Heyuguys.co.uk has an exclusive interview with Jason Momoa up at their site:
Taking the bold step to remake a well known and, in some corners, well-loved film series with an iconic character as its lead needs one crucial element to succeed. When you cast the role of Conan you need to find Conan – there are no half measures here. Make a mistake on the casting of that role and the project fails.
All eyes were on those vying for the role when it was announced that a new Conan film was coming our way and after a few names were bandied around it was Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa who was revealed as the eponymous hero.
The young actor had worked mainly in TV before landing this role and our good friend James Kleinmann sat down with the man who would be Conan for an extended and in-depth interview. Momoa proves a generous interviewee as he talks not only about the much anticipated film, but also his own influences and experiences for working on the film.
What he reveals in the interview is intriguing, not least that he’s never seen the original film, the 3D cameras turned up halfway through production and there was only about 10% greenscreen used on the film, some of the battles you would assume as CGI creations were fully acted out. As well as the production and momentum of Conan Momoa also talks about his own future projects, including a film he has co-written and directed called Road to Paloma, you can see a trailer for that film below the Conan interview which follows.
For the swearing averse there are a few ripe words here, but nothing shocking.
*Eye twitches at “remake”*
Click on for a transcript and the video!
The original interview:
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Congratulations on landing the role of Conan, first of all, can’t wait to see the whole film. First of all though, can we just backtrack a bit and could you tell us where you hail from, and your life before acting?
Actually I was born in Hawaii, I was raised in Iowa with my mother. My parents got divorced when I was six months old, and I was raised in Iowa most of my life. Then I spent my summers with my father. I played a lot of hockey, I ended up going to the college of Colorado, and then I took a break to go to Hawaii to get to know my father better. Then came a tv show, which I ended up playing in, and then falling in love with acting, and I continued on. So about twelve years I’ve been acting, and I finally got on the big screen.
What have been some of your favourite projects, pre-Conan?
You know, I think one of the greatest training grounds for Conan was – I played a character called Ronon Dex, who was on Stargate Atlantis, and it was four years of constantly, I think I must’ve spent one hundred episodes, something like that? But yeah, because it was action adventure, same kind of thing, but I got trained in stunts and that, it was a nice day job. Good, pretty consistent. Another TV show was North Shore, which was in Hawaii, serving drinks as a bartender, you know, I was perfect!
And what can you tell us about being cast as Conan, what was that process like for you?
You know what, I got cast for Conan because of “Game of Thrones,” which was an HBO series that I got, and it was the same casting director as Conan. I went in, and I did the haka, which is a Maori war chant, because this character – he didn’t speak English, so I thought it would be good to do this Hawaiian dance and show what it would be like to go into battle. And you see this guy command his officers, and you see that warrior’s side, basically shouting and screaming in someone’s face, getting all “calling down my ancestors,” and the strength. And they called and went “I got your Conan” after that audition.
So I went and flew into Morrocco, and came back cast as Conan. I met Marcus Nispel, who’s amazing, and he’s a big fan, big supporter of me. So, yeah, he told me what to do, we did a camera test, and the rest is history!
Conan was obviously created by Texan writer Robert E. Howard back in 1932, 80 years back now, so I’m wondering how aware you were of the history of the character, and some of the stories in its various incarnations over the years.
You know, prior to doing Conan, I have read about 3 stories of Robert E. Howard’s, I love to read, and I was also a comic book fan, so I had seen the comics. My first experience with Conan was the Frank Frazetta paintings *indicates Conan poster behind him* that was my iconic – I remember as a child just seeing that stature of him standing on a pile of skulls, and it was just seared into my memory as a child. You just feel that whole world, just the way he captured him in motion and battle, it was just great, it reminded me of the Wanderer. You see, that was really my first experience of Conan.
I imagine you’ve seen the 1982 original Schwarzenegger movie?
