Comic-Con 2011: Jason Momoa and Rachel Nichols talk CONAN THE BARBARIAN

Jason Momoa is definitely a force to be reckoned with. Not only is in the hottest new show of this past year, Game of Thrones, he’ll soon be the quintessential manliest man around as CONAN THE BARBARIAN. On top of these larger than life roles, he’s just a huge presence in the flesh. At Comic-Con, I had the chance to sit with him and Rachel Nichols for a CONAN roundtable and he just commanded the room’s attention. Coming in the room, he immediately walked around, opened all the windows, turned down the air conditioner, and took up two whole seats at the table. No other interview had such a loud entrance and while physically he didn’t need the space, his personality and presence did.

Read all about the roundtable with Jason Momoa and Rachel Nichols after the break.

What was training like for this film?

Jason: I was on a diet of peanut butter and chicken. The peanut butter because if you starve yourself of carbs, having only a little bit of sugar completely “Banes” you out. But yeah we do like two hours of sword work and sword training, stunt training, then have a little break to eat a whole chicken breast. Then we come back and do some weight lifting then some cardio. When I got home basically the best thing you can do is sleep and rest.

How long did this last?
Jason: I had four weeks in Los Angeles and then two weeks before principal photography.

What was your overall weight change?
Jason: I started at 210-220; I ended up being 230 something. For Drogo (Game of Thrones) I got up to around 240.

What was the first thing you ate after training?
Jason: I flew straight to Rome, Italy and just ate pasta. I was like I want a bowl like that [motioned to as big as the table].

Rachel: For the last week of shooting, all Jason could talk about was the amount of food he was going to consume after it was over.

Jason: Yeah I was just going to do it in front of my trainer and be like I hate you and just pulverize this horrible food in front of him, but yeah when I did Drogo I wanted to put this fat on top of it and be like this 7 foot guy really, really big cause he’s not sitting around doing sit-ups so I just eat some pizza or something.

What was your favorite part of weapons training?
Rachel: For me it was the horseback riding because I had never ridden a horse before I got to Bulgaria. I actually did all of the stunts in the film, except for one. There’s only one stunt where my lovely stunt girl jumps from a carriage onto a bareback horse that’s not me. I will admit that is not me, butI had to learn first on a tether going around on a ring then I had to learn to do everything: gallop, ride bareback, all that! Even drive a carriage and I did all that and it was so much fun. I now love riding horses. It takes a lot of money to maintain, so I don’t own any horses, but I do have friends who have horses. I actually just went to Peru to ride horses for two weeks, which was amazing!

Was there any sort of fear factor at the start of it?
Rachel: I’ve always been game on the action front because I’ve done a lot of action movies, but this was new. My dad has always been really funny; see my dad is 6’7” and he says he doesn’t trust animals larger than he is. This has always been a joke in my family because very few animals are larger than he is! I was fearful in the beginning, since I had never been on a horse and it was this wild ride but then I quickly learned you can’t be afraid on the horse. The horse can tell and it will make you it’s bitch, so you have to flip it around. The only horse I was scared of was the one that Jason had to ride because it was huge it was so big and so ornery, and I’m still afraid of it today.

Jason, what was your favorite part of weapons training?
Mine was sword work. Just training, it was a dream since I love Samurai movies. I love the old samurai movies and to have a horse and a sensei to teach you this amazing art form very quickly, when it usually takes years and years and years. I’m not saying I’m this master of it now, but it’s the best.

Were there any injuries on set?
Jason: I did stab someone in the foot and he had to go to the hospital, but I never got hit with my sword.

Rachel: I didn’t know that you could get that badly bruised riding a horse! I had no concept and I bruise very easily. This isn’t my natural skin color; my natural skin color is very pale, this is all spray tan! So I bruise really easily and they show and I had these huge contusions. I put on Twitter because I thought they were really funny, so they are now out there forever. But definitely for me the bruising was extensive. My tan is from Porto Fino and they sprayed it on my body before I came to Comic Con. Everybody looks better with a tan so we did it for the press! But yeah I’m actually one of those people who can never tan I just burn and it peels off and is white again.

