‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Conan’: Jason Momoa goes for the throat

Aug. 22, 2011 | 11:26 a.m.

Twenty-three floors above city pavement, Jason Momoa leaned on a window at the Ritz Carlton and stared down at the bright lights of his Hollywood hopes. “There it is, look at that,” the 32-year-old actor said, nodding toward the huge “Conan the Barbarian” banner and waiting red carpet at the Regal Cinemas across the street. “You know, I’ve never owned a suit before but I got one for tonight.” Many of Momoa’s fans have never seen the brawny star in a shirt much less a tuxedo. Not only is he the star of Lionsgate’s “Conan” he portrayed the even more ferocious Drogo on 10 episodes of the acclaimed HBO series “Game of Thrones.” Next up is Walter Hill’s “Bullet to the Head” with Sylvester Stallone and Christian Slater. Our Geoff Boucher sat down with the Honolulu native before the  premiere of “Conan,” which went on to $10 million in its disappointing opening weekend.

conan1 Game of Thrones and Conan: Jason Momoa goes for the throat

Jason Momoa in "Conan the Barbarian." (Simon Varsano / Lionsgate)

GB: There’s so much history from the bookshelf, in the comics and on the screen. Does that add a particular type of pressure?

JM: I don’t know if it’s ignorant or just confidant or just that I’m really stoked but no, I can’t see a Conan fan not liking it … everyone that worked on this movie was a fan. We all bled for it — we beyond bled for it — so I’m excited about it. We brought a new version of the character to life.

GB: The 1982 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and the vintage paintings by Frank Frazetta are probably the signature images of the character for contemporary fans. Talk about those and how they affect — or don’t affect — what you’ve done.

JM: As for the movies with Arnold,  I feel this is totally different. It’s like Sean Connery and Daniel Craig are totally different Bonds but equally great in what they do. You don’t replace a guy like Arnold, you just do a different thing. As far as the Frazetta fans — and the Robert E. Howard fans — I think they’ll all be pretty stoked. We took the character from the Frazetta paintings, ripped him off the canvas and put him on the screen.

 Game of Thrones and Conan: Jason Momoa goes for the throat

Jason Momoa and Emilia Clarke in "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloan / HBO)

GB: Tell me about one major hurdle you had to overcome to get this movie or your performance where it needed to be.

JM: I had a big battle at the very end of the shoot they wanted me to hold the sword up [poised above my head] and I said, “That’s not a Frosty thing, that’s Arnold’s thing, that’s a bodybuilding pose. That’s not my character.” If you watch the movie, whenever I fight with my father’s sword, it’s reversed until I kill [one foe at a key moment] … I studied all these samurai movies and it planned and calculated that way. Then in reshoots, at the end of day, they said we need you to turn it around for this one shot. I wouldn’t do it. Everyone was very angry with me … it was very hard but I didn’t want to be a cookie-cutter [version of Arnold] and I don’t want a regurgitated character. It got heavier than it should have. There were so many cooks in the kitchen. At the end of the day, though, I’m the guy up there. It’s got my name on it. I’m the one that gets castrated [if it goes wrong]. I told them, “You show me one picture of Conan holding the sword like that anywhere before the Arnold movie and I will do it. It’s his pose.” You fight the battles because you’re the one up there on the screen. I’m not here to remake something.

GB: What other choices did you make as far as putting together your Conan?

JM: When I signed on I told them it had to be a character that had my stamp on him. I wanted to put a certain amount of sense of humor and vulnerability in him, a sexuality, I wanted a complex character that wasn’t just a stone-faced barbarian. He’s young, too, he’s all fire and no ice and doesn’t know how to cool it off. He’s [chasing] women and drinking and being a pirate. He also gets saved by a woman he had no respect for in the first place and there’s some vulnerability there. You need layers or it gets real boring real fast.

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Jason Momoa as the title character in "Conan the Barbarian." (Simon Varsano / Lionsgate)

GB:  “Game of Thrones” on HBO is one of the most memorable success stories of 2011. You portray Drogo of the Dothraki, the warlord of the nomad nation. Is there a memorable moment you can talk about from the making of the show? Something that illustrates what you brought to the character or what you took away from the experience?