I should see it! I should see it, and people are really mad at me for not! But I said before, I grew up with the single mother. It came out when I was two, we didn’t watch too many orgies and people getting their heads cut off! Also, my mom was really into Hitchcock and Gone with the Wind and so, we weren’t playing in the house. Having said that, when I got the role, I had never played a role that was played by someone else, and as an actor you want to build it from the ground up. There’s so much – like you said, eight decades of source material, whether that be the paintings, the comic books, or the bountiful amount of stories, so really, I had so much knowledge to pull from to create the character. So we’re really not remaking the Arnold films, it’s really rebooting and reimagining this whole franchise. Hopefully two or three, maybe even further. There’s just so many stories to tell.
So it sounds like your mum gave you a good cinematic education!
Yeah, I was watching Streetcar before, so, it’s good.
Cool. And if you could tell us a bit about where we find Conan in this particular movie, in this life, when we first meet him, and what are some of the challenges he’s facing as the movie progresses?
Yeah, you know, like I said, there’s a whole generation of kids that don’t even know – I mean obviously there’s the Arnold fans, but there’s really a whole generation been born. 29 years since that came out, maybe 28. It’s really – we’ve grabbed from all the source material, like this: (indicates poster again) this is obviously a Frazetta painting that we tried to do. We got the wardrobe kind of pulled from the Dark Horse comics, and then obviously bits and pieces of his code of honour, Robert E. Howard stories, it’s really the essence of Conan that we’ve pulled together.
So we’re starting from ground zero, basically, the origin of him. Just for new fans, people, we can totally – like I said, reboot the franchise. It starts with him being born on the battlefield, being cut out of his mother’s womb, tasting her blood before he’s ever… she dies, you know, obviously. He’s raised by his father, and you see him be this little – how amazing he is as a warrior. Finally, his father is killed right in front of his eyes, by these five different guys, and you pick up me from there, that’s where I come in. It’s got me in the years where I’m basically pirating and thieving and whoring around, you know, and just having fun with the boys. Then I see one of the guys who killed my father, and that just starts the revenge story. And I… slowly… kill everyone. And fall in love on the way!
As a sportsman yourself, you mentioned hockey: I just wondered how much you relished the physical aspect of the role of Conan, if you’d picked up any new skills, maybe, some sword skills?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, getting samurai training, those skills you’re never have the opportunity to learn, horses and hand-to-hand combat and grappling. It was amazing. That’s one of the great things about being an actor – you said yourself when you submerge yourself into a character – you’re going into a whole different, you learn tons of stuff you never learned before. So it’s really, always like a crash course too, because everything’s obviously sped up for the whole process. But that’s one of the great things about being an actor.
And how much of the stuntwork were you allowed to do yourself?
About 80% of it’s me, about 75%-80%, because of stuff that’s just like a train wreck, you know, I wouldn’t make it. Three stunt doubles: one was the horse guy, because I can’t stand horses and I’m not very good on them, even though it looks like it – it’s one of my best acting jobs in the whole movie, when I’m on my horse and it looks like I’m not s******* my pants but I actually am! So the horse… yeah, we have a horse double, and we have another guy, we just basically alternate it, anything that happens to me that looks like a train wreck.
And you’re obviously in pretty fine shape physically, I just wondered how you achieved and maintain for this film, the sort of body of a legend, I guess! Is there a kind of “Conan work out” you could share with the world?
There is! There’s actually a website, the trainer made up a workout called AR7now.com. He’s amazing, he’s a guy from Hawaii I knew. He was training me, we were doing about six hours of training a day, about two hours of sword work, then we would go to take a break, stretch, three hours of weight training, and then cardio, and then try to sleep as much as possible. And eat boiled chicken breasts every two hours, which is not very good! But that’s how you get that body. But not any more! (Jason slaps his belly)
Well, if anyone going along to the film with maybe a sort of average body, and either they or maybe their girlfriend start complaining “I want you to have that body!” What’s your top advice to be –
– Find another girlfriend! No, really the thing is, to get a nice body: just healthy living, just eating clean. I mean don’t eat the crap food, and exercise. You don’t have to be – I mean, we did something extreme, you know, lifting heavy weights – but I mean, two hours a day, makes you feel better, and just eat healthy. Don’t eat such big meals, little small ones.
