With his role as Khal Drogo on HBO's critically acclaimed (and Emmy-nominated) series Game of Thrones, Jason Momoa put himself on the radar and showed he's an action star worthy of taking on the part of Conan in Conan the Barbarian. The 2011 take on the well-known character comes to life on the big screen in 3D with director Marcus Nispel (Pathfinder, 2009's Friday the 13th) at the helm, Momoa shouldering the task of handling the title role, Rachel Nichols (G.I. Joe) as the film's main female character, Tamara, and Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, and Ron Perlman in supporting roles.
Momoa and Nichols made their way to San Diego for the 2011 Comic Con in support of the action-adventure film set for an August 19th release. And in addition to interacting with fans at the sold-out geekfest, Momoa and Nichols sat down for a roundtable interview to discuss getting into their characters, what sets this Conan the Barbarian apart, and filling some pretty big shoes in taking on the iconic character.
Jason Momoa and Rachel Nichols Conan the Barbarian Interview
How does this movie reinvent or reinvigorate the franchise?
Rachel Nichols: "You know, I think whenever you sort of run into retelling...there are many Conan stories, first of all, so I think when you do a retelling of the story or reinvigorating of it, you need to maintain a certain integrity when it comes to the old version of the franchise. You have to update it and make it modern. You have to make it flashy and new for people, especially with the 3D and the action. It's still the battle of good versus evil. It's still a great story of revenge and love and friendship. But there's the added level of modern-day technology, which I think they did a really good of blending the two."
Jason Momoa: "You did a really good job [answering that]."
Rachel Nichols: "Thank you."
Jason Momoa: "You're fantastic."
Jason, how would you describe your version of Conan?
Jason Momoa: "My version of Conan, how would I describe him? Well, basically it would be this movie. You know what the first thing I did was... My first experience of Conan was looking at those Frank Franzetta paintings. I don't need to see a movie to understand what that guy's made of. It just sears in your memory, when I was a child. When I read the comic books and Robert E Howard, just when I read that, those are my own images in my head and what I wanted to play, how I wanted to play Conan. I went and studied big cats - lions and panthers and just the way they move, how I wanted to tuck my hand. And if you looked at a lion you're sort of like, 'Holy shit.' You don't want to make eye contact. I just wanted to have that presence in just the way he prowls and stalks his victims."
Rachel Nichols: "I'm not a victim!"
Jason Momoa: "And then I studied a lot of samurai films. I wanted to incorporate that, to take a broadsword and to wield it like a samurai sword was something that I wanted to do, so I studied a lot of films. I did everything, like reverse grip, and I just wanted to put that Asian influence into this Barbarian thing, bring some grace to it."
Did you have any overlap in your mind between Khal Drogo and Conan? Did you have to separate them?
Jason Momoa: "No, no because I'm not that good of an actor. I don't get stuck. It's not like, [grabbing the sides of face], 'You're not Drogo! You can't go around killing people!' I did the pilot first, but I did Conan first. Game of Thrones got me Conan, but I shot Conan first. And then when I went to do Game of Thrones, I just wanted to transform my body. To walk around like a king, is not very... In my house, when my wife says to do the dishes it's like, 'Yes, ma'am.' To walk around with that kind of air like a king was a lot harder for me."
One of the things about the past films is that Conan speaks more with his actions and there's very little dialogue. Do you get to play a little more with that?
Jason Momoa: "Yes. Yes and no, but that's one of the great things about Conan. He doesn't need to be babbling on about bullshit. He's like Clint Eastwood; he just says what needs to be said and just does what needs to be done. And we do have some nice moments where you get the sense of the origin story. You see what he's made of, how he was raised, how he was born on the battlefield, watching his father die in front of him, and that revenge tale. It also helps having a beautiful woman. It softens him a little bit. He's got that underbelly. You want to see a little bit of that but at the same time, he's Conan. He doesn't need to say too much."
But that means the lines you do have are likely to be quoted a lot. What do you think will be the big catchphrase?
Jason Momoa: "I don't know."
Rachel Nichols: "We don't even remember what we said."
Jason Momoa: "I know. I live, I love, I slay and I'm content."
Ron Perlman plays your dad. Did you get the chance to work with him?
