Interview: Jason Momoa on ‘Conan the Barbarian’
I found myself face-to-face with Jason Moma, the new star of Conan the Barbarian, and also the words of Douglas Adams, who commented on humankind’s tendency to state the obvious by saying things like, “You’re very tall.” Jason Momoa is very tall, even when he isn’t wearing what appears to be a bowler hat. I sat down with Mr. Momoa to discuss Conan the Barbarian. It was an intimidating experience. His voice is so deep that it does not record well, and by the end of our talk – spanning the casting process, why Conan is like a lion, and the importance of making a creepy R-rated adaption of the Robert E. Howard stories – he has made me punch myself for not watching Game of Thrones. Twice.
Jason Momoa: Okay, so what’s up?
CRAVE Online:Nothing. Nothing… I’m good.
Jason Momoa: Did you see [Conan]…?
CRAVE Online: I did see it. I saw it last night. You’re really good casting.
Jason Momoa: Cool.
CRAVE Online: I must say. You’re very… tall. I noticed this just now.
Jason Momoa: Yeah.
CRAVE Online: I’m sure you’ve never heard that before.
Jason Momoa: 6’5”, man…
CRAVE Online: You’re 6’5?” Jesus Christ… Besides physically, how did you prepare for the role?
Jason Momoa: I had to put a lot of weight on. I put 25 pounds on. Sword training and stunt training and heavy lifting…
CRAVE Online: What kind of sword training? Did you learn a particular style?
Jason Momoa: Samurai training, and katanas.
CRAVE Online: Did you have to audition for the role?
Jason Momoa: I did, yeah. I got it through Game of Thrones, really. Because I did Game of Thrones and one of the casting directors happened to be doing Conan and he’s like “Alright, I’ve found your Conan,” and then they gave him sides. I went to go do the pilot for Game of Thrones, and Conan was cast yet. I was like, “Alright, I’ll come in.” And Marcus [Nispel, director of Conan the Barbarian], I had a good conversation with him and what he wanted to do, and what I wanted to do if I came into it, and then he stepped in my camp to have me. And I tested against three other guys, and the rest is history.
CRAVE Online: I guess so. What was your take on Conan?
Jason Momoa: My take? You know, I’m a big fan of Frank Frazetta. I want to take that guy off of that canvas and bring him to life. When I look at those pictures and how he captures movement […] they’re beautiful. They make you want to read! I’m a big fan… I read. I’m one of those freaky people that actually reads books. I found myself, when I was young, reading Conan stories, so when I read about him – and even the graphic novels – they really capture the movement, the stances, and I just wanted to be a lion… a wolf. So I went out and studied a lot of big cats. A couple of different zoos, I’d go out and study the lions. And documentaries on that. So you look at the movie, you see how he uses he sheer facial expressions, and how he walks, and how he prowls. Just my stance. And I studied a bunch of Akira Kurosawa’s old samurai movies, because I wanted him to have that Asian influence where his body movement is elegant. […] I wanted him to be quick and limber and deadly. I wanted that, so I studied lions. And then I also studied a lot on, like, the Apache War. Geronimo was very important to me, and Cochise, and then I incorporated that.
CRAVE Online: Very cool. Obviously, other people have played Conan before you. Were intimidated in following up Ralf Moeller?
Jason Momoa: No. (Laughs) – No.
CRAVE Online: Did you watch [any of the other Conans]?
Jason Momoa: I watched [the Arnold Schwarzenegger] Conan two days ago.
CRAVE Online: You hadn’t watched them at all?
Jason Momoa: I hadn’t seen them yet.
CRAVE Online: Oh wow. What did you think?
Jason Momoa: In the 80s they were amazing. They were, they really were. In the 80s I would have been, well, obviously I was one year old when they came out, but I would have been… They’re pretty awesome. Made Arnold a star. Come on.
CRAVE Online: They tried to tone Conan down on TV. They had that animated series, Conan the Adventurer, where he had a wisecracking phoenix as a sidekick.
Jason Momoa: Didn’t see it.
CRAVE Online: I noticed none of that in this movie.
Jason Momoa: Nah. Well, going with Frank Frazetta… Robert E. Howard and the Dark Horse comics is what you were going to get.
CRAVE Online: That’s good. Besides Rachel [Nichols] who did you get to work with most on the cast?
Jason Momoa: Saïd [Taghmaoui] was really close, but we cut a lot of his scenes out. And, you know, Artus, I worked with him a lot… Nonso. Nonso Anozie. I didn’t work with [Ron] Perlman. Stephen Lang was phenomenal. I had a couple scenes with Rose McGowan, who was @#$%ing great.
