Interview: Actor Jason Momoa - Our Badass New Conan the Barbarian
by Alex Billington
August 19, 2011
"I live. I love. I slay." He's the new badass in Hollywood, not only playing Conan the Barbarian in the latest remake, but also kicking ass on HBO's "Game of Thrones" as Khal Drogo. His name is Jason Momoa and his acting history includes "Baywatch", "North Shore" and "Stargate: Atlantis", but he's breaking out big this year, as those two aforementioned roles have earned him quite of bit of buzz just for being a badass. I had the opportunity to interview Momoa recently and I had a blast talking with him. He had a beer in hand the whole time and we chatted about everything from playing a "man's man" to acting without any dialogue.
I had the chance to see Marcus Nispel's Conan the Barbarian remake before interviewing Momoa and was entertained, just as I should watching a Conan movie. Momoa kicks ass, of course, and does an impressive job for using little dialogue. He's truly a funny, vibrant guy in real life and I enjoyed chatting with him, as it was a just a good time shooting the shit with Khal frickin' Drogo and Conan, too. So let's get right into it!
You've had quite a huge year so far, between this movie and Game of Thrones!
Jason: Yeah. Its been a big, beautiful year, man. We've been busting our butts, so its been good. And, you know, work is coming finally and it's fantastic, I'm playing my dream roles, really, to tell you the truth.
I have to ask which came first - Game of Thrones or Conan and did one influence the other?
Jason: Yeah, Game of Thrones. I got Game of Thrones and that got me Conan. I did Conan because I had Game of Thrones. One of the casting directors saw footage.
It's not that you're typecast or anything, but they are very similar roles.
Jason: No, it happened to be two very… I don't find Khal Drogo and Conan remotely alike. Aside from having their shirt off. That's really it. But they don't look alike, they don't act like. They don't even speak the same fucking language, you know what I mean?
Yea, for sure. What was it like to step into a role made iconic by Arnold Schwarzenegger?
Jason: You know, I am an Arnold fan in the sense that I love his career. I love Terminator 2, Twins too, True Lies—one of my favorite movies. I love Arnold. I don't feel like there's this cloud over it, cause I think the comics, and the stories, and the Frank Frazetta paintings are amazing. When I was little, that's what I'm a fan of… I'm a comic book fan. I grew up with Wolverine, and X-Men, and Conan. It's like I love… you see the painting of the skulls, that painting… they're the greatest movement paintings in the world! You see them, you're like, "Holy fuck! Who is that guy? I want to read this story right now." You read it and here are these great adventures.
It's shocking to me that the last 30 years no one has touched these things, because they are great. Spider-Man just finished with Tobey Maguire and two years later there's another one. There's been seven Batman. It's like you're comparing the Joker Jack Nicholson to Heath Ledger's - impossible to compare. Heath is brilliant, Jack is still brilliant. You're comparing Sean Connery to Daniel Craig. You can't do it. I can't take anything away from Arnold. He is amazing. I'm not going to play anything like him.
You saw it, we're nothing like him. I am not going to be big, and bulky, and muscle. I'm going to be like a lion. I'm going to be a like a cat. I'm going to be like a samurai. I trained to bring that Asian movement. I also went to the zoo and studied lions, and documentaries on lions. I wanted to see how they prowled, how they looked to incorporate that nimble-like part of their environment, the leader of their community. I wanted that to influence me, and then Frazetta. I wanted to bring those paintings to life. Both of my parents are painters and that is my fucking Conan.
This being the second Conan movie, why do you think this character and this story is such a popular, iconic character that can be retold in new stories again?
Jason: Well, I think what's missing out is it hasn't been retold. What I love - I love a man's man. All my buddies, they're the survivors, man. These guys are ex-Marines, they can go camping, they can go walking through the desert, they can live off no water. I studied Geronimo and the Apache wars. You see these men's men you want to follow into battle, and I love those kinda guys. I love the fact that he's flawed in the sense that he's not perfect. He's not the do-gooder. He drinks, he fucks many women. He's a pirate. He's a thief. He falls in love and he falls out of love. And death follows him everywhere; trials and tribulations follow him in this chaotic world that he lives in. It's also a really beautiful world with the possibility of all these beautiful things and fantasies can come true.
