Post Mon Feb 22, 2010 10:14 pm

Interview with Norwalk’s ‘Conan’ star Jason Momoa

by Sophia Ahmad | February 19, 2010

I’m in pain,” Jason Momoa groaned as he lay down for a 10-minute break.

That’s what six hours of sword and fight training can do to a guy.

Momoa, who grew up in Norwalk, Ia., was enrolled in early February in an intense six-week training program at a stunt and martial arts academy in Los Angeles for his title role in the upcoming movie “Conan.”
Director Marcus Nispel (“Friday the 13th” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) is reviving the fantasy franchise in 2011. Filming for the multi-million dollar Nu Image/Millenium, Lionsgate and Paradox project is scheduled to shoot from mid-March through June in Bulgaria.

Momoa flies to Europe on Monday. He beat out “Twilight” vampire Kellan Lutz for the role.

“It’ll definitely be (my biggest role) as far as a blockbuster hit,” said Momoa, 30, who added that he was still finalizing negotiations for the role even as he wielded a 10-pound sword.

“He only goes for things that interest him. I believe he really wanted this,” said Jason’s mother, Coni Momoa of Norwalk.

The character of Conan is a fictional Cimmerian warrior created in 1932 by Texan writer Robert E. Howard. This will be the third major movie about the 6-foot 2-inch, 210-pound Conan. The original “Conan the Barbarian” (1982) and the “Conan the Destroyer” sequel (1984) starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, now governor of California. Momoa was just a toddler when Schwarzenegger first strode on screen as the swarthy, blue-eyed barbarian.

“At the time, it was amazing … It’s got a little ’80s vibe to it,” Momoa said.

2011’s “Conan” has potential to be as big as the 1982 film, according to Edward Summer, associate producer of “Conan the Barbarian.”

“The original Conan stories are very strong stories.”

And a strong story can lead to a strong script, he said, although there is no exact way of knowing what the film’s impact will be. “Barbarian” grossed nearly $70 million worldwide, according to box office revenue tracking Web site

At 6 feet, 5 inches and 215 pounds, Momoa, of Hawaiian heritage on his father’s side, fits the physical features of Conan. (His green eyes can be made blue with contact lenses, Momoa noted.)

He expects to add 10 more pounds of muscle to his frame with help of David Leitch, a stunt performer seen in “The Bourne Ultimatum” and Chad Stahelski, the martial arts stunt coordinator for “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions.”

Conan retains a strong fantasy following as the subject of a Marvel comics series from 1970 to 1996, picked up by Dark Horse Comics in 2003 “Conan” and in 2008 for “Conan the Cimmerian.”

First we have Brandon Routh as Superman, and then this,” said Jeremy Bement, who manages Mayhem Comics in Clive.

He hopes Momoa will be able to portray Conan as more than just a buff warrior.

“(Conan’s) not just all muscle; he’s brains and brawn,” Bement clarified.

“He was the strong, silent type,” Summer said.

“He eventually becomes king, so he is smart.”

To tackle Conan’s psyche and to prepare himself for what he called a “burly script,” Momoa went to the source.

“I did more research with the books (than the movies), to tell you the truth,” he said.

A character sketch of Conan from the upcoming film describes the lead character as “very smart, almost inhumanly strong, and very cunning. … His entire life, from the moment of his birth, has been shaped by violence.”

Momoa looks tough, but stepping into his third epic fantasy role to date, still considers himself a “mama’s boy.”

“I’m a little hippy kid from Iowa, man. I was no toughie. I spent my fair share of time stuffed in lockers,” he said.

Joseph Jason Namakaeha Momoa was born on Aug. 1, 1979, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Namakaeha, a paternal family name, is Hawaiian for “all knowing eyes.” When he was 6 months old, Momoa and his mother moved to Norwalk to be closer to her family. Growing up, Momoa was interested in sports and rock climbing, not acting.

“He was never into any drama at school,” Coni said.

Momoa, an only child, delighted in the fact that his parents were artists – Coni a photographer, and Joseph, a painter.

Momoa returned to Hawaii to attend the University of Hawaii. He was working at a family member’s surf shop when “Baywatch” auditions came to town.

His friends made an audition portfolio for him, helping him earn the role as the hunky Jason Ioane on the TV series starring David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson.

“I went from folding T-shirts in Hawaii to walking around half naked with really beautiful women, which wasn’t bad at 19,” he said.

He appeared on the show from 1999 to 2001, then moved to Los Angeles to take acting classes.

After portraying Frankie Seau on the romantic drama “North Shore,” Momoa landed the part of Ronon Dex on the Sci-Fi series “Stargate: Atlantis” from 2005 to 2009.

His “passionate” Sci-Fi fans, as Momoa described them, created a MySpace page on his behalf.

Last fall, Momoa was cast as the brutal warrior Khal Drogo in “Game of Thrones,” a pilot and potential HBO fantasy drama. He will start filming more of the TV series in Ireland and Morocco at the end of June.

Momoa’s personal life has grown alongside his acting career. He has been with his partner, actress Lisa Bonet (Denise Huxtable from “The Cosby Show”) since 2005; they have two children: Lola Iolani, 2, and Nakoa-Wolf, 1.

Fatherhood helped give Momoa insight into the Conan character, he said, since the warrior seeks revenge after his family and townsfolk are murdered.

Momoa said his tendencies are not remotely close to Conan’s brutal ways, although when threatened, he would not hesitate to defend his kids.

Jason Momoa, 13 Christmas 1992 (Coni Momoa/Special to the Register)
“… If that happened to my family, I’d do the same,” he said.

While on the verge of what could be his breakout role, Momoa set aside time to explore other interests and cultivate his own film projects.

He wrote and directed “Brown Bag Diaries: Ridin’ the Blinds in B minor,” a short drama film about a vagabond trying to find a home, which he hopes will be screened at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival this year.

He plans to shoot a second short film with Bonet this spring in Europe. And he said that five years from now he would be happy to be producing more of his own movies.

“Ultimately I will be doing my own art like I always have,” he said.

Momoa paints, as well. He experiments with the way the colors drip, and creates mixed media projects that have landed him art shows in Hawaii and Australia.

He is also a self-taught guitarist, finding time to strum melodies during down time on set.

He hopes “Conan” will open the door to more opportunities. On his wish list is a role in the fourth installment of Johnny Depp’s “Pirates of the Carribean,” rumored to be in the works for release next year.

“I simply get to study life. I can be a doctor, I can be a crack addict, I can be Conan the Barbarian – or I can be saving the frickin’ galaxy. It doesn’t ever get dull.”

It just occasionally gets painful, brandishing that sword.
Jeff Langley
SG Shadow Hunters
We are the best and don't ever forget it!
General George S. Patton Jr.