Becoming Conan

Jason Momoa in 'Baywatch'. Baywatch press release photo

Local boy Jason Momoa made his big screen debut Aug. 19 as the legendary Conan the Barbarian, and like his major roles on TV (and to the appreciation of his female fans) is again shirtless and ripped with muscles.

The former Baywatch Hawaii star who more recently played the savage warrior king Khal Drogo in HBO’s King of Thrones, is no doubt the Hollywood heartthrob of the moment.

In its first weekend of release, Conan the Barbarian finished in the fourth spot at the box office (behind The Help, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Spy Kids: All the Time in the World) with $10 million. The movie has received mixed reviews, but for his first major movie role, Momoa has earned high praises.

Momoa with Lisa Bonet and Zoe Kravitz at the premiere of 'Conan the Barbarian' in Los Angeles. AP Photo / Matt Sayles

Richard Corliss of Time Magazine wrote, “In this dank ultimate-fighting challenge, Jason Momoa as Conan provides the only visual vivacity; he has an eye-catchingly sensuous face atop the requisite statuesque beefcake. Much more than (Arnold) Schwarzenegger in his early Teutonic-slab phase, Momoa nicely fulfills the law of Hollywood Darwinism: survival of the dishiest. Such is his sex appeal that he almost brings plausibility to the movie’s silliest scene, when Conan tells Tamara, ‘I live, I love, I slay, and I am content,’ and the virgin instantly falls into his arms.”

We spoke with Momoa while he was in New York the day before the film’s release. It was another hectic day on his endless press tour consisting of back-to-back interviews for TV, radio and print, and an appearance at Planet Hollywood. Earlier in the month, he was a guest on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and at the red carpet premieres in London and Los Angeles. All of this, while working on a new movie, Bullet to the Head, opposite Sylvester Stallone, which is filming in New Orleans and scheduled for release next year.

It’s no wonder, he just wants to lay low in the next couple of months “hide out in a cave” and spend time with his family -wife Lilakoi Moon (aka actress Lisa Bonet) and their two children Lola (4) and Nakoa-Wolf (2). He also has a step-daughter, Zoe Kravitz, from Bonet’s previous marriage to Lenny Kravitz.

Jason Momoa makes an appearance at Planet Hollywood Times Square Aug. 18. AP Photo / Evan Agostini

Momoa also is planning to go to Kaua’i to train with Eric Laciste of AR7 (the workout program he used to get into his Conan shape). “If I go to Oahu, I gain weight,” explains Momoa. “No more Zippy’s on Kaua’i.

“I can’t wait, I just want to train and surf and eat fresh fish.”

While working on Conan the Barbarian, which was filmed in Bulgaria, Momoa worked out six hours a day and ate “a lot of boiled chicken breast.”

“He would have two eggs in the morning overeasy with sriracha sauce, and a chicken breast after that,” says Laciste. “Once we go on set, it was a chicken breast every two hours and if his energy level would fall, we’d give him a tablespoon of peanut butter. At night if he got off at a decent hour, it would be either chicken or fish with a nice salad.

“It was challenging because he had to stay lean and stay big at the same time.”

In May, Momoa, squeezed in a quick threeday trip to Hawaii to see designer Takeo Kobayashi (who is credited with discovering Momoa), who was in intensive care after undergoing open-heart surgery at The Queen’s Medical Center.

“We are just so proud of him because on top of a top motion picture, he has two beautiful children, a lovely wife and is excelling at the experience of living,” says Eric Chandler, who along with Kobayashi hanaied Momoa. “We always said to him, ‘No limitations, kid.’”

Momoa, who was born in Hawaii, raised in Iowa by his single-mother, and moved back to the Island after high school, was hoping to do a Conan the Barbarian premiere here but it didn’t work out.

Actor Jason Momoa accepts a Big Screen Achievement Award for Male Rising Star of 2011 during CinemaCon, the official convention of the National Association of Theater Owners March 31 in Las Vegas. AP Photo / Matt Sayles

“I really wanted to have the opportunity to bring it back to Oahu and have all my family and friends show up,” he says. “I just hope all the people in Hawaii come to watch it.”

Among those who have seen the movie are Arnold Schwarzenegger (who played Conan in the 1982 original) and Momoa’s wife.

“I never met him (Schwarzenegger) but he said I did a good job, and that’s all I can ask for,” says Momoa.

“And (Lisa) liked it. I couldn’t believe it because it’s not really her cup of tea, but she was absolutely crazy and obsessed with Game of Thrones which is a huge compliment, and then with Conan she went and saw it twice already and she really loved it, so that makes me happy.”

Momoa continuously mentions his family during our interview and admits that being away from them, even for just a few days “sucks.” As for plans for more children in the future, he replies, ‘No, I’m done.”

“It’s challenging with two, and you want to give them anything and everything,” he explains.

Next for Momoa is directing a movie he wrote, Road to Paloma, early next year. He also may be going to South Africa in October to shoot a samurai film with wife Lisa playing the villain.

“I want to become a filmmaker,” he says. “I really enjoyed (doing Conan).

But for me, it’s not really about being a star. I just do my work as best as I can.”