Loaded with sex and over-the-top action and violence, director Marcus Nispel’s upcoming Lionsgate release “Conan the Barbarian” honors the spirit of both John Milius original big screen take on the legendary Cimmerian and the character as originally envisioned by Robert E. Howard in 1932. “On a Conan movie, if you don’t get the “R” rating, you’re losing face,” the director told the press last week during a Beverly Hills-based roundtable session. “It’s a barbarian movie, and it taps into our own primal instincts of how things used to be.”
Nispel, a director with experience in relaunching film properties, (“Friday the 13th,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) was not actively looking to reinvent yet another franchise, but Milius, the writer and director of the original “Conan the Barbarian” film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, talked him into doing the film. Originally, the Conan rights belonged to Warner Brothers and Robert Rodriguez was attached to direct. Later, the project moved to another company and Brett Ratner was on board to helm. “When [Ratner] fell out, I moved in,” Nispel said. “In that regard, it was sort of a dream come true.”
Speaking with a slight German accent, the director detailed how it was that he first discovered the original “Conan the Barbarian.” “I remember, because I was such a ‘Star Wars’ fan, I was looking for something of a different speed right after those. I remember, I think it was a write-up in ‘Time Magazine,’ and the headline said: ‘John Milius’ “Conan” [is] “Star Wars” by a sociopath,'” he laughed. “That’s it, you know — it was like my prayers have been answered!”
Nispel has had plenty of experience re-imagining classics and he detailed how they creative team set about updating Conan. “You take a bunch of people that love the material. You put them in a room [and] you talk about it. You will find ten pressure points that everybody loves — they’ve got to be in it — about the character — about that world — they’ve got to be in it. Everything else must be changed and that’s really how Conan came together,” he said.
A huge fan of Frank Frazetta, the director found the artist’s work to be an invaluable inspiration on the set. “Funny enough, I’ve never had a movie where I had to do less concept paintings, because Frazetta painted those ten things already,” he said.
To effectively portray a barbarian from another time with a very different set of values, Nispel knew that a chiseled body and acting chops would have to be a secondary consideration. More importantly, the actor who would ultimately bring the Cimmerian warrior to life would need to bring something special to the table. “What you want is a primal energy that you get from guys like Sean Connery or Jack Nicholson, [who] can take a woman’s ass and grab it and get away with it — most likely get laid for it,” he said.
With that in mind, the production began an exhaustive, worldwide search for the new Conan. “We looked in Iraq and we looked in Russia and we looked, you know, [at] Championship Wrestling, cage fighting and whatnot — and then I found somebody in Topanga who lives five minutes away from where I live!” Nispel said, laughing.
Producer Fredrik Malmberg (“Let Me In”) explained that though the film was not shot in 3D, after the success of “Clash of the Titans,” they wanted to be prepared and ready for the possibility of a post-production 3D conversion. “Evan Jacobs came in and he oversaw everything until only about two weeks ago, using six different conversion houses around the world,” Malmberg explained. “He advised us for every scene. How to set up and frame and so forth, in the event that we would make that 3D decision — which was made right after we wrapped.”
Writer Sean Hood was asked if “Red Nails,” the last Conan story written by original creator Robert E. Howard, might be the basis for a potential sequel. “I don’t think ‘Red Nails’ would be the adaptation,” he responded, adding, “We went back to the original stories and we read a lot of them to get inspiration for this particular movie and that was one of the ones that we read. There are some similarities — some superficial similarities between ‘Red Nails’ and this particular movie.” When pressed about which story he would like to see made into a sequel, Hood did not hesitate with his answer. “I would pick one of the other stories, like maybe ‘Queen of the Black Coast.'”
Due to a scheduling issue, Jason Momoa, (“Game of Thrones,” “Stargate: Atlantis”) the actor embodying the infamous barbarian in Nispel’s iteration was not present for the roundtable discussions, but his presence was felt nonetheless as he has clearly made an impression on Nispel as well as his female co-star, Rachel Nichols. (“G.I. Joe,” “Alias”) “He’s kind of a gentle giant. There’s something about him that just, you can just tell, he’s a sweetheart,” Nichols said, describing Momoa to the assembled press.
Agreeing with up Nispel’s earlier comment about the need for “Conan” to have an “R” rating, Nichols discussed a graphic sex scene involving her character and Momoa. “It is awkward. He’s gorgeous and lovely and great — [but] it’s super awkward when you have Marcus in the corner going: ‘Yeah, yeah, Jason! Grab her neck and bite her! Bite her! Rachel, scratch his back!'” Two unhappy fans visiting her blog complained about the pair of stunt boobs used during the scene, but Nichols was unapologetic about not baring her own chest for the scene. “I have a father who I think wouldn’t have appreciated it so much, and the boobs in the film are lovely. Jason hand-picked them,” she said with a smile.
“Conan the Barbarian” opens in theaters Friday, August 19