You had to carry around a lot of chicken with you!
Yeah, it was ridiculous, like a tinfoil thing. You feel silly. But I mean, if you just eat salads, and you eat small things, just peck around, it’s not the greatest way to eat, but you’re going to look and feel like your body’s just alive. You’re going to slow discover food is like fuel, and you can feel when you put the food in how it reacts, you know.
There is some very impressive CGI sequences in the film, like the serpents that we get to see in the trailer, and those skeletal warriors – I just wondered what you were really acting against there in those sequences?
You know, that was my first time fighting a beastie that wasn’t there was that kraken, and I saw that the same time you did, and it was just amazing. Normally I’m sitting there, and you kind of feel silly swiping at the air, then you’re fighting a couple of guys, then you’re fighting a fake kraken. I just saw it, and it looked amazing, I’m like hucking myself into a stairwell – obviously it’s supposed to be hitting me – it looks amazing, they did a great job with it. The sand warriors, they’re actually stuntmen. That was great, ’cause I got to fight them.
That’s pretty clever that they managed to put those in.
Yeah, to tell you the truth, there’s only about – there’s some serious matte paintings, and green screen – but we only did about 10%, 15% greenscreen. Marcus wanted the huge sets, he wanted them to be there, it was great as an actor to just walk through the sets, and it totally puts you in that world. Bulgaria offered the seasons: we were there for four-and-a-half to five months, and there was snow high on the mountains, and the forest, and the Black Sea, doing these pirate ships in the summer. There’s a giant limestone cave – they flew planes through these caves, it’s actually a tunnel – they flew planes through them during World War II, they’re massive! I’ve never seen anything like it. Bulgaria just offered up a real Hyboria, it was just beautiful.
What did you particularly enjoy about your collaboration with director Marcus Nispel: did you think he was perfect to direct this material?
Absolutely, just because he’s such a visual – he’s got such an amazing eye. What he brought, and the world he created, when I saw the pictures he was doing, the sketches, it was just – I didn’t think it was going to look THAT amazing. Just looking at the trailer too, it was beautiful, he’s very talented.
And you feature alongside gorgeous female costars as well, I just wondered if you could tell us who cinemagoers can look forward to seeing in the film, and an idea of who they play as well?
All right, Tamara, which is Rachel Nichols, she kinda plays my love interest. She’s this nun who’s the divine one, the chosen one, and I kind of come across her, and I use her as bait, and… you know, falling for her, and I turn her to the dark side a little bit!
And then… Marique is her name, which is Rose McGowan, she plays Stephen Lang’s daughter. She’s got some crazy prosthetics, she’s got a prosthetic from here (indicates bridge of nose) all the way back to there (indicates top of skull). She’s amazing, Rose McGowan, just might be one of the most intelligent, funny, funniest women I’ve ever met. She was really cool. We didn’t work too much together, until I sliced her up in the movie, but she’s phenomenal.
Conan also features Stephen Lang, people will know him from Avatar as well, what can you tell us about his role?
Amazing. Just as a person, I’m a big Stephen Lang fan, absolutely love him as a father, man, artist, actor, he’s great. Playing the bad guy in it, he was just phenomenal. It was weird, because we’d be very, very close, we’d be sitting there, hanging out, talking together, and then I’m fighting him in the next minute, and he’s just so GOOD. It’s effortless for him, you know, he’s phenomenal. But yeah, he plays my nemesis, he’s the one that kills my father, and I’ll have to kill him.
What do you think the 3D experience will add for moviegoers, and what do you enjoy about seeing a film in 3D yourself?