Jason Momoa: "I didn't get to work with him because he was my dad and he died. But I got to go to a couple of dinners with him, and I love Stephen Lang. Those two have worked together - Stephen Lang and Ron Perlman. But he's absolutely hysterical. Ron Perlman's a gem to be around."
Rachel, you said she's not the victim. What role does she play in the story?
Rachel Nichols: "You know, Tamara is...she's got a very sort of interesting path through the movie. There's a big change for her. We find her and she's in this monastery. We really have no idea who she is until it becomes very apparent that people are after her for a very specific reason, and it's a reason that she's not aware of herself. So there's not only this coming of age story, but it's realizing who you actually are on a very broad scale. And yeah, initially Conan takes me. I'm being taken away and protected from Khalar Zym and I'm sort of being taken away in a carriage. And Conan immediately realized, 'Oh, she's valuable, and the man that I'm looking for is looking for her, so if I have her, this works out really well for me.' And then, obviously, I'm a victim for a little while until the two of us decide to sort of join forces and then the change in their relationship is really nice because you see us being friends and then..."
Jason Momoa: "Yeah. At the very beginning, I'm like clubbing you over the head, like 'Woman!'"
Rachel Nichols: "Yeah, at the very beginning. It's like, 'Woman, get on the horse,' and then he throws me off the horse and is beating me up. And then we end up sort of being friends. It's a very sweet ending; he gets me where I need to go and I get him where he needs to go."
Jason Momoa: "She's really good in bed. Believe me. She goes after me!"
Is this the character Sandahl Bergman played in the 1982 film or is this a new character?
Rachel Nichols: "I have no idea. I didn't see the original film. I won't watch a movie before I go and participate in it. Like, when I was in Star Trek, I didn't go back and witness any green girls. I just feel that I try to separate myself from that. I rely on the script and the setting to supply the rest of it."
Jason studied cats, what did you look at for your role?
Rachel Nichols: "It was very interesting for me on a couple of levels, because I am known for doing a lot of action, between Alias and between G.I. Joe, and there's a lot of action in this movie - but it's a different kind of action. I'd never ridden a horse before in my life before I got to Bulgaria, except for once maybe while it was being led by someone on a tether. So, I do all of the stunts in the movie except one, including driving a carriage with four horses going full speed which, believe me, does wonders for your arm muscles. But it was more physical for me. I had to learn swordplay and we did a lot of training and I spent a lot of time with the horses. It was physical in a different way, so I was more prepared on the physical end."
"Jason and I worked together and we were fortunate enough - clearly we don't like each other - but we spent time rehearsing, which I think was really important for us as well. We had enough time to do it so that when we got to the day's shooting, we knew where we wanted to go in each scene, which was nice."
Jason, you came to this with a knowledge of the books and you knew the paintings. But, obviously, what a lot of people know it from is the early movies. You are stepping into some big shoes. What is that like to know that people have that impression of Conan on film?
Jason Momoa: "I don't know. I guess one of my theories on it is that ignorance is bliss for me. I don't really... I like Arnold; I'm going to go watch the movie right after this because it is such a huge impact on a lot of people. It would be a little slightly older than me, that generation. It's so huge to them. I'm going to go back and watch. I think it probably needs to be redone. It's been 30 years and some amazing things have happened in film, so I'm excited for [those fans]. I hope they love it. I mean, I know it's big shoes but at the same time I wouldn't have taken the job if I didn't know I could crush it and absolutely make it better than what it's ever been. They are huge shoes to fill, but I never felt like, 'Oh...'"
Rachel Nichols: "Not a lot intimidates Jason, as you can imagine."
Jason Momoa: "But I was really excited to see what Arnold thought. He really gave me his approval and loved it. I'm doing a thing with Stallone right now and Stallone got to see it and he did it. I was watching Rocky when I was doing Conan. Rocky, for me, that's my Conan. I love it. I'd watch Rocky 4 and get amped up."
Do you have a desire to do a film where you can wear a tuxedo?
Jason Momoa: "I am right now. Yeah, I would love to, absolutely. I'm really funny. [Laughing] You don't know that, but I'm really, really funny and charming."
Rachel Nichols: "Yeah, Jason's really, really funny."
Jason Momoa: [In his tough Conan voice] "Say it!"
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Conan the Barbarian hits theaters on August 19, 2011.