The WWE wrestler recently revealed that he’s auditioned for the part of Ukafa, a vicious warrior that stands in the way of Jason Momoa’s Conan. Although an official casting announcement has yet to be made, Gaspard reached out to MTV News to talk about his experience in auditioning for the “Conan” villain.
In our exclusive interview, Gaspard spoke about his take on the character of Ukafa, his experience meeting Jason Momoa, and other comic book characters he’d like to play.
MTV NEWS: Shad, how did you land the opportunity to audition for “Conan” as Ukafa?
SHAD GASPARD: First off, I am a big fan of “Conan.” I have the VHS and DVD version of [the Arnold Schwarzenegger films] with [commentary]. So when my agent, Rick Bassman of CESD, told me they were casting for it back in January 2010, I just had to jump on it. I found out through the breakdown that the role was for a character that fit my description to the tee.
MTV: Can you describe the audition process? What did you have to do to test out for the character?
GASPARD: I found out I would be allowed to audition for the film on a Tuesday while recording WWE Smackdown, and had to audition for it on Friday. So after [the TV show], I had to buy a one-way flight to L.A. When I got there on Wednesday, my agent gave me the breakdown for the role and let me know I only had two days to prepare.
The audition itself was pretty simple. I actually got to meet Jason Momoa, and it was kind of funny because, both being tall guys, we measured each other up. And in case you’re wondering, I am bigger. But he has put on some size for the role and is really taking it serious.
MTV: During the audition, were you able to get in costume for Ukafa? Did you get to wield any cool weapons?
GASPARD: No, I didn’t get to get in costume or wield any cool weapons, but what’s funny is that I am a trained martial artist with weapons, and in reading the script, I saw that Ukafa and others in the film use spears and swords. So the day before my audition, I spent four hours at a martial arts academy with my boy Marrese Crump trying to get my Zulu war spear and sword skills up to par. Unfortunately I didn’t get to showcase them at the audition, but hopefully next time.
MTV: The casting breakdowns tell us quite a bit about Ukafa, but can you talk about your interpretation of the character?
GASPARD: I think Conan and Ukafa are very similar; they just fight on different sides of the fence. In reading for Ukafa, I kind of saw him like Achilles in “Troy,” or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in “The Scorpion King.” They were great warriors who really didn’t care whether they fought on the good or bad side as long as they got to kick ass and take names.
MTV: What was it like meeting Jason Momoa? Do you think he’s the right choice for Conan?
GASPARD: Jason seemed like a pretty cool guy when I met him. And the fact that people are underestimating him, to me, it’s going to pay off. Unlike most pictures you see of him on the internet, he has already cut his dreads, and he has bulked up to a decent size right now — but he could probably put on another 10 to 15 pounds and look amazing on film.
Whether he or any of us are right for “Conan,” we’ll just have to wait and see. But don’t knock the film until you see it.
MTV: On your MySpace page, you spoke about how getting this part is as important to you as “The Mummy Returns” was to Dwayne Johnson’s career. Can you talk about why “Conan” is so important to you and your future career path?
GASPARD: It’s funny you ask. I actually got to talk to Dwayne about this a week ago when I saw him at the gym. I am a WWE superstar first and foremost — I love what I do, that is my bread and butter. As hard as I have worked to make myself a star in that industry, I will do the same in this one. I am taking casting for this role very seriously and have even been getting help from acting coach Howard Fine on how to approach this role. I don’t want to be labeled as just another wrestler trying to act. Dwayne is one of my heroes, and I am taking his example of how to be seen as an actor, not just a wrestling actor with cheesy lines.
MTV: You also wrote that you’re one of several actors auditioning for the part. Can you talk about some of your competitors? What makes you a better choice for the role than these guys?
GASPARD: I don’t really know all of my competitors; I’ve read about a guy named Raw Leiba online. But to be honest with you, unlike most of the guys going for the role, not only do I bring size, ability, and the look to the character of Ukafa, but I also bring a solid fan base and a unique quality that they just can’t match. People in the entertainment industry call it the “X” factor.
MTV: As I wrote in my post, you clearly have the physical aspect down for Ukafa, but you’re a relatively unknown quantity as an actor. In terms of acting, why are you the right choice for Ukafa?
GASPARD: I think it’s funny that me and Jason Momoa are relatively in the same position as far as people recognizing who we are. In terms of acting, I’ve been on TV for the last four and a half years on the longest running TV series in history. And even though many people question my acting, that’s just one dimension of what I can do. I studied acting in college and I’ve been working off and on with Howard Fine, one of the greatest acting coaches ever. Look him up; he’s good. But I bring a new face to the film industry, not just the same old big, unintelligent, muscle-bound villain.
MTV: Based on your audition process and from what you’ve seen thus far, do you think fans will be pleased with “Conan” when it comes out?
GASPARD: I think fans will really like the movie from what I’ve read. Old school fans hate change, but they’ve got to remember, a lot of people didn’t want Arnold to play the original Conan because they thought he was a big, dumb body builder. So, give this Conan a chance before you knock it. And new generation Conan fans, depending on the action and how they take the story, I think they’ll like the movie a lot — especially if I’m in it smacking Jason Momoa around. Both of us being big, athletic guys, we’ll have some really cool fight scenes, and our intensity will draw the fans in.
MTV: If Ukafa ultimately goes to another actor, are there any other comic book characters you’d be interested in playing?
GASPARD: Several people have approached me about Luke Cage, but being a fan of the comic book, I really don’t think I fit that mold; I am more the guy Luke Cage fights. Besides that, the only other ones I can think of would be Green Lantern, Black Panther, or Bishop from “X-Men.”
Tell us what you think of Gaspard’s chances of playing Ukafa in “Conan” in the comments section and on Twitter!