better than Arnold, it’s just that we’re re-adapting it.

A fair point to make and one others would do well to remember.

Editorial

While it might be a tad disheartening to some to learn that Momoa values Khal Drogo over Conan, that he considered the former his most desired role, and that a scene from Game of Thrones is one he considers “the greatest scene he has done in his entire life,” I wouldn’t be concerned about it. It’s clear even from the first episode that Game of Thrones has been crafted with love, attention, care and detail: if Ctb’11 wasn’t quite as affecting an experience, that doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on the production.

In addition, I’ve noticed that many commentators are perplexed by the idea that Momoa has never seen the original film, and yet claimed to have read the original stories growing up: surely someone who has done that cannot help but have watched the film, even out of curiosity? Some allege that Momoa is fabricating this story, but I see no reason for him to do so. We know from other interviews that Momoa is well read and enjoys reading immensely (he cited Baudelaire, people!) while also saying that he doesn’t even own a television. He never saw the original film in theatres since he was three years old at the time. So how likely is it that Momoa could be a fan of Robert E. Howard’s stories, and yet not see the film at the age of 31?

Quite easily, I’d say. The film Conan the Barbarian has an undeserved reputation of being little more than mindless peplum, just like the innumerable Italian sword-and-sandal films that clogged cinemas in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. I know that I didn’t watch it until long after the stories because of this reputation: I knew the film deviated from the source material considerably, so I thought there wasn’t really much point, even though I loved Arnie action films. After doing more research – long after I read the Howard stories, and started to dip into Howard criticism – I decided to finally watch the film after reading David C. Smith’s fantastic appraisal of the film, and discovered that aside from its deviations, it had its own merits as a stand-alone film. All in all, I find it not unreasonable for Jason to have read the stories as a boy, and yet not watched the film – since were it not for Smith’s essay, I would probably be the same.

That said, I do have some issues with other things Mr. Momoa has said. Seeing Conan as an “antihero” who “fights and f**ks and drinks” is a vast simplification of Conan’s character, but it isn’t inaccurate – at least, if you’re using the more recent definition of “antihero” as meaning “a hero who isn’t necessarily a paragon of virtue,” which technically describes nearly the entirety of mythological heroes in the first place. So I’d call Conan a “hero” in the same way that Beowulf, Siegfried, Gilgamesh, Herakles or Cúchulain are heroes, and an “antihero” in the way The Man With No Name, Dirty Harry or the Punisher are antiheroes. Conan certainly “fights and f**ks and drinks,” but that’s like saying Sherlock Holmes “deduces and smokes and plays the violin”: technically true, but you’re leaving a lot of subtlety out.

It’s the second part, where Momoa says that Conan is “very troubled,” which bothers me: this is obviously in reference to the screenplay, since the Conan of the original stories was most assuredly not “very troubled.” To be troubled is to be predisposed to anxiety and stress: this hardly describes Conan, whose “gigantic melancholies” are closer to sadness and sombre reflection than unease or solicitude. Even then, his “gigantic melancholies” are offset by gigantic mirth, so to call Conan “very troubled” just doesn’t sit well with me.

What bothers me even more is what Momoa says in a video interview. Obviously people who know about Conan are well aware that this film isn’t based on any of the Robert E. Howard stories – but the general public don’t know that. So for Jason Momoa to talk about the film “embracing some of the stories that need to be told,” they’re going to think what follows – Jason’s outline of the film’s script – actually are some of said stories. Thus, when they buy Conan the Barbarian: The Stories That Inspired The Movie, they’re going to be perplexed when Conan’s birth and childhood, Khalar Zym, Marique, Conan’s father, Tamara, Khor Khala, and just about everything else in the film is nowhere to be found.

It isn’t even a matter of being sore that the film isn’t an adaptation of The Hour of the Dragon or “The People of the Black Circle”: it’s a matter of simple accuracy. This film isn’t telling any of the stories Robert E. Howard told. The events of his life that turned him into the Ultimate Warrior (skronk) as portrayed in the film, his father’s death and his subsequent vengeance – absolutely none of those things can be found. Even the birth of Conan isn’t related by Howard as a full story, but rather restricted to a few lines.

I know I must be beating a dead horse into fine puree, but it’s something that I feel has to be reminded at every opportunity. Even now, after two years of the film’s production being known, you get commentators who are evidently shocked that they’re “remaking” Conan the Barbarian, as if it’s the first time they’ve heard of it. Thus, it’s important to emphasise exactly what’s what, even as the countdown to the film’s release creeps closer.