TORn chats with Conan Stevens
Kel: How did the auditioning process work? What approach did you take, and did you employ any special tactics like you did to get the role for Sir Gregor Clegane in the Game of Thrones TV series?
Conan: Actually I used the role of Ser Gregor Clegane to get my foot in the audition door for ‘The Hobbit’. I read an outdated notice that the audition process for
‘The Hobbit’ had started, somewhat panicked I re-read the book and through some luck had an associate who knew one of the Casting Directors. Game of Thrones was already known to be a hit by that time so the name of the show and the description of Ser Gregor Clegane were heavily emphasised in the approach to ‘The Hobbit’ Casting Director.
Similarly as soon as Peter Jackson made the official announcement that I was to be in ‘The Hobbit’ I called the casting people for the Spartacus TV series (again) and first thing out of my mouth after my name was ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ then would you have any possible parts coming up?
Again I think the mention of these two was enough to get me a look in, and following up with an email with full CV, links to PJ’s announcement as well as my showreel was enough to get me into an audition which I then passed.
For Vikingdom, a movie that was described as like ‘300’ and ‘Spartacus’. I contacted one of the Producers at a very opportune time and mentioning ‘The Hobbit’, ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Spartacus’, as you can imagine, swung the door wide open and I was able to land a starring role as the primary antagonist, a fantastically red headed and very angry Thor battling to keep the faith of his followers in the face of the intrusions of the White Christ, available from Amazon.com’s Watch Now video on demand service and released in cinemas by Universal Pictures on 16th Dec in UK, Australia, NZ, Japan, Brazil, South Africa and the Nordic countries. Other cinema releases are confirmed for Germany and the Ukraine but no date is yet given, it’s already been released theatrically in the US, Malaysia/Borneo and Thailand.
Kel: Without going into any detail about The Hobbit, can you tell us how you heard that you’d been cast in The Hobbit? How soon did you get the call and what sort of feedback did you receive?
Conan: I was doing my random web crawling and found a relatively old article on one of the entertainment sites that ‘The Hobbit’ had started the audition process, I panicked somewhat, this is a movie I was sure I was suitable for.
I had been given a copy of ‘The Hobbit’ as a 12 year old, and had read all of Tolkien works after that starting with LOTR, then the Silmarillion, then the Adventures of Tom Bombadil and lesser works, even Unfinished Tales, pretty heavy reading for a pre-teen. This was the start of my interest in mythology, fantasy and sci-fi genres and of course the natural follow on was Dungeons & Dragons (original then basic edition, followed by AD&D, Gamma World, Aftermath, Middle Earth Fantasy Role Playing and Warhammer (original and FRP)). In short ‘The Hobbit’ screwed up my mothers ambitions for me to be a good boy to study hard and get a “good” job.
Immediately upon reading the casting news I went out and found a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book to reread and found two characters I thought I would be suitable for.
Beorn, described as the biggest man Bilbo had ever seen, sounded appropriate or failing that one of the Trolls would be right up my alley experience wise – heavy prosthetics, tall and big enough to carry the weight and a working class English accent, which was not so far removed for the coal mining/steel working Australian town I grew up in.
As luck would have it (finally some luck!), and after a brief “discussion” with a fellow who was acting as my agent at the time, he agreed to contact ‘The Hobbit’ on my behalf. Looking on IMDB-Pro it turns out his employer had worked with one of the
Casting Directors before, so he contacted her, we sent some photos and my CV and much to his surprise Peter Jackson asked that I audition for a part I had not considered – Azog.
Again I read The Hobbit book, so as to get as clear an idea as I could whom Azog should be. (As clarification anyone who has watched the production process will note that while originally published as playing Azog my character was changed to Bolg at a later date, in the book Bolg is Azog’s son).
The night before the audition I became incredibly sick from food poisoning, so I put it off one day, then feeling like crap I went in and did a few takes with a borrowed camera in a borrowed office on the weekend. Some confusion ensured and the best takes were accidentally deleted leaving us with the worst takes. Happy I was.
Next morning I awoke feeling much healthier and took my trusty Nokia N8 phone, which at the time was the only phone on the market capable of producing acceptable video (now since replaced with the Nokia 808 with it’s 41Mp camera (yes forty one)), and got good lighting by filming with the the morning sunlight shining into my tiny studio apartment. I did a few more takes and uploaded these to my server and emailed the download links off for Production to view.
