Conan The Barbarian 3D Cast
: Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Bob Sapp, Leo Howard, Ron Perlman Director
: Marcus Nispel Genre
: Action/Adventure Synopsis
: To avenge the murder of his father and the slaughter of his Cimmerian village, Conan (Jason Mamoa) goes on a quest to find and kill the sadistic warlord responsible. However, this warlord, Khalar Zym (Stephan Lang), is on his own quest to find an elusive young woman, Tamara (Rachel Nichols), the key to an enigmatic ritual of resurrection. When Conan abducts Tamara and uses her as bait, he is pursued by armies, besieged by monsters and led to a site of primeval magic and human sacrifice.Release Date
: August 18th, 2011Website
: www.conanthebarbarianmovie.com.auAbout the Production
With the release of Lionsgate's Conan The Barbarian, the world's most famous barbarian returns to the big screen, continuing a pop culture legacy that has spanned nearly eight decades and inspired generations of artists from the worlds of fiction, comic books, video games, animation, and film and television. First introduced in 1932 in a series of short stories by pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard, Conan the Barbarian helped establish the burgeoning genre known as sword and sorcery, pre-dating the work of fantasy master J.R.R. Tolkien by twenty years. Since then, he has become a bona fide cultural icon, capturing the public imagination as an idealised vision of unbridled masculinity, a tough, imperturbable hero with no allegiances and the ability to overcome impossible odds with brute strength and a seasoned warrior's skill. "I think the appeal of Conan is that he doesn't conform to anybody," offers director Marcus Nispel. "He's not politically correct. He's not living by anyone else's moral standards. He's a barbarian who depends on no one but himself."
While no Conan feature can ignore John Milius' 1982 original, Marcus Nispel and producers Danny Lerner and Les Weldon of Millennium Films see that film as only a small part of a much larger Conan universe that has continued to develop over the decades since his inception.
Says Danny Lerner, "We're not approaching this as a movie based on a previous incarnation of the character. We're approaching it as a film based on an entire culture."
For Marcus Nispel, who already has ample experience re-telling the classics with his new takes on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday The 13th, portraying Conan in a new film is all about maintaining a respectful balance between homage and reinvention. "We're going back to the mythological Conan as he's described in the Robert E. Howard stories," he explains. "But at the same time, we can't deny that the popular consciousness has changed and things have shifted. People's demands of who Conan should be have changed, and yet there's a certain amount they wouldn't want us to change. So the mantra in making Conan The Barbarian is 'give people what they want but don't give them what they expect.' "
The obvious first step in this endeavor was finding Conan himself - no small task considering the character's towering physicality and stoic charisma. In December 2009, the filmmakers had been actively reading actors for over a month when casting director Kerry Barden suggested Jason Momoa, fresh off of shooting HBO's upcoming "Game of Thrones."
"When we first met Jason Momoa, we saw everything that we hoped Conan would be," remembers Les Weldon. "He has the imposing physicality. The confidence. And there's a sense of unbridled energy to him that's essential for the character."
Adds Danny Lerner, "I can't imagine a single actor that I have worked with or seen on screen that could fit into those shoes as perfectly as Jason Momoa does. He is a natural athlete. He has the aggression, the power, the energy needed. And when you actually read Robert E. Howard's descriptions of Conan, they describe Jason Momoa exactly."
The half-Hawaiian, half-Irish actor made his name in the globally popular "Baywatch" series, followed by extended runs on "North Shore" and "Stargate: Atlantis." Jason Momoa was only six years old when John Milius' film was released, but he remembers encountering the images of Conan created by visionary comic book artist Frank Frazetta, whose darkly sensual, lush style helped define not only the Conan comic book universe (and the film's poster) but the entire sword-and-sorcery genre.
"When you see those drawings, they just they speak to you," says Jason Momoa. "Our goal has been to capture the hero featured in Frank Frazetta's pictures. That was our aim." Frank Frazetta's images also considerably impacted Marcus Nispel's and production designer Chris August's vision of the film. "You can't shoot Conan in a vérité style," says Marcus Nispel. "You have to paint it, choose new angles, light it graphically, and then you're able to tell the story in such a way as to suspend the disbelief of an audience."
That said, both Marcus Nispel and Chris August agreed that the film should feel like a lost piece of history, an epic about real people in a real ancient time. Explains Chris August, "We decided the environment should become a huge part of the film and that it should have a very dirty, gritty feel. Magical, but in a more brutal way."
"Marcus Nispel had this vision to try to do as much of Conan as possible in camera, meaning we actually saw what was being filmed without adding a whole lot of CGI," recalls Les Weldon.
