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Jason Momoa spotted a copy of Dark Horse’s Conan the Barbarian: The Mask of Acheron sitting on the table. Moments like this, seeing himself on the cover of a comic book, still feel surreal to him.
“Could I get one of those comic books? Ya don’t mind, do ya? I’m on the cover of the fucker,” he said at a recent press event. “Dude, I’m on the cover of a comic book! That’s so cool!”
He and the cast of Conan the Barbarian, in theaters today, hope moviegoers have a similar reaction to Momoa’s 3D depiction of Robert E. Howard’s classic creation. The Lionsgate film stars Momoa (Khal Drogo of Game of Thrones) as Conan, Stephen Lang (Avatar) as Khalar Zym, and Rachel Nichols (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) as Tamara.
Momoa said many fans were aghast when it was announced he would play the legendary Cimmerian, but that was before fans saw his portrayal of Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game of Thrones.
“‘Who? Baywatch? Stargate?’” Momoa laughed about reactions to his earlier work. “I can do more than that. Once [Game of Thrones] came out, people were like, ‘Holy shit, Conan is going to be badass!’ After seeing Drogo, they were like, ‘This guy can do it.’ No shit, I can do it!”
When asked about living up to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s depiction of Conan, Momoa admitted he hasn’t watched those films.
“I’ve never played a role that had been played before, so I don’t think I need to see Arnold’s as a source for mine,” he said. “There’s so much source material — so many stories, comic books, and the paintings were huge for me. I’m going to go see his movie, I just want to see mine first. I busted my ass for it.”
Lang, who plays the villain Khalar Zym, agreed.
“The time that the original Conan came out was the same year or near the time that Raging Bull came out,” he said. “I was much more going towards that and eschewing the popcorn pictures. I didn’t see [the original] when it first came out, and I don’t know that I’ve seen it all the way through. I’m not a huge fan of the picture, with all due respect. But I have read Howard, I’ve read a good bit of it. I felt what we were doing here reflected a lot more of Howard’s intention than what I saw in the other film.”
“But it’s not useful to compare,” Lang continues. “I have no interest in sitting here knocking a movie that did great business and made Arnold into the icon that he is. I think that Momoa … he’s my Conan, that’s how I put it.”
Lang said the team from 300 was brought on to help choreograph the fight scenes, and whip the cast into shape.
“I got to Bulgaria, went from airport to the hotel, dropped my bags off and went straight to fight rehearsal,” he recalled. “Working with Jason, he’s a big guy – strong – so we just wailed away at each other. What you really want to do is learn the choreography, know it in your bones, like a musician would know Mozart, then forget it, let it happen. That’s when it gets really exciting. It was always a challenge, and it left me bruised and battered all the time.”
Nichols also received her fair share of bumps and bruises.
“This was very different from anything I’d ever done before,” she said. “You’re taking out the modern weaponry and putting in swords and horses. I had never ridden a horse before I got to Bulgaria. So I spent a lot of time learning how to ride a horse, then how to drive a carriage, then how to ride a carriage with four horses going full speed – which I actually do in the film, and I’m very proud of. It was fun, it was physical. I never knew that you could get that bruised riding a horse. But I did and I posted it on Twitter, so it’s out there in the universe.”
Momoa has more than mere scrapes by which to remember the production.
“I’ve got scars all over me. It was brutal,” he said. “But after three months, it was like childbirth: I went from, ‘I’m never doing this again!’ to, “Oh, a baby!’”
But will all those bumps, bruises and scars translate into box-office dollars? Fans of the Schwarzenegger movies or Howard books could be cynical toward the film and hold on tight to their movie-going dollars.
That’s not a concern, Nichols insisted.
“Any time you take something iconic like Conan and bring it into the present day, you have to be very loyal to what it was and what it will always be,” she said. “And then you need to update it and make it modern and make it flashy and appeal to new audiences. You want to keep the old fans but you’ve got a new generation of young fans that have never even been exposed to the old version. To get them in the seats, you need to wow them. I think they’ve done that. It’s spectacular. The boys will love the blood.”
Producer Fredrik Malmberg believes that this is exactly the type of character today’s fans will enjoy seeing on screen.
“[It’s] barbarism vs. civilization. It’s action/consequence. A barbarian will just react,” Malmberg said of the title character. “I think today’s audience, today’s people feel a sense of frustration. Bernie Madoff rapes half the world and no one can do anything about it. If Conan were there, he’d chop his head off. He’s talking to those primal instincts we all have, and it feels fresh.”
Should the audiences want more Conan, Momoa is already signed up.
“I love [Conan], he’s fantastic to play. I love it that he’s not some superhero, trying to save the damsel in distress,” Momoa said. “He’s a self-made man. He’s a thief, a pirate, he loves his drink, he’s just a barbarian. He’s a man’s man.”