TORn chats with Conan Stevens
Kel: What sort of obstacles did you need to overcome on the way? And did over coming each step just seem a natural thing for you at the time?
Conan: I could write an entire book on this question alone.
The first obstacle was injuring my knee as I was trying out for the feeder team for professional basketball. End of basketball career and potential financial gains, and the time I had already spent training. Start again.
15 years of bodybuilding to achieve my then goal of being “The biggest Wrestler the world had ever seen” then sustaining a nerve injury a week before my booked flight to go door knocking in the US a second time, this time with the physique I was told to get. End of big time wrestling career. Start again.
Bootstrapped my way up in a computer business, just as I opened my retail shop I got caught in the middle of a price war between the big guys, which destroyed me financially. Start again.
Had enough of computers, sold everything went on a cheap backpacking holiday lasting 4 months arriving in Thailand, then going to visit friends in Europe, then to Eastern Europe, back to Thailand then home to Australia. I got back to later discover I’d missed several big auditions, The Protector was cast in Thailand while I was in Europe and LOTR had been casting for tall people while I was away from acting. Bugger.
Got involved with a legitimate Internet Advertising company (organising Joint Ventures and ad tracking, not spam). The CEO became successful and moved from Sydney to Manhattan, and massively raised his company fees which completely ruined a year of work and deals I had been negotiating. Start again.
Being kicked out of my $80/month Spartan style “studio apartment” in Bangkok because Google changed the Adsense pay dates without notifying us webmasters was another nice challenge. I was living month to month on the earnings from my website at that time, with my few remaining assets tied up in the Australian sharemarket, so now you know why my site looks like “an ad executives briefcase exploded over the site” as one reader eloquently put it.
Of course these were just the basic ones, there are tonnes of obstacles to get over in this business, it’s not an easy nor a glamorous career path. In fact, all my friends in Australia either working for a company or in their own businesses are doing a lot better than me by conventional standards and no one else I know even lived in a $80/month room, let alone got kicked out of one.
But it has been fun, I laugh about it now and one day I’ll write an interesting autobiography detailing some of the other “fun” things that happened living in the third world and put in a photo of this “apartment”.
Kel: I know that you experienced a serious nerve injury at one point that put paid to a promising wrestling career. That must have been especially hard. How did you find the will to make such a long, hard comeback?
Conan: Yeah, that has been a great challenge. I’m still not over it completely, not even close. Though I look good physically, for the effort I have put in I should look like a perfectly formed ’70’s bodybuilder.
A lot of my pay from ‘The Hobbit’ was spent on trying various therapies, organic foods, every supplement and herb under the sun and alternative treatments. I watched hours and weeks and months of lectures from the UCLA medical centre and alternative healing centres trying to put the pieces together to understand what was wrong and how it fix it. Without going into great detail, your gut bacteria are so very important to your body’s ability to heal – and my favourite, most preferred supplement to take is homemade Sauerkraut it’s 10 to 100 times stronger than Greek/natural yoghurt as a probiotic and its cost is only a cabbage and a tablespoon of sea salt – negligible, and has a host of other benefits. Most of the West’s common non-communicable diseases can be alleviated or fixed by fixing your gut bacteria.
Look into it if you are not 100% healthy and cannot get any answers from your Doctor, especially if you are suffering from the ‘mysterious’ metabolic syndrome, have troubles thinking clearly, or just can’t seem to feel well and energetic on a daily basis. There is a lot more information available now than 3 years ago. In short I had hepatic-colonic recirculation (leaky gut syndrome (with celiac disease a subset of this)), chronic fatigue, mental fog, fibromyalgia, thyroid fatigue, pre-diabetes, and something else I am just trying to figure out and fix now where the inside of my muscles are all stuck together and do not function properly, making it impossible to grow – it seems to be due to my previously terribly overloaded lymphatic system. Though I beat the usual accompanying obesity by stopping most sugars and junk food and exercising 4 to 6 hours a day, though I have since dropped 3-4 inches off my waist even though I had visible abs the whole time!