What’s been your impression of Comic-Con so far?
Rachel: It was a zoo! I mean in this really cool way it was an absolute zoo and I will say that everybody was really respectful, which is nice. Occasionally at a premiere or an event, people can be really mean and yell at you, but everyone was really nice last night. Sometimes it can be overwhelming and I’m not even that recognizable! I was just a tall girl walking through the streets in a skin tight dress so I looked a little out of place, but I assume if you were someone who was extremely recognizable that it would be very overwhelming. I thought it was great.

Jason: I’ve been to Comic-Con before and I had nightmares for a couple years. It was pretty terrifying my first time here; I’ve learned to speak in groups a bit better so I’m excited to go down since I’m supporting two projects that are really perfect for Comic-Con. It’s going to be fun, I’ve never seen the fans response here so I’m excited to see that.

What did you do to win the role?
It’s all because of Drogo. When I did Game of Thrones, the same casting director was in the room and I did this haka (which is a Polynesian war chant) and there’s not many people who can do that and look really fierce and so that really helped me get in to Conan. Then when I was trying to convince Lionsgate that I was the right guy, I told a story of when someone smashed a pint glass over my face and they had to reconstruct parts of my face and I’m telling them the story and I’m really getting into it and getting amped and they are just scared and I’m like “Now do you think I can play Conan? I’m ready to rip someone’s head off.” And I was just staring at the Lionsgates guys and be like “Now do you think I can play Conan?” I had to take it so personal because I didn’t want them to pop the question and be like “Jay what do you do” and me be like “Well I like swords and I like the comic book!” I didn’t have an answer for that so I needed to show that I was tough.

What were your inspirations for your role?
Jason: My biggest inspiration was Frank Franzetta. My parents were both painters and it was my first interaction with Conan, and then obviously the comic books. That was it for me. I just felt my image of him was this lion and this panther, just this big cat, so I would go to the zoo with my kids and just watch and study the lions and watch documentaries of these lions to see how they were. That was it for me.

Rachel: For me Tamara is interesting because you find her in this Monastery and she has no idea who she is. She doesn’t know anything about her bloodline and she’s certainly never wielded a sword before, not in the fighting context where you see her after they’ve run out of the monastery and takes this sword. So it was an interesting balance between this knowledge where you felt that she innately had that she was born with, but you didn’t want to make it too pristine so it looked like she was a pro. So we did a lot of work to make it look like it was instinctual, but not perfect, when she wields a sword. For the first time she sort of gets swept away and she doesn’t know why she picked it up or why she was so aggressive with it because she’s been in a monastery her whole life and had no idea who she was. Despite all the other action stuff I had done, I had never done anything with swords before. And the thrill of hitting a blood bag is extraordinary! I never had the opportunity to be in a fight scene where you had to up-slash someone and hit a bag; when you hit the bag it’s hard to not be like “Yeah oh my god, it’s amazing!” cause blood just goes everywhere. So that was super fun.

Did any of your previous fight experience kick in?
Rachel: Although the swords were new, the physicality was not. Once you do enough action, learning fight scenes is relatively easy. Even though the dance is always different, the counterparts it’s broken down into are very similar. And its always fun when you are working with a new person and the luxury is I’m fighting with a double, so I don’t have to worry about hurting the star who’s face is not on camera. The battle that we shot for GI JOE was epic and so much fun. The physicality is similar although the moves are different and I’m thankful that I had this experience I’ve had because then its not a tortuous experience to learn a fight sequence, it’s something that I had fun with and enjoyed learning a new dance.

It sounds like CONAN THE BARBARIAN will be full of epic fight scenes, thrilling violence, and a new interpretation of the iconic character. It hits theaters on August 19, 2011.

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Kristal Bailey

About Kristal Bailey

Growing up in sunny San Fernando Valley (just 30 minutes from the bright lights of Los Angeles!), Kristal escaped the heat and blazing sun by hiding in movie theaters for days at a time. Well, not literally, but the truth is very close to that. Her love for movies is only eclipsed by her love for television and Harry Potter (see picture). With a soft spot for movies that fall into the “So Bad They’re Good” category, she regularly watches B-movies (THE BLOB), 80s comedies (EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY), and sci-fi from the 50s and 60s (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL). She also refuses to grow up if that means she has to hide her love for Disney and Pixar films. And yet, her favorite movies of all time don’t fall into any of these categories (FIGHT CLUB, MOULIN ROUGE). Go ahead, ask her why! In her free time, she enjoys reading graphic novels or books that are soon to be turned into movies, watching hours and hours of television, and spending way too much time on Twitter.