A few days later I heard that I had entered into the audition process very late, there was already a top 3 short list but that I would be considered. A decision was expected within 2 weeks, after two weeks we were informed that due to so much going on Peter had yet to make a decision. After 2 more weeks we were told that the decision would be made after the Christmas break.
All in all I had to wait almost 3 months for the answer. You know when you were a kid and someone told you Christmas was 3 months away? That’s how long those 3 months were.
When it came back a yes I was thrilled to say the least, again the shift workers downstairs were less than thrilled with the foreign Giant Freak jumping for joy.
Kel: How did you enjoy your time in Wellington? Did you have much time to just take in the sights? Is there anything you’re particularly going to miss?
Conan: I enjoyed it but mostly the reasons are geo-political. NZ is a great country, and the people are still themselves if that makes sense? NZ is firmly on my shortlist of places I might eventually settle in.
As to seeing the sights I
was on call every day I was there so unless I obtained special permission to pop off for a bit, like when I jumped on a leisurely 42 hour flight to North Africa to film for 4 days on History Channel’s ‘The Bible’ in Morocco, followed by a slightly more leisurely 44 hour return trip. So I kept myself available the rest of the time since ‘The Hobbit’ production team were nice enough to give me time off at short notice at important (to me) times like this.
On top of that I was not contractually allowed to do anything considered risky – so skiing, climbing glaciers, visiting earthquake ruined towns and the like were out of the question until my contract finished.
Kel: You’re very well-known (and appreciated) for your work as Sir Gregor Clegane in the Game of Thrones TV series. Were there any aspects of that character — such as the mindset — that you were also able to apply to Bolg? Or did you just have to start over?
Conan: Besides the obvious connection of both being big and powerful there was little else to connect the characters. Very different backgrounds, very different cultures, very different loyalties (what is the Orcs/Goblins political system?). Middle-earth had set and mostly unchanging loyalties, whereas in GoT loyalties seem to shift and change fairly often.
Gregor being a knight would have a certain code of conduct that he lived by, it obviously was not the code that those who live in a Christian culture typically imagine a knight to live by, but he had a code and was unfailingly loyal to his liege lord, whereas, and I may be wrong in this, but I would think the Orcs would be a little different with leadership being determined by personal strength, fighting skill, and cunning to a large degree.
So yes, I had to start over as I could not really see a connection between the two characters.
Kel: What was the experience of working under heavy prosthetic make-up like? Had you ever done anything like it before? How long did the make-up/prosthetic process take each day, and how exhausting was that before you even had to go out and get on set?
Conan: I have worked under prosthetics before, I think it was one of the reasons that I had been offered the role to be honest. Some people find they get claustrophobic in a mask, or full suit. The worst thing is when someone is ok for a few weeks then they get claustrophobic, that can really mess up production if they need to be replaced. I have never seen it happen personally but there are stories floating about in the SFX departments.
The first movie I did was full a full prosthetic suit as Marvel’s ‘Man-Thing’, I also worked with a full head cast in the Hindi film ‘Drona’, and have done minor prosthetic work a few times.
As to ‘The Hobbit’ this is something I still cannot talk about much but when one of the drivers was talking about the Dwarves and how much makeup they had each day he asked me did I have much? I truthfully answered I have more than anyone.
In fact it took 3hrs a day to do makeup and get in costume and an hour to remove everything. So pretty heavy costume all up.
As to how it is sitting in the makeup chair so long having plastics glued all over your head and neck one of the make up artists asked me “Don’t you get bored sitting in the chair everyday?” My response was “Given the choice of sitting at home staring at the wall wondering where my next job is coming from, or sitting here staring at the wall and getting paid for it – I prefer it here.”
Kel: What does it feel like being the world’s biggest action hero?
Conan: Ha, a little bit cheatful actually, but legally and technically it is true.
I got this idea from a successful entrepreneurial friend when I used to have a computer store, he said to me you should advertise as Australia’s largest computer seller. People will think you mean you shift more stock than anyone and that will get people in the door. If they ask how you sell more than anyone you point out that the wording is ‘biggest computer seller’, and then ask if they know a computer seller larger than 7ft tall and 300lbs? At the time I was moving out of computer sales (7% margin and responsibility for warranty and transport with stock that drops about 10% value a month) and going into repairs of mainly laptops and the popular misbehaving operating system – work with the system, not against it.
Anyway back to the point.