This all stems from faeces and undigested food leaking though the damaged gut walls into your bloodstream, your liver working overtime to clean the blood then dumps the wastes back into the colon, yes you guessed it, where it leaks back through the walls into the blood. It makes you very sick over time, and leaving your immune system compromised. I tried worked on fixing the symptoms one by one until I worked my knowledge back to the root cause.
So the mental fog is because I was literally a sh*t head, well sh*t for brains, along with all my other organs from my contaminated blood.
To the readers: write to me personally with your details and problems for more information if you think I might be able to help you find the information you might need to deal and defeat any of these problems. For a bandaid of relief you could try a week or two of double dosing a standard magnesium supplement, many people will find this gives them a noticeable boost within 2-3 days for reasons I won’t go into here.
After the nerve injury wiped out the nerves from my spine through to my right hand and all the muscles between I was left with the use of the inner bicep, the first two fingers and my thumb. My outer bicep head, triceps, chest and right side of my back stopped receiving electrical signals from my now disappeared nervous system. I could still move my limbs but the muscular imbalance caused a great deal of pain so I stopped training and starved myself to lose muscle as fast as I could. Over time my body compensated for the injury which in turn caused more injuries though unnatural movements and adhesions in the fascia and within the muscles to make them rubber band like to allow them to be usable. The body is a wondrous thing.
Now that the nerves have grown back I am in the process of breaking up these compensations and relearning to use the muscle.
To put this in perspective. Prior to the injury I was using an 80lbs dumbbell in one hand for an exercise. After the injury on the same exercise I could not even move my arm while holding a pint of milk. 13 years later I was able do 30lbs in that exercise just last week.
At least I’m lifting heavier than the grandmothers in the gym now. My next personal weight training goal is to outlift the 65 year old gay guy in the terrible spandex.
How do I get the willpower? I’ve already put in a LOT of effort into my two previous physical career choices and got comparatively nothing in return, the acting was always my end goal and I have always been lucky enough to have had a measure of success, mainly though turning myself into a Giant Freak. So amazingly I get the Giant Freak parts whenever they are casting for it and am lucky that fantasy/Sci Fi, which most call for Giant Freaks, are now popular. Though it has taken longer than I expected it has been a journey that has mostly had a distant light at the end of the tunnel.
There have been times when I really sat down and thought WTF am I doing? How I am going to stop myself ending up like ‘The Wrestler’ (that movie is far too realistic – I personally know guys who are exactly like the main character and have died along the same lines). At these times I got a piece of paper out and written down all available options and weighed them up, as an unskilled, uneducated (I did not finish my University degree) and with no work place records for over 10 years my ability to get back into the Western workforce would entail an entry level computer job at a help desk and working my way up again. Ahhhhh! Not starting again.
Also to note in this industry, like all creative and sporting careers you do a lot of unpaid work as you go along building relationships, learning how it all works, building grass roots support (it helps if you are a fan yourself), learning to market yourself, sell yourself, build yourself as a product, etc, etc.
There is no breakthrough role, the magical moment you become a star is only after you have done the work, everything builds upon your previous work – so in all, this was my driving force. I knew I was on a long slow upward crawl until you hit the explosive point and your career goes exponential.
I’m still waiting for that point, but it is a lot closer now and I am a lot better prepared for it, meaning I hope I will be prepared enough not to blow it when it arrives – and I have a few tactics planned to help counter any possible issues, foremost being, especially when I am in character, that I can be rather blunt at times when tactful would be a better option.
It’s a game, a big game, but not a gamble. In the end I believe I can ‘win’ and get the same things that my working friends have – normal stuff like a house, a car, some sort of financial stability, savings, a retirement fund even, basically an apartment better than $80/month and more than a single 20kg backpack of belongings plus carry on (restricted by airlines baggage allowance).
There is a quote from Jim Rohn that I live by “Don’t wish life were easier, wish that you were better.” This ticks in my head every time I hit difficulties, if I have difficulties it just means I need to learn to get around them, once I learn that it’ll be easier next time.
Lastly it helps that I read a lot of autobiographies of successful people and the mistakes and early crashes they had in their lives, to know others have experienced similar and yet made it back fortified my resolve along the way too.
Kel: Your career has taken some interesting twists along the way, too. You’ve been a small-business owner, a professional wrestling champ, a ballet performer and a stuntman. You’re also a scriptwriter, a webmaster and computer geek, a self-published author and an actor. What have you enjoyed the most? And what do you miss about those things you no longer do?
