A few months ago, we were lucky enough to get invited to an event simply titled Cocktails with Conan. Being a man who loves both muscular action heroes and alcohol, I obviously leapt at the chance to partake in an event featuring both of them, but especially a chance to meet the new Conan the Barbarian, Jason Momoa, who at that point I’d only seen in a couple of episodes of Game Of Thrones.
Over the course of the evening, Momoa was duly introduced to the various people that filled the room, and when he finally got to us he was suitably charming, chatty and good humoured, even indulging a fellow writer in an arm wrestle and expressing his enthusiasm for Conan using a variety of naughty words.
In the short time between then and now, it seems that his star has well and truly risen at an incredible rate, and as I meet him for the second time, he’s feeling the pinch. Having single handedly dealt with the endless interviews and promotions for Conan, which Momoa describes when I ask him about the intensity as “the grand assault” (apparently he was mobbed at the O2), he’s now suffering from a cold.
Probably the manliest cold in existence, though. I ask him how he’s holding up. “Good! You know, I got a little sick when I got over here, so I’m just kind of kicking that, travelling about a lot. You know airplanes.” Even Conan can’t beat jetlag.
It must be quite a culture shock to have gone from a modest following after his role as Ronon Dex in Stargate: Atlantis, to near instant global fame due to a combination of Conan The Barbarian’s public expectation and advertising, combined with the incredible success of HBO’s Game Of Thrones, in which he played another fearsome warrior, Khal Drogo.
“Yeah, it’s been a great year, for sure,” he says humbly. So as we settle back, I get to enthusing about the new Conan The Barbarian in all its violent, 80s-style glory.
Firstly, I wanted to say congratulations on Conan.
Thanks man, did you get to see it?
I saw it on Friday night and really loved it.
Cool man, awesome. Are you a fan of the original?
Yeah, though when I saw the Schwarzenegger one as a kid it was difficult for me to connect to it, because he really didn’t say very much, or show any kind of emotions, unlike your version. So what was it that drew you, personally, to the character of Conan?
As a child, or for this movie?
I came across the Frank Frazetta paintings first, and that’s what really enticed me to read Robert E Howard as a kid, so I was a big fan of theirs. As far as this movie, you know I did Game Of Thrones and that led me to Conan, because it was the same casting director, and when I went in and met Marcus [Nispel, director], his ideas were very similar to mine.
He wanted to have this Sean Connery/Jack Nicholson twinkle in Conan’s eye, and this charm, but at the same time the un-PC side, too.
I wanted to show a sense of humour and vulnerability to the guy, too, because you’ve got to make him human. He can’t just go out and kill and stuff, and with this origin story it helps, because you see the perspective of where he’s coming from.
Also I trained a lot, watching big cats move – lions and panthers – and I studied a lot of Samurai films, so I wanted to put a certain grace and elegance to his barbaric ways, and make him nimble and quick, rather than clunky. I wanted him to be a product of his environment, like a lion. Just to have that look in his eyes.
I think it’s great to see a Conan movie back on the big screen, because ever since the 80s, this kind of sword and sorcery movie just vanished. Why did you think it was right for Conan to come back?
Well, I think everything comes full circle, you know, after a certain time. It has been thirty years, we just did Spider-Man three times, and now we are doing another one, and it’s just ended. How many Batmans? I think it’s kind of shocking that no one’s taken on the role of Conan yet.
–It feels right for it to come back now. Like with The Expendables last year, it seems right for that 80s style of action to come back. It’s what I grew up on and I’ve missed it, but Conan seems very much made in that vein.
Yeah, absolutely, and you’re a big Arnold fan, so that’s good that you liked this one. We wanted to make something new, but embrace the eight decades of different types of Conan fans, and there are a lot of different types of fans out there. We’re walking a tightrope – you don’t want to offend anyone, you want to make it better, make it its own.One thing I noticed about Conan The Barbarian is that it might be the most relentlessly action packed movie I’ve seen from start to finish. I know action scenes are difficult to do, which is why they are normally limited, so was the shoot exhausting?
Yeah, I mean, you are constantly bleeding somewhere. It is just very… absolutely, man. At the same time, you want to have that action, but make it separate, and you want a little bit of flavour to each one, in its own different way. That’s what we tried to bring to it, so they weren’t all the same kind of fights. They all have their individuality to them.
What was Marcus Nispel like to work with, because he’s been building up a career of solid and violent genre movies?
I think Marcus was the perfect man for the job. He’s a visual artist, and the world that he brought to this was extraordinary. And also, what really enhanced it, is that the 3D is very subtle, and he is so good with composition, the foreground and background – it really invites you into the world, without this harsh ‘things flying at you’, and making you sick almost. It was just perfect the way he did it in 3D – I think just the way he designs his shots really helped that.
We didn’t have much of it, you know? The ones that we did it were always awkward, because I hadn’t done much of it, so you know when I’m fighting a fake snake or a Kraken. But I think what took the sting off is when I’m fighting and completely wet, standing over water on two by fours and fighting guys that are there, it kind of helped get rid of the fact that there wasn’t a ‘beastie’ there trying to kill me.
That’s also the nice thing about Conan – it’s not all green screen, it’s truly Bulgaria, which offered up such a diverse environment for us, the snow and the black sea and these caves, and it gave it a beautiful look.
And did you get to keep the sword?
Of course! Of course, man.
No, he’s doing Fire and Ice? That’s awesome, that’s great.
Is that something that would appeal to you, or are you keen to try and keep things a bit diverse?
I probably would want to keep a little diverse and let him do his own thing, since I am already a part of this one. I just met [Rodriguez] the other day, too, and I was really stoked to meet him, ‘cause Sin City was a such a favourite of mine. And now he’s doing Sin City 2, which I am bummed I wasn’t a part of – that would have been fun!
And you’re also working on a film with Sylvester Stallone…
Yeah, Bullet To The Head, which is a French graphic novel that we’re doing right now, with Walter Hill and Joel Silver. I’m playing a villain. It’s my first time playing a villain, an assassin, you know, obviously the bad guy to Stallone. Yeah, it’s fun, it’s got really cool, quirky characters, and I’m this bad ass, and I’ve never been able to play a villain before, so it’s fun.
No, I know they are doing Expendables 2, but you gotta be a little older to get into that club I think, that’s why I am not invited!
Any chance of you reappearing in the future series of Game Of Thrones, in flashbacks do you think?
It’s possible, it’s fantasy so anything is possible. I won’t say yes, I won’t say no.
But you would be game for it?
Jason Momoa, thank you very much.