The reality-based approach that Marcus Nispel proposed married well with Danny Lerner's and Les Weldon's plan to shoot the film at Nu Boyana Studios and locations throughout Bulgaria.
Says Danny Lerner, "In terms of production value, it was far easier in Bulgaria to create the set pieces and props and dressing to bring Hyboria to life and create a visceral experience." Marcus Nispel and Chris August found everything they were looking for during an extensive location scout across the country.
"Bulgaria has an amazing landscape and a long cultural history that was perfect for the project," reports Chris August. "While scouting along a river, someone would point up and there would be caves that monks had carved out of the hills. It really felt like Conan's world, very tough and harsh but at the same time stunningly beautiful."
"Nowhere are the middle ages more prevalent than they are in Bulgaria," avows Marcus Nispel. "Why create fake digital sets when there's a gigantic cave (Prohodna Cave in Lukovit) or a prehistoric forest (Pobiti in Kamani, Varna, near the Black Sea) right there in front of you?"
With a production schedule taking shape, Jason Momoa headed straight into an intensive training regime, spending six hours a day for a month and a half with the Los Angeles based action design team 87eleven before heading to Bulgaria. "That process really helped me understand the character," says Jason Momoa, who did most of his own stunts.
"Conan speaks through his sword. He's got to because he's not one for words. So the sword training with Master sensei Chad Stahelski really helped me find Conan's core." Weight training with Eric Laciste rounded out the day's work and helped the six-foot-five actor bulk up before cameras rolled.
As casting continued, the role of Tamara, Conan's accomplice and eventual love interest, went to action-veteran Rachel Nichols (STAR TREK, G.I. JOE). A novitiate of a Greek-influenced monastery and a master of martial arts, Tamara is a "pureblood," a direct descendant of the Sorcerers of Acheron whose blood will awaken the power of the Mask of Acheron. After meeting with Marcus Nispel, Rachel Nichols jumped at the chance to play a smart, capable woman who breaks the mold of typical fantasy heroines. "This is not a case of Conan doing all of the action and Tamara sitting by passively as the damsel in distress," explains Rachel Nichols. "Tamara is smart and strong and if given the choice of fight or flight she chooses to fight. She's Conan's female counterpart and she goes toe to toe with him."
Actor Stephen Lang (AVATAR) describes Khalar Zym, Conan's enemy and his father's murderer, as "the baddest warlord in all of Hyboria, whose life's work is recovering the Mask of Acheron, which will help him reclaim his dead wife and even achieve immortality. He's introduced very early in the film when Conan, still a boy, gets a real dose of what pillage is all about," Stephen Lang offers with a sly smile.
Most of Khalar's scenes with Conan involve some form of combat, so Stephen Lang spent most of his spare time in Bulgaria working out, stretching and rehearsing choreography with the stunt team. "Jason Momoa's a big dude and that presented its own challenge for me," admits Stephen Lang. "Khalar Zym is supposed to be not only a master of swords, but also master of a double scimitar, which is a ninja's nightmare. Everything I did had to be confident and on point."
A partner in Khalar Zym's quest for absolute power is his daughter Marique, played by Rose McGowan ("Charmed," Grindhouse). "Marique is half-witch, halfhuman," explains Rose McGowan. Jealous of her long dead witch-mother's hold on her father, Marique is unnaturally obsessed with proving herself to him. "She's evil, but it's only to gain her father's love," suggests Rose McGowan. "Their relationship just fascinates me. It's full of pathos, and I love what a strange twist it gives to the Conan world."
While Marique is a lethal opponent, Rose McGowan developed a unique combat style for her character with the stunt team. "I decided Marique wasn't going to be like everybody else with a sword. I wanted her to be a bit more like a cobra. She entrances her prey and then strikes," says the actress, referring to the lethal metallic nails created for Marique by the film's prop master, Dirk Buchmann.
Even though they had no scenes together, Jason Momoa worked closely with 13-yearold Leo Howard, who portrays Young Conan in the film's introductory sequence, in order to create the character together. Explains Jason Momoa, "We'd look at each other, just get down the walk, how Conan's kind of like the lion, the wolf, the panther. It's the way he stalks people. The eyes and the eye brows, and Leo Howard totally got it."
Leo Howard, who has a first-degree black belt and is a member of the SideSwipe Performance Team, an extreme martial arts performing group, had an easier time with the fight choreography than many of the adult actors. "My scenes explain how Conan became so hard-hearted and hardcore," explains Leo Howard. "He goes through all of this trauma when he's little and it transforms him into how he is when he's older."
