Unphased by Arnold's Legacy, New 'Conan' Jason Momoa Embraces R-Rated Savagery
San Francisco might be Jason Momoa’s favorite city, but don’t ask if he’s running for governor. The tall, bronze-skinned Honolulu native, who stars in Marcus Nispel’s new Conan the Barbarian, is well aware that comparisons to the screen’s most famous conquering Cimmerian, Arnold Schwarzenegger, are inevitable. And, thank you, he’s heard all the jokes.
Could he care less? Apparently not. He never sought Arnold’s blessing, nor does he seem concerned whether Schwarzenegger enjoys the movie. If he does, great. If not, Momoa won’t be quitting the business.
“When I think of Conan, I think of the comics, the Robert E. Howard stories, the Frank Frazetta artwork,” says Momoa, 32, who played another barbarian chieftain, Khal Drogo, in HBO’s acclaimed Game of Thrones. “I don’t think of Arnold. My mom didn’t let me watch those movies as a kid.”
Kicking back in his Beverly Hills hotel suite, feet up and eager to finish the last of a full day’s interviews, Momoa admitted he was getting sick of talking Conan. But the night before, he had taken 30 friends, and wife Lisa Bonet, to a private screening.
The verdict? “The European press complained it was too gory,” he says with a laugh. “What do they want? It’s Conan. This isn’t Prince of Persia, or some Julia Roberts movie. If you don’t like violence, don’t see it.”
Momoa insists he never would have signed on to play a PG-13 version of Howard’s iconic warrior, because that’s not who Conan is. He welcomed all the blood and guts that made the final cut, and even some that didn’t. And in the end, it was the actor’s rogue charm and natural, primal ferocity that won him the role.
“Everybody has a very specific idea of who should portray [Conan] and what the movie should be, but I urge you – point to the guy right now alive anywhere who could play the part better than Jason did,” says Nispel, 48, who previously directed remakes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Friday the 13th. “I wouldn’t have taken the movie if I didn’t have him.
“This wasn’t a lookalike contest or a bodybuilding competition. It’s about his spirit. Conan is a very politically incorrect guy. The way he interacts with women made me think about Sean Connery as an early James Bond. What is it about Connery that lets him get away with things nobody else would? What is it about a guy who can grab your ass and you actually like it, whereas anyone else would get slapped? To find a guy like that in Jason, it was too perfect. And if he doesn’t think there’s enough violence, wait for the director’s cut.”
Momoa doesn’t plan to let his son and daughter, 2 and 4, see the movie “until they’re ready to get married,” he doesn’t begrudge Conan his violent streak. If anything, he respects the man’s honesty, loyalty and simple indulgences. He lives. He loves. He slays. And, like Momoa, he doesn’t own a TV, a phone or an e-mail account.
Barbaric? Hardly. Primitive? Maybe a little. But the actor has his reasons. “My agent got me a beeper,” he says. “But when I’m with my family and the phone rings, it’s another world intruding on what’s most important to me, and I don’t like that.
“When I’m acting, writing, being creative, I like to be in that world. I’ll still check on my family 15 times a day, because it’s my family. But I don’t like the pressures and realities of one world colliding with the other. At the end of the day, I’ll be where I need to be.”
Conan the Barbarian is now playing at the AMC Loews Metreon and the AMC Van Ness. For tickets and showtimes, click here.