You’ve had a lot of similar roles recently, so you clearly didn’t need to beef up a lot, but were there any new skills you needed to learn for Conan?
I needed to learn a lot more of the samurai sword, and I learnt some Parkour. You know, I put on about 25 pounds in six weeks because I did need to bulk up quite a bit for the role. I’ve never worked out to that extent and I don’t think I would voluntarily put myself through that much torture for a role, so it was kinda fun as a actor to transform your body into something like that.
Did the shooting of Game of Thrones and Conan overlap?
They did. I shot the pilot of Game of Thrones, and that got me Conan, then I shot Conan I went back and shot the series of Game of Thrones.
So it was almost like the same workout session?
When I did Game of Thrones I basically packed a bunch of fat on top of the muscles so I could make them look bigger. He’s supposed to be seven foot in the books, so I just wanted him to be a mass of meat, if you know what I mean. He wasn’t sitting around doing sit-ups, drinking beer and doing his wife.
In Conan all the men are “real men”. Do you think that testosterone fueled aggression is what defines a man?
No, not at all. That doesn’t define a man in the least. I’m a family man: it’s family and love and support and being a man is taking care of your family. To me that’s the best way to describe a man, to be protective. At any given moment you are willing to die for your family, and it made it easier for me to play those roles when you have something to live for and to die for it lets you access certain things as a father that you wouldn’t be able to do if you weren’t, and you’d have to use your imagination. When you really have something out there it helps.
Being a father certainly changes your perspective on the world.
But I think that everyone has a bit of barbarian or primal side in them if you mess with someone’s kids you’re going to get it. Everyone’s got that inside them, it’s just how you access it.
What was it like working in Bulgaria? Was it a shock after coming from Hawaii and LA?
Bulgaria is fantastic. I had a great time there. Even my wife and kids, we all really embraced Bulgaria. It’s really beautiful and we went through three seasons there, which is something we don’t usually get to see. Eastern Europe has its own charm to it, so it was fun.
What about the cold?
I love the cold. I grew up in Iowa, so I really enjoy the cold.
Action heroes are a bit like sportsmen and their shelf life, so to speak, can be relatively short. Do you want to do other roles, and is this why you are moving behind the camera?
Absolutely. I wrote a script that I’m going to be directing at the beginning of the year, and it’s a full-on drama. I wasn’t trained as an action star, it just happens to be that I’m in this body that I can do this stuff. I’d love to do comedy, romantic comedy, and these are very challenging roles too. I think it would be fun, and nicer and easier on the body to do romantic comedy.
WIll it be easy to adapt to those sort of roles?
Oh yeah. I’m an actor just playing a role. I’m not really Conan or Khal Drogo. If anything, you don’t get my wife by having a scheme, grunting and beating people up, you have to have a sense of humour.
But your physical form can lead to you being typecast. Mind you, Will Smith’s a big guy too.
People can try and put me in a box, but it’s not going to happen.
Conan was clearly fearless, but Tamara was initially coming across all serene and self-assured in the face of adversity, but when there was real peril she was screaming like a big girl. Did that strike you as incongruous?
Not really. The one thing I did love about Tamara was the fact he’s not PC and he tells her what to do: “Woman come here” and “woman do that”, and he really uses her as a tool, and the respect level isn’t there until she saves his life. It’s fun to show that Conan has a little vulnerability and respect someone that saved his life. I think that’s a nice quality to have and makes him human, and Tamara offers him that.
I meant that all that bravura disappears when she was splayed out to be scarificed…
Yup. I guess when your life’s in danger and you get to that moment it’ll test how tough you are. I guess if I was chained up and put over a fiery pit I’d scream like a girl too.