JM: The most fantastic moment was probably while working with Dan Minahan — he was the director on all my big epsiodes — and as an aspiring director and storyteller, I just want to work with those kind of guys and learn everything I can. One big thing for me was one of the few scenes that wasn’t in the book is the scene that I wrote where I ripped the guy’s throat out. I had just come off Conan and I had killed a billion guys a hundred different ways, but Drogo needs to be so much worse. He killed way more people than Conan. He doesn’t even need to use swords anymore. The bad-ass guys in my life, they just come up and whisper to you. So for this scene where Drogo has to deal with a situation — it’s right after his wife has stopped a rape — I wanted to not even use weapons. I just wanted to bob and weave and let you see how quick he is, how good he is.

GB: There’s a real coiled menace and madness to that scene. You get a sense of why Drogo has never lost a fight.

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"Game of Thrones" (Helen Sloan / HBO)

JM: In the books you never get to see Drogo fight anyone; he’s this great warrior but there’s no battles. So in this scene we had him lean into the sword and get this self-inflicted pain and the whole time he’s whispering to the guy. I’m going to [mess] you up.  He throws away his weapons, too, that was an idea from David [Benioff, one of the show’s executive producers]. The ideas were coming in from everyone, even the stunt coordinator, but my idea all through it was “I want to rip the guy’s throat out.” He [insulted] my wife, I want to use his sword on his throat and then reach in and rip his jugular and his tongue out.  I said, “I know it’s last minute but we can get a chicken breast and cover it with blood.” They made up this thing and I have it at home. You can see the sinew and the tissue and the taste buds. I keep it my room. It’s a trophy. You know in the book he gets scratched by a lion and he kills the lion and brings it home to give his wife a coat. That felt so disconnected.

GB: Did you ever hear from George R.R. Martin about that sequence and diverging from his book?

JM: I got the greatest compliment from George Martin. When you take a role on  you become so passionate and you get into that character’s mind and life. You come up with ideas. And things aren’t always written in stone; I’m not here to rewrite things but there are moments when you say, “I think this could be better. Here’s an opportunity.” And that was an opportunity where it led to something great. They got bummed after that because everyone came to them about writing their own scenes and writers hate that … for me, I’m not trying to steal the camera; there’s 50 characters in this thing and I just wanted something that would pop. If I don’t bring my paint to the canvas, what did you hire me for? Martin is a genius but with Drogo, I lived it more than he lived it. He’s focused on every character, I was the one living in Drogo.

— Geoff Boucher


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39 Responses to ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Conan’: Jason Momoa goes for the throat

  1. ndc says:

    I don't get it. That is one unattractive man.

  2. wlcm2thdwn says:

    This is a very good interview. I liked Conan, and i'll be a Momoa fan as long as he's around !

  3. Sean77 says:

    Lol, Conan the Samoan??? I think I and any other Conan fan will pass, as they did this opening weekend!!!

    • Chloe says:

      I'm a Conan fan and I saw the movie and Jason did an awesome job. If you ever read the book you would no Arnold was nothing like Conan and Jason was perfect as Conan. Don't get me wrong Arnold's Conan was entertaining. But, Jason's Conan was different and raw not for the faint of heart. The real deal….I hope they do another one…GOOD JOB Jason…

    • Sherlina7 says:

      Momoa is the extremely fine Conan of a new generation. He has a huge and growing fan base, millions of them female, unlike Arnold who relied on a largely male following for his action flicks. I was Conan fan way back when, but Arnold's Conan was 30 years ago. Seriously, time marches on, movies get re-made. Consider it a kind of tribute that it was good enough to be re-made in the first place and just let it go.

  4. Sean77 says:

    I thought Conan was Nordic??? This guy looks like a Pacific Islander???

    • janjen says:

      nope…in the book, conan has dark skin. think pacific islander/mediteranean people. definitely not blonde and fair skin.

      • shawna Morgan says:

        Iam in love with Jason. I have been an fan for years. My daughter name is jashawna. I put both are names together. That’s how much of a big fan Iam of Jason

  5. Autumn says:

    Mmmm… No. He’s yummy. Eye exam, anyone? Jk, good actor, too.

  6. Char says:

    @ndc – you are psycho! that man is beyond foine!!!

  7. Cynthia Medina says:

    OMG, Char you are so right! Jason Momoa hypnotized me as Drogo in Game of Thrones, and after reading this article he reveals a brain behind all that sex…IM THERE FOR CONAN THIS WEEKEND!