Ron Perlman, known for his charismatic performances in Guillermo del Toro's Hellyboy films, lends a fierce and soulful gravity to Corin, Conan's father and the leader of their Cimmerian tribe. "The Cimmerians are a warring clan," explains Ron Perlman. "They live in a hostile environment, one of many clans constantly vying for territorial domination. The forge, where their swords are made, is almost their church and is treated like one would treat anything that is sacred and essential for their very existence."
In addition to leading his people, Corin is charged with raising his son alone after Conan's mother, played by British actress Laila Rouass, dies in childbirth in the middle of battle. "She's a Cimmerian warrior and she's heavily pregnant and fighting as hard as anyone else," says Laila Rouass. "Through her actions we see where Conan's determination and grit and power comes from."
"She has given me a directive as to her vision for this child's life and everything is colored by that deathbed wish," adds Ron Perlman. "There are a lot of amazing moments shared between father and son."
Conan's only friend, Artus, is a burly Zamorian pirate played by actor Nonso Anozie. "Artus is very much a leader, but he knows when to step aside and let Conan do his thing," explains Nonso Anozie. "Artus is the only person that Conan can even begin to be slightly vulnerable with, or have a laugh with, or share a joke with. So Jason Momoa and I spent a lot of time off set together, really exploring their relationship."
Conan The Barbarian was filmed over 12 weeks on locations throughout Bulgaria, and at Nu Boyana Studios' diverse sets and stages. Production Designer August, and a crew that sometimes numbered 400, created about 60 different sets. Filming in the elements, whether it was the snow-covered forests at Zlatnite Mostove or the rainy, village battlefields at Bistrica, required a cinematographer who could make the most out of existing light situations. "Much of our lighting approach was based on weather conditions, on locations, on colors that were available," says director of photography Thomas Kloss, who works regularly with Marcus Nispel.
Peopling the world of Conan The Barbarian with visually memorable characters was one of Marcus Nispel's priorities during production, so he relied heavily on the talents of his design team, comprised of costume designer Wendy Partridge, hair stylist Aldo Signoretti, and makeup effects experts Scott Wheeler and Shaun Smith.
"Marcus Nispel was very open to our input in creating the characters, not just their look," says Scott Wheeler. Stephen Lang was cast only one week before shooting so his look was designed through emails between the actor, director and Scott Wheeler. "He came from the plane to the studio, sat in the chair, we did a life cast on his nose and then two days later we did a makeup test." Khalar Zym's distinctive vertical scar on his nose eventually became a story element and is established as a fresh face wound in a flashback.
Rose McGowan credits costume designer Wendy Partridge for creating Marique's goth-punk look. "The costumes were feats of engineering, and it took two people to get me in and out of almost every one of them," says Rose McGowan. "All of them except for one I could not sit in, so at lunch I would just kind of stand in my trailer because I didn't want to hurt them. They were all leather and had so many different pieces."
Wanting to create a specialised brand of action for Conan The Barbarian, Danny Lerner and Les Weldon brought in Second Unit director and stunt coordinator David Leitch, stunt coordinator Noon Orsatti, and select members of the action design company, 87eleven, to choreograph and facilitate the fight scenes. Says David Leitch, "We tried to update the sword fighting from the original film and make it more multiple-attacker, a little more active, more modern, and step up the energy. The old Conan was one block, one hit. This Conan takes on a lot more all at once."
Keeping a tight schedule at the studio in Bulgaria, the stunt team often had to teach actors the action sequences on the same day they were shot. "We landed on a gold mine with Jason Momoa," reports Noon Orsatti. "He has all the talent in the world and he looks spectacular with a sword. We were also excited to have a lot of really good action actors come on board, like MMA stars Bob Sapp and Nathan Jones, to play the parts of Khalar Zym's henchman. It allowed us to pull off some big physical action scenes."
The stunt team also had the constant encouragement of Marcus Nispel, who continually sought ways to create innovative action scenes. "Marcus Nispel has a need to do this movie in a way that will blow his own mind and so hopefully blow the minds of the viewers," says Jason Momoa.
"He also has the desire to truly collaborate," adds Ron Perlman. "To him, it doesn't matter who has the good idea, whether it's the actor or him or somebody else. He's really willing to shift on a dime and incorporate something he hasn't thought of."
Though it has been more than twenty-five years since Conan's last appearance on screen, Marcus Nispel believes this is a particularly opportune time to be revisiting the iconic hero. "We live in a very artificial world," says the director. "We spend most of our day in front of computers, borrowing knowledge, borrowing real experiences. Conan gets you into a world where you still get dirt under your fingernails and where you don't have to ask everybody for permission. You can go about things in a more primal way."
"People are drawn to the kind of passion that Conan has, about making things right in the world and fighting for what you believe in," Danny Lerner says. "Conan The Barbarian gives people the opportunity to live out those impulses in a fantastical, mythical place."