Conan: I do miss the Professional Wrestling, I don’t miss the pain nor the injuries but I do miss the fun of live improvisational theatre (because that is what wrestling really is), ‘working the crowd’ and the camaraderie and of course everyone dreaming they’ll make it big.
What I enjoyed most is more difficult. What I did not enjoy was writing, and so far, twice editing the bodybuilding books and fat loss book that I have written, I find it very boring, after 27 years of training I no longer want to talk about the gym, but I wrote them as I have experience and no research was needed. Finishing the Big Book of Bodybuilding with John Hill was an accomplishment for both of us and the first sale was even more thrilling. I do plan on writing more books later, but the time is not right yet. Writing those was a good experience and the first time you do anything is often the most difficult so best to get it over and done with.
I also no longer enjoy the technical aspects of computers anymore, especially when I recently went to do a simple task, that worked in a popular operating system (OS) since the mid 90’s, that has suddenly and without explanation stopped working in the latest version of the same OS, took me 2 full days to figure out that no one, even the authors of the software had an answer and everything I tried did not get the simple result I wanted would not work. Corporations spending time prettifying things and ignoring functionality is a pet peeve and wasting time on someone else’s incompetency is no longer interesting.
Kel: On your website you talk about dancing with the Sydney Dance Company. I must admit I was surprised, knowing how tall you are. Was it difficult to become accomplished and fill the role? And what did you take away from the experience?
Conan: No, it was surprisingly easy to fill the role but let me give you some background.
I met Graeme Murphy the famous dance choreographer and head of the SDC at the time at a famous Sydney beachside pub one Saturday night. We spoke and over the course of the night he revealed who he was and that when he first saw me he had this vision of me in Nazi regalia and platform jack boots wading through a sea of animated corpses, portraying the horrors of war – to counter balance his last piece based on Greek mythology that was widely criticised by church groups in Australia as being pornographic. He wanted to show that theatre is art and they were missing the bigger picture by focusing in on some of the individual scenes, he thought that by doing a diametrically opposite theme he could get the message across succinctly.
So the project titled “Berlin” was actually based around that concept. It, and I, went on to do 7 seasons at Sydney Opera House and I was invited back to a 12 year anniversary special repeat performance at the Theatre Royale in Sydney.
The sound track of the show by Iva Davies of Icehouse went on to have two songs in the Australian pop charts top 10 and another in the top 40. It was a huge success.
The album went platinum in Australia and Germany, we toured Australia and New Zealand and only the costs of transporting the large set to Europe stopped an additional tour. I must say that I think I am the only professional ballet performer ever to also concurrently hold the Professional Wrestling heavyweight championship belt.
What did I take away? Confidence. This was my second professional acting gig, my first was a 3 day stint in Julian Cleary’s stage show because my friends refused the job because he is gay. ‘Berlin’ went for about 3 years in total. It really helped bolster my confidence about my future as an actor, unrealistically so it turns out, but it provided the impetus to continue at that time. Like all inexperienced actors I thought I was close to being a national Star at that time.
Kel: Can you tell us, without breaking any NDA, what personal insight working on The Hobbit has given you?
Conan: It was a massive learning experience. Even though I had worked in a studio film before, Warner Brothers first Hindi film ‘Chandni Chowk to China’, I had never worked on anything so big or so complex as ‘The Hobbit’. Put it this way, I could write and shoot an entire low budget movie on just one set from one scene from ‘The Hobbit’.
Nor have I had the chance to work with and see so many famous and truly experienced actors work on set before.
I watched and learned every day. There is a saying along the lines of you don’t know how much you don’t know… well I now have a clue as to how much I don’t know and it’s a lot. I have a lot of work to do to be the quality of actor that I would like to be, Ian McKellen is truly amazing for example, but in the meantime I do the best that I can.Posted in Conan Stevens, Headlines, Hobbit Book, Hobbit Cast News, Hobbit Movie, Ian McKellen, LotR Movies, The Hobbit, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, TheOneRing.net Announcements, TheOneRing.net Community on October 20, 2013 by Kelvarhin