So now I can say “Name a physically bigger action movie hero?”. I know there are some other guys about the same size but they are yet to play a hero role in an action movie as I did in Bangkok Adrenaline but then you’d have a starring role in a movie if you wrote it and helped in pre-production too (hint hint – I got the idea from Stallone by the way and too much like Stallone we had an offer to buy the script before we started filming too, we also declined as it was not money we wanted from the film, it’s about there that the similarities between Bangkok Adrenaline and Rocky finish though).
It is also a bit about branding and identifying my acting niche. If someone reads “worlds biggest action hero” that they have an idea straight away of what roles I can do and where my skills will be at. It’s sort of like a advertising slogan that gets the message across quickly.
Thinking about it, it might be time to change it to The Ultimate Bad Guy for your next movie, that’d be more fitting to be honest – I’ll look into it. I’ll eventually be able to play more Hero roles in DVD/VOD releases (especially if I write them) but I think the big studios will look at me as a bad guy and that is where the majority of my acting abilities lay to be honest.
Kel: And finally, can you tell us about what you’re doing next?
Conan: Next is more waiting, writing, emailing, researching, trying to find and get the next job. The not fun part of being an actor.
But theatrically as previously mentioned Vikingdom has just been made available in the US via video on demand (VOD) through Amazon.com. And Universal Pictures is releasing Vikingdom in cinemas in the following countries on 16th Dec in UK, Australia, NZ, Japan, Brazil, South Africa and the Nordic countries. Other cinema releases are confirmed for Germany and the Ukraine but no date is yet given.
After that ‘A Man Will Rise’ starring Tony Jaa and Dolph Lundgren is waiting on Tony to arrive back from Fast and Furious 7 where I finish my fight scenes with him so it can go into final post production.
A few others things are open as possibilities including a straight acting role (no fighting I think) in a US film, I was considered but passed over for two major studio films, I have signed a Letter Of Intent for a movie scheduled for mid next year (basically says I am currently interested in working in the film), a few smaller budget movies could come through and there is a chance to do a few weeks stunt show in China with some friends – that’ll be a fun paid holiday in reality so I’ looking forward to it.
And there is also always the chance I’ll go back to Bangkok to write another movie with Raimund Huber, with all the additional experience we have accumulated since Bangkok Adrenaline.
So for now look for Vikingdom, a heavy CGI action/fantasy that is punching well above it’s budget. I play a very red headed and angry Thor, much different to Marvels interpretation, and I get to kill lots of people in lots of fun CGI enhanced ways, there is even a fair bit of unintentional comedy, the kind where you go no, stop, rewind that bit, you’re kidding! Have a look at that, lol. It has some shortcomings but overall I think it is a good Saturday night beer and pizza movie, as a teenager I would have loved this movie, but then I was a big Roger Corman fan as a teenager.
My favourite review is from http://www.ocweekly.com and reads as such:
Vikingdom Ain’t Smart, But It’s Sure Fun
Imagine an old Hollywood mead-and-beard epic like The Long Ships….directed by an acolyte of young Peter Jackson – rococo violence! that restless camera! charming, cheap-o monsters!- who is determined,
budget be damned, to stuff the movie with the pomp and grandeur of mid-career Jackson – snowy vistas! besieged castles! a portentous prologue! a reluctant king on the eve of battle, subjecting his outmatched army to his shaky poetry!
And then imagine that every 10 minutes or so, like any good Malaysian action movie, town-destroying fights break out, all sharply choreographed, full of brawling stuntwork, medieval weaponry, and a refreshing mixture of battle styles—you’ve got your pug-ugly WWE-looking lugs and bruisers hacking gamely at their foes, plus a couple lithe wire-fu ringers twirling their spears and bending space and time to go into slow-mo whenever it would look the most awesome. Can I call it “axe-socky”?
Finally, if you have imagination left to spare, please try this: Imagine that the whole goofy, bloody shebang somehow works. Vikingdom trembles with great dumb joy even before we meet the apparently handcrafted hell-dragon that looks like a set of windup chattering teeth combined with a homecoming float.
As I said it does have it’s shortcomings but then again it is about $55 million short on budget of a big studio film so for many to compare the two is rather a compliment to the production team.
Anyway that’s it, thanks for reading, it’s a long read I know, hopefully you enjoyed it or like Vikingdom at least parts of it made it overall enjoyable. (I hope the Producers don’t think that is me being too blunt and honest again?)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