Barbarian at the gate: Jason Momoa, the new Conan, isn't trying to imitate Arnold

New star of 'Conan the Barbarian' is ready to carry his own weight

Jason Momoa stars as Conan in "Conan The Barbarian."

Photo by Photo credit: Simon Varsano

Jason Momoa stars as Conan in "Conan The Barbarian."

"I live. I love. I slay. I am content." - Conan The Barbarian... The most legendary Barbarian of all time is back. Conan's exploits in ...

Rating: R for strong bloody violence, some sexuality and nudity

Length: 112 minutes

Released: August 19, 2011 Nationwide

Cast: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Rachel Nichols

Director: Marcus Nispel

Writer: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sean Hood

More info and showtimes »

— HOLLYWOOD — Jason Momoa is no stranger to the fantasy/sci-fi genre, having played weapons specialist Ronon Dex in the Syfy series "Stargate Atlantis" and, most recently, Dothraki leader Khal Drogo in the critically acclaimed HBO fantasy series "Game of Thrones." The muscular half-Hawaiian, half-Irish actor now tackles the iconic fictional warrior Conan the Barbarian in a reboot of the franchise.

"Conan the Barbarian" is based on stories Robert E. Howard wrote more than 70 years ago. Howard's stories were turned into comic books in the 1970s and continue to be published to this day. Artist Frank Frazetta created paintings for the 1960s paperback collections of Howard's stories, which depicted the warrior as a hulking hero. Being cast as the character, who embarks on a journey to avenge his father's death, was a dream come true for Momoa.

"I'm a fan," he says. "If you're a fan or geek of something, and your dream comes true to play a character that you love, it's overwhelming. You also want to give it your all. I'm a huge comic book fan. It's an honor."

Momoa is following in some famous footsteps. Bodybuilder-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger had his breakthrough playing Conan in the 1982 action-adventure directed by John Milius. Momoa wasn't intimidated by that fact and did not try to imitate Schwarzenegger but made the character his own.

"You're comparing Sean Connery to Daniel Craig as Bond," he says. "They're both amazing. Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger (both played) the Joker. Both of them killed it. One won an Oscar. I cannot ever take anything from Arnold. He's Arnold."

Director Marcus Nispel ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre") says he searched the globe for the right actor to play Conan. After seeing more than 200 would-be Conans, he came across Momoa, who lives in Los Angeles.

"We didn't want to make this a bodybuilding contest. What you want is a primal energy," he says. "We found it in Jason Momoa."

Co-star Rose McGowan, who plays a sorceress intent on killing Conan, sees Momoa as the real deal.

"It was amazing to first meet Jason, who looks like he's walked straight out of a Frazetta painting," she says. "I mean, it's freakish."

Momoa was athletic and muscular before he got the role, but he still had to go through rigorous training for a month before shooting the film in Bulgaria.

"I had to put on 25 pounds," he recalls. "We did a lot of weight training and stunt training and sword training plus cardio for six hours a day."

It was the 32-year-old actor's idea to incorporate the samurai style of sword fighting into his performance.

"I thought this Conan would handle that broad sword in the fight scenes that way," he says.

Momoa was careful not to injure himself during filming, knowing if he got hurt it would delay production and put a lot of jobs in jeopardy.

"I think keeping an injury at bay was the hardest part," he says. "You're trying not to be injured doing all these really hard stunts and you don't want to mess up."

Momoa, who lives with actress Lisa Bonet and has two children with her, had no problem letting his stunt double take over in a scene if he thought it was too dangerous.

Some are calling the tall, dark and ruggedly handsome actor the next big star in Hollywood. The modest Momoa doesn't it see it that way.

"I don't know," he says appearing to mull over the idea. "There are a lot of amazing guys above me."

Momoa already is considered a hero among Asian-Pacific Islanders, who see few actors like him in leading roles in Hollywood.

"This is what I've been doing my whole life," says the Honolulu native. "This is what I've been trying to get to — this point. When ('Conan the Barbarian') comes out on Aug. 19 and if it goes well, then there's another dream come true. That's what I'm here to do ... I want to act. Aside from race or whatever, it's an honor to represent Hawaiians. It's an honor to represent people from Iowa, where I grew up. This is a very hard and fickle business, and to make it right now (and) to play an iconic character, it's a dream come true."

© 2011 Knoxville.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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