“Conan the Barbarian” star Jason Momoa hasn’t actually seen the previous versions of his sword-swinging adventure — or, as he once put it to MTV News, “the Arnold stuff” — but we have clear-enough memories to know Schwarzenegger’s franchise became straight-up silly after the 1982 original and was in desperate need of contemporary reinvention.
Robert E. Howard’s barbaric creation deserved better than a faceoff with Wilt Chamberlain in “Conan the Destroyer.” Conan finally got it, with Momoa’s new film hitting theaters on Friday (August 19). But there was a long and rocky path toward that theatrical release, with filmmakers joining then quickly departing the project and various Hollywood players being unable to kick things into production. Come with us on a journey called the MTV News cheat sheet, as we discover everything there is to know about the past, present and future of “Conan the Barbarian.”
The Wachowski Brothers tried. Robert Rodriguez tried. Brett Ratner tried. No director could seem to get “Conan” off the ground, despite years of effort. Actors rumored for the title role included Dolph Lundgren, “American Gladiator” star Mike O’Hearn, Austrian actor Roland Kickinger and “Twilight” vampire Kellan Lutz.
Rumors of directors and actors came and went, but in the end two men remained standing: “Friday the 13th” director Marcus Nispel, who signed up in June 2009, and Momoa, who officially nabbed the Conan role in January 2010. Lionsgate readied a March production start in Bulgaria. With just weeks until cameras began rolling, word broke that the script was getting a rewrite from “Halloween: Resurrection” scribe Sean Hood.
Swinging the Sword
“I think we’re right in the spirit of Howard,” Stephen Lang, who plays the film’s central villain, told MTV News during a phone call from the set last spring. “One of the things about his prose that’s so distinct is that it takes itself very seriously. There’s nothing tongue-in-cheek about it at all. And there’s nothing send-up about the world we’re creating, though hopefully the movie is made with a lot of wit.”
The spring also brought looks at Momoa in character: one of him standing tall and looking buff, another of him in bloodied-up action mode. “It kind of is an origin story,” Momoa told MTV News . “It’s rebuilding and rebooting the franchise. It starts with his birth, what happened to his family, what happened to his father — obviously his father is killed — and him going into the pirating and the thieving and wandering and being the degenerate that he is and then usurping a throne and finding out who killed his father. It’s a revenge story, with a little bit of love in there.”
Lang also revealed that the film would stay faithful to the source material’s supernatural roots. “If you read Robert Howard — of course the ’Conan’ stories and novellas — magic, supernatural plays a huge, huge part in them: fakirs and magicians and wizards all over the place,” Lang told MTV News last summer. “So magic is part of that world. The magic in this film, there’s a lot of it and there’s a lot of action-magic as well, a lot of magical fighting.”
The first “Conan” trailer — a teaser that invoked an ’80s nostalgia — popped up online in March of this year. It’d be another two months until a full trailer hit the Web; when it did, the footage showed off a whole lot of swords, bloody action and magical monsters. We finally got a chance to see Lang in action after all those shots of Momoa as the sword-wielding hero.
“I wanted him to be like a knife,” Lang told us of his character. “I wanted him, in profile, to almost disappear if possible. I actually have some photos that I am forbidden to show right now. I know there are these photos of Jason out there, this gorgeous stud of a Conan leaping around shirtless. Truth of the matter is, I kick his ass for almost two hours.”
An integral piece of Momoa’s Conan character development was not to be influenced by Schwarzenegger’s iconic performance. “I’ve never played a role that was played by someone else,” he told us. “As an actor, to build the character, I wanted to use my imagination and be creative and use my own interpretation. … I want to see mine and then I’m going to watch that one — back to back!”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Conan the Barbarian.”