But I love the fact that he's the antihero in this world of superheroes. I love that he's a man. He's a badass man. I think women love that and men love that. There's something to be said about it. It's fun. There's enough of everything else, I don't think there's enough men's men out there.
So how do you make a character like that likeable? Even though he is the antihero and he does slay… we know he's the badass and we just connect with him anyway, but still the challenge for you is making that person be likeable.
Jason: Well, absolutely. I think what helps in this origin story is, obviously, you can see his perspective and where he's coming from. When you're born on the battlefield, cut out of your mother, and you're father is slayed right in front of your face, you've got some shit going on. You got some anger inside of you. So you know where he's coming from. Then you get into his pirate years. You see him having fun and he's having fun with his buddies.
You know, Marcus's biggest thing is, when he came, he was like, "I want Sean Connery. I want…" When I came in, I had this personality where like, "I want Arnold…" Not where you walk in and he's charismatic. He wanted me to not be PC and walk in and grab a girl's ass and say, "you look beautiful today" and she's not my girlfriend and get away with it - that's what he wanted. He wanted the charm to come in and be… comment her on her eyes… you know, really be honest. The guy's brutally fucking honest. I don't know how we did it, but we just… I want him to be likeable. I'm not sure how we did it, but hopefully it does work.
You achieve quite a bit without even speaking, in both of your roles as Drogo and Conan, and I know that's a challenge to do, to convey so much without speaking at all.
Jason: People are always like, "well, you don't say anything…" That's the hardest thing in the world! And it's very silly. People are like, "Oh, you don't do anything." I'm like, "Really? You know how hard it is to sit up on the throne and pretend you're the king when you're not?" I'm not even the king of my own house. My wife is like, "Do the dishes." And I'm like, "Yes, honey." It's like, dude, to walk around, to have that stare and intensity…
For Drogo I wanted to just go stare at Silverbacks and watch how they react. You look at a Silverback, they are so intense. That's what I wanted to have. He don't talk! He's amazing! I'm playing a character. If you want to have a conversation with me after work, we can. I do know how to talk. I love Clint Eastwood. Clint Eastwood is great because he doesn't have to say shit. He does it through a look… and most good actors take shit away. I can sit there and babble my face off and tell you exactly how I feel, or I can shoot you a look and you're going to know exactly how I feel. It's a lot harder to do that.
How much of what you shot was realistic? Did you do your own stunts at any point? Did director Marcus Nispel try to make the shooting of it as real as possible?
Jason: Yeah, I'd say it was very realistic. We shot about 85% of it was all me. The greatest thing is that there were so many sets that were realistic. We didn't do a lot of green screen. When sets are very real it makes it so easy for an actor to walk in and play that role when everything is around you. As far as playing with real knives, no. But, I mean, I'm really riding that horse. That's for fucking sure, that shit is real.
My final question is that, in my eyes, you're one of the new "badass" guys in Hollywood. Is this something you strived for, or were aiming for, or were hoping to achieve?
Jason: I didn't see this coming, not at all. The great thing is… You can ask Kimberly here… I'm extremely funny and extremely charming, aren't I? Among just having a sense of humor, most people don't know me like that. So the funny thing is, I'm not a badass. So if I'm booking this, then the rest of it's going to be very… the rest of it is second nature for me. It's a stretch for me to play these [kind of characters]. So I'm absolutely not the badass. But I will play the fuck out of it.
Awesome. What a way to end an interview! I have to say, this was one of the wildest interviews I've ever done, Momoa is a crazy, massively built, but funny guy and I had a great time chatting with him, even if he was a little buzzed. He seems to be having a genuinely good time playing these roles. Conan the Barbarian starring Jason Momoa hits theaters everywhere on August 19th, this weekend. Go see Momoa kickin' ass!