CRAVE Online: She’s having a blast in this movie.
Jason Momoa: She’s so god damned smart. She’s fun as @#$%, dude. I loved her performance. It actually made me laugh. It’s so atypical of anything. I love that…
CRAVE Online: Because a lot of people in this movie, their stories are very serious. Hers is too, but for some reason she sort of comes in and vamps up every single scene. She has that really creepy scene with her dad…
Jason Momoa: Yeah…
CRAVE Online: It’s like, “Are they @#$%ing…?”
Jason Momoa: (Laughs, nods)
CRAVE Online: Once in a while there’s a moment in this movie where it feels like [the filmmakers] are trying to make Conan pretty likable. There’s that scene where [Anozie] talks about what a big heart you have, how loyal you are, and then there’s a scene where it’s like, “Is Rose McGowan @#$%ing her dad?!” It’s an interesting contrast. Did you want that contrast or were you focused on making your story really serious?
Jason Momoa: You know, when I saw it, it was creepy as @#$%. It’s creepy as %$#@, and that’s what you want, is creeped out…
CRAVE Online: It’s Conan, you have the freedom to go in interesting directions.
Jason Momoa: You couldn’t make it any other way. If you made it PG-13 I would be pissed. I would be out of it. You [already] have Thor.
CRAVE Online: That’s true. We don’t need that again.
Jason Momoa: We don’t have anything that’s coming out like this, obviously. People who don’t like violence and blood won’t go…
CRAVE Online: But who cares about them?
Jason Momoa: You gotta supply everyone, you know, man? It’s Conan, you know what I mean? It’s got to be bloody and gory.
CRAVE Online: Are you signed on to do another [Conan]?
Jason Momoa: I am, as long as people go out and watch [the first one], you know what I mean?
CRAVE Online: Yeah. Is there a story you'd like to do for the next movie?
Jason Momoa: I wrote it.
CRAVE Online: Did you really?
Jason Momoa: Yeah, so we're waiting to see if they'll accept it.
CRAVE Online: Is it original or did you adapt it from something?
Jason Momoa: It will mostly be… It's character-adapted, because I really want to get into more of the mythical creatures, you know?
CRAVE Online: Oh yeah.
Jason Momoa: We wanted to go there [in the first one], but having Clash of the Titans, and coming out against that, we wanted to put the budget into some other things. We just couldn't hit… We couldn't get to that level with […] the visual effects and stuff. […] I don't want to give anything away, but we already have our Conan, really it's about the villain, what that villain is going to extract from Conan, and where as an actor I want to go with Conan. You know, no one's going to know what I want to do better than me.
CRAVE Online: Touche!
Jason Momoa: Exactly. […] We want to incorporate three different things, because obviously you don't just want to do the [existing] story, because the fans already know it. You want to keep them on their toes. So, I think we have a good lock on it. Also, I feel it's beautiful… How many actors get to go in there and go, "I'm part of the writing process?" and care that much about the character, because he is a fan himself? It's great. You know some people go like, "It's great, I'm going to be in my trailer." I want to @#$%ing make a great Conan movie.
CRAVE Online: Good for you, man. Good for you. Well, I think you made a good Conan.
Jason Momoa: Thank you. I can’t wait to be involved in this next one.
CRAVE Online: Real fast, Game of Thrones. I actually haven’t seen it because I don’t have cable.
Jason Momoa: Wow. You’re @#$%ed then.
CRAVE Online: I know, right?
Jason Momoa: You’re going to be like, “Dude, I was sitting right next to Drogo,” and all your friends are going to be like, “You’re a @#$%ing idiot, bro! You didn’t ask him anything? You dropped the @#$%ing ball, dude. You were sitting right next to Drogo.”
CRAVE Online: I know. I met Adrian Pasdar once, and I was fawning over Adrian Pasdar, “Dude, you were in Profit, that show was @#$%ing amazing!” And afterwards I was like, “Dude, did you see Adrian Pasdar?” And my friends were like, “No, was he the guy with the Dixie Chick?” I just don’t pay attention. But I hear Game of Thrones is good. I’m sure you agree.
Jason Momoa: Well, thirteen Emmy nominations. Conan won’t be up for any Oscars, I’ll tell you that, but Game of Thrones is epic, dude. Unbelievable. You should do yourself a favor, when it comes out you should buy it.
CRAVE Online: I’m going to.
Jason Momoa: And when you’re done, punch yourself in the face.
CRAVE Online: (Punches, hard) – There you go.
Jason Momoa: That was the head.
CRAVE Online: (Punches the face, harder) – There you go.