EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Conan Stevens - Pt 1
You've seen Conan Stevens as Sir Gregor Clegane in HBO's Game of Thrones and you'll see him again in numerous projects, most notably Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit. He's über busy but I was able to snatch a moment to pick his brain.
Interview Conducted By: Mark Julian
Right now, Conan Stevens is reaping the benefits of his many years of hard work and persistence. After putting in dues overseas in Asian cinema, Stevens now finds himself popping up on Hollywood's radar and will likely be landing increasingly bigger roles in the near future. Already, he's generated buzz with his scene-stealing performance as Sir Gregor Clegane in HBO's Game of Thrones, specifically during an epic Season 1 scene where Clegane decides to "discipline" his horse. Following his stint on Game of Thrones, Conan can next be seen in Season 2 of STARZ's Spartacus: Vengeance, in Epic Pictures' upcoming release Vikingdom and of course in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I was able to capture some interesting tidbits from Conan on all of these roles plus get his interesting perspective on some comic book movie topics; truly captivating stuff from Conan (He's not just muscle and brawn, he was a high school chess champion and has also performed in a dance theatre company). I'll be posting The Hobbit related tidbits at a later date (Studio's orders, interview has some mild spoilers). Everything else was fair game though, so without further ado, here's part 1 of my interview with 7'-1", 320 lbs. actor Conan Stevens.
Mark Julian: You played The Mountain in Game of Thrones and I must say as an avid reader of the books, you nailed that character! Was it hard to walk away from that role to do The Hobbit?
I walked away from GoT? Somebody with no clue, no idea and no authority wrote that on the winter-is-coming.com comments section and that has somehow taken a foothold amongst others with a negative mindset.
Conan is referring to this post on Winteriscoming.net where fans were distraught over the news that he wouldn't be returning for Season 2. One popular theory is that the "Mountain that Rides" will not be shown in Season 2 without full armor, leaving the door open for Conan to return in Season 3. At this point, this is all speculation and nothing has been officially announced.
Mark Julian:I read that you received your medieval fighting skills from the Society of Creative Anachronisms? What can you tell me about that?
Conan Stevens: The SCA? That was a lot of fun. Officially they are there to recreate medieval dance, cuisine and authentic fight tactics. Basically, at least in Newcastle Australia, it was just a bunch of big hairy blokes beating the crap out of each other and having a beer or 10 afterwards and laughing about the immense [sic] bruisings that had landed on those unfortunate/unskillful enough to be wearing them.
I remember being given a sheet of steel and roll of high tensile steel fencing wire [and] asking what to do with it? I was to the beat the steel into shape with a hammer, and I was also told that the fencing wire was to be 'knit' into chainmail after I made individual links from the wire. Time consuming would best describe this.
But the SCA gave me a good hand-to-hand weapons base, it went well with my Professional Wrestling career afterwards which was more about choreography and improv theatre.
Mark Julian: Let's talk about your latest project, Vikingdom. You described it as being akin to 300. Is that in a figurative or visual sense?
Conan Stevens: I would be guessing here, but from what I have had described to me, I would say 'in the visual sense' as it is an action movie [which] is planned to have a great deal of CGI added in post production to the fights. Though taking historical events and fantasizing them somewhat would also be a noticeable link.
Also like '300', a lot of the work will be greenscreen backgrounds, after all tropical Malaysia is not well known for its icy fjords.
Mark Julian: You'll also be featured in an upcoming episode of Spartacus, what can you say about that role?
Conan Stevens: I can say that I'll be appearing in Season 02 Episode 07, which should air in the US on STARZ around the first week of March 2012. One person described the role as a "Guest Starring" role, [but] I'll go on record saying you definitely won't miss me in that episode. Being that Spartacus is very action orientated and so are my major skill sets you an guess I won't be playing a shopkeeper.
The best thing about that role was that it fit in perfectly with a break in filming "The Hobbit" and it was a series that I had been watching for about 12 months for an opening as I really wanted "Spartacus" on my resume alongside "Game of Thrones" and "the Hobbit" - I was sure that those three mentioned together would open the audition door to almost any movie that I will be interested in working on.
Mark Julian: Looking at your most notable roles, they definitely share a "medieval, sword & sorcery" element. Are you content to remain within this niche-genre or are you looking to expand your roles?
Conan Stevens: One of my business mentors teaches to create a market niche then dominate it, to diversify into too many areas [causes] you to lose focus and the consumer won't know what your name stands for, which is partly the reason I chose the name I use. That is the way I see my acting career, it is a market niche not a stereotype. Getting known as a particular style of character means you will get the call whenever a movie has a character like that, it is the best way into an overcrowded marketplace - make a name for yourself.
Later on an actor could start taking other roles to challenge himself, for the fun of it, or to prove that they are "real actors" with ability. I have watched several actors start to make a name for themselves then switch to a totally inappropriate genre with no fanbase cross over and lose respect from his previous fans.
I prefer my approach, I have seen too many "real actors" rolling about on the floor for free at community theatre doing it for the art, and have had too many arguments with agents and acting coaches to be bothered anymore.
Mark Julian: Your name has come up for a character named Jack Reacher, the lead character in Lee Child best-selling novels. Specifically fans are outraged that a character described as being 6'-5" and huge is being played by Tom Cruise. Many fans of the novels are stating you would be the perfect Jack Reacher. Are you familiar with that character and how does it feel to start hearing your name pop-up when fans start debating what actor should play certain characters?
Conan Stevens: When I first heard my name was being debated seriously online vs Tom Cruise I was rather surprised, I mean Tom is one of the big names in Hollywood and I am a virtual unknown.
I have not read the books as I tend not to read fiction but having read up a little on the character I was under the impression that his strength and hand to hand combat ability were important to the character, I know as a person my physical strength and years of dangerous security guard work have given me a massive day to day confidence and personality traits that many find intimidating. Having a disagreement with [sic] a(nother) rather well known agent the other week I stated flatly "No one can teach me to be a bigger badder big bad guy than I already am.". Life teaches things that acting schools cannot.
Having said that, movies are about taking a gamble and hopefully making money. Having Tom attached to the film makes investors less nervous about their returns, he has a massive fan base so even if he was in an average movie it would still do well enough.
Secondly, Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise because he is smart. He will take the character and mold it into something that he can play and play well. Fans debating which actor should play which character brought the HBO "Game of Thrones" series to my attention back when it was first proposed. But yes, having fans put name forward over Tom Cruise is a huge compliment.
Great stuff from Conan. Stay tuned to CBM as I'll be posting part-2, where we discuss his wrestling career, who he'd wish to play in a comic book movie (Fun Fact: He portrayed Man-Thing in 2005) and his pick for next year's showdown between The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. The Hobbit portion of our interview will most-likely be posted sometime in early 2012.