It’s amazing, I hadn’t seen anything. We didn’t shoot it originally in 3D, and they told me halfway through that they had this 3D camera that came in. I couldn’t believe, it just puts you into the world, really beautiful. Like I said, I just saw the trailer, and it was fantastic, I was like “Wow!” I wasn’t sure if it was going to turn out as beautiful.
Conan the Barbarian obviously hits UK cinemas in August, and I just wondered what other summer blockbusters you might be looking forward too this summer?
You know, one that’s coming out, I was always a big fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, stuff like that, so I’ll be interested in seeing Pirates. The other thing is probably Kung Fu Panda II, I’ve got two kids, and they love Kung Fu Panda, it might be the first move I take them to.
Going back to Conan, what do you think makes Conan the Barbarian a perfect summer blockbuster movie?
It’s an amazing action-adventure film! Just the world that they’ve created. He’s just such a phenomenal character to play. One of the main things we haven’t really talked about is that I love that he’s not a superhero, you know? He’s a man, he does what he wants to do, he lives in the moment: he’s a pirate, he’s a thief, he’s a lover, he’s a slayer, he does what he wants to. Drinking, eating, women, I love it. So really, at any moment he could take over the throne if you want him to, and he also has this dark cloud of just wandering by himself and being this lone warrior. He’s a really great character to be a part of, I think people can identify with that a little bit. The self-interest, the self-made man.
Finally Jason, what can we look forward to from you next – I believe you’ve written and directed your own project, is that right?
Yeah, I’m going to take a stab at directing, just because! I wrote this movie, it’s a road movie, kind of Jack Kerouac-esque-slash-Five Easy Pieces, or Straight Story, and I wrote it with some buddies. While I’m doing these (indicates poster) I want to do something that totally expresses what I want to do as an artist. So yeah, took a stab at it, and hopefully we can get it going on the festival market. It’s called Road to Paloma. We made a little trailer, in four days: we shot it, we edited it, and we went out with the script, like a pitch packet. Three minutes long, it’s on Vimeo, you can check it out.
So, lots of new information there:
– Jason Momoa’s read about 3 (I may have misheard, and he said “thirty”) Robert E. Howard stories.
– Jason’s a fantastic “equestrian” – he looks totally natural on horseback in the second or so we see him riding in the trailer.
– Further confirmation that Nispel’s more of a practical effects director, using stuntmen and rigging instead of CGI when he can.
– There’s only about 10-15% green screen: this is consistent with Nispel’s notorious hatred of the effect, and will be further supported in an upcoming post.
– Bulgaria sounds awesome, and given some of the fantastic scenery we’ve seen in set photos I don’t doubt the natural resources were used as much as possible.
– Jason really seems to get what Conan’s all about. Very intelligent-sounding guy altogether.
From a story point of view…
– Conan’s mother still dies, and Conan is born via “Cimmerian Section.” I still hate this for pedantic reasons pertaining to the Shakespearean connotations of Caesarian sections, combined with a profound dislike of the idea of Conan being raised by a “single parent,” but that’s a personal grievance rather than a strictly canon-related issue.
– Corin is still killed before Conan’s eyes by “five different guys.” Which five? Ukafa, Lucius, Remo, the Jailer and Marique, presumably. I guess Cheren’s collateral. Presumably Lucius is still the first to go, as per the casting sheet/script notes.
– Conan sees his father die before his eyes… and apparently goes off and becomes a pirate, thief, adventurer anyway, only embarking upon his revenge when he randomly encounters one of them years later. Until we know more, I can’t comment further – but I have a bad feeling about this.
– If Conan’s already been a pirate, does this mean this film takes place after “Queen of the Black Coast,” or are they going the Dark Horse route and using “Iron Shadows in the Moon” for Conan’s first piratical adventure? If it’s the former… again, bad feeling, but need more info.
– Tamara’s still the “chosen one” from the script.
For all the Momosexuals* out there, here’s Road to Paloma.