  8. AdrienneLV says:

    I'm officially obsessed w/Jason and have been since Game of Thrones. Saw Conan this past weekend and sure enough he was great there too. He seriously makes a far better Barbarian than the original one w/Arnold…..waaaaay sexier too.

  9. Emmy says:

    I became a Jason Momoa's fan after Game of Thrones. One great actor that is underrated.

  10. Art says:

    He looks nothing like Conan O'Brien

  11. likelystory2 says:

    I wish JM a long and successful career. He is unbelievably handsome and sexy. I've been watching him for a few years now and am happy to see him in big roles like Conan and Drogo. Gook luck, JM. Stay with the great spirit!

  12. deb jones says:

    I became a fan of Jason Momoa, while watching Game of Thrones. This man is very sexy, and good looking. As Conan I thought he was very good, as well. Much better than Arnold S. who can not speak English and is not sexy or good looking!!

  13. Cass says:

    Fell for him in "Stargate Atlantis". SEXeeeeeee!

  14. MEG says:

    i have been a fan of his forever and I know his potential as an actor and he has gone a long way from being a lifeguard to being Drago on Game of Thornes and Conan. Keep up the great work.

  15. EMMA says:

    i am a big fan of jason sience i've been watchin him as drogo in Games of Thrones, but his character ends in the first 10 episodes of the mouvie, Games of Thrones is not interesting now without Drogo, i just love that character

  16. Peevy Cakes says:

    Me too Cass. My mom introduced me to Game of Thrones and there he was. My heart stopped. OMG! What a man!!! Let me get composed. Lord, Jason is FOINE!!! WOO! I wanted to know more about him. So my sister told me about Stargate Atlantis. I’m a FOREVER FAN!!! AND he’s a sweetheart. I saw him on Jay Leno. He is SO in love with his wife!!! YOU GO LISA!!!

  17. Peevy Cakes says:

    On Jay Leno, he was talking about his two beautiful children, and how he met his wife, Lisa. He was trying to be cool, but inside he was like a kid meeting his favorite school crush. He was SO cute! Look at those eyes, ladies. I’m with Emma. Game Of Thrones is going to have to come on up to replace Jason. The show is going to really stink without him. God, he’s beautiful!!!

  18. Kim says:

    I absolutely LOVE this guy…I hope to get to see EVERY movie he is in…and I am a Twilight fan…but I LOVE This dude…he so NEW and awesome!!! I loved the CONAN movie too and Game of Thrones!

  19. Natasha says:

    I became a a fan of Jason when watching Stargate Atlantis and Game of thrones. He's so hot

  20. Melissa says:

    I've always wondered who was this hunk on Stargate and then I see him in Game of Thrones!! They need to bring back his character somehow!! I also saw Conan–what an underrated actor. He is so gorgeous and ironically humble!! I will watch anything he is in!!

  21. Tona says:

    I Love Game of Thrones….I just noticed the Same Actor in Conan…and had to do some research to see who he is. WOW!!! What a Beautiful man…inside and out. I am a fan…and look forward to finding him in more Movies.

  22. megacel says:

    i just wanna eat him.

  23. John Williams says:

    Go Jason! – Stargate, Conan, Thrones – Wishing you all the best as the humble hunk of a superstar that you are!

  24. Roxie says:

    Jason is not only hot but I had the pleasure of meeting him this weekend and wow is he such a nice guy and so down to earth. The people that held the event said that Jason treated all his fans like they where family. He mad my weekend and I am so happy to have meet him.

  25. a huge Jason Fan! says:

    I will only go back to watching Game of Thrones if they PUT KHAL DRAGO (JASON) BACK IN IT SOME KIND OF WAY. The powers that be must have lost a lot of viewers when they killed off. They must be mental or something. My friends and alot of people only watched this show because we look forward to seeing him.

  26. @doriscclay says:

    I've been completely in love with Jason Mamoa ever since Baywatch Hawaii. I just started watching Game of Thrones instantly recognized him as Drogo (best surprise ever, wasn't expecting my favorite man to be in this show), even with all of the guy liner they put him in. I loved him as Drogo and hope that he will be able to come back to the show. Either way, I hope Jason continues to get mainstream roles that show off his talents that I recognized long long ago (along with his beautiful eyes).

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