Over the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with the wonderful Conan Stevens (Bolg) about his life and career.
Kel: For those who might not know a lot about you, what’s the Conan Stevens story in a nutshell?
Conan: A very skinny teenager I started in the gym after watching ‘Conan The Destroyer’ at the cinema with friends, these friends decided to become professional Bodybuilders and asked the 16 year old pre-Conan what he was going to do – the answer “I’m too tall to become a Professional Bodybuilder”, a 2 minute pause while I thought about it, though I subconsciously knew the answer already, “I want to become a Professional Wrestler, then use the fame to get into movies, like Hulk Hogan” remembering of course back then Pro-Wrestling and Hulk Hogan were prime time TV in the days of limited TV channels, and it was still called a sport.
27 years later I’ve almost achieved that skinny teenagers wild dreams that others, many others, laughed about.
The career path was a lot slower than I initially thought, and to be honest it has been a bit of a meandering course through life to this point. A lot of it has been fun, a lot of it was to do with maturing as a person, and learning about how life really works outside a safe urban environment in an economically and politically stable country of homogeneous population.
Kel: You’ve mentioned you read The Hobbit (book) as a young boy. What did you love about it that drew you more into the world of fantasy and myth?
Conan: You know I really cannot say. *After a week of thinking about it* I guess it was the romanticism of a nobody overcoming the unexpected and major challenges and succeeding to become a reluctant hero.
I mean wasn’t it every young boys fantasy to be a knight of Camelot and travel about xenophobically slaying monsters and rescuing damsels in distress whilst living out moral dilemmas based on your strict code of conduct?
I suppose it just appealed to me overall. I really cannot pinpoint any particular theme. As a child when the grown ups asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I never had an answer. I used to play with plastic soldiers in the garden a lot, and I had watched a space launch on the old black and white TV so thought astronauts were cool, I also enjoyed the US made heroic and propaganderish WW2/Korean war movies so I suppose it was the whole idea of adventuring and living a life of thrills, trying your absolute best and winning through at the end.
Kel: It actually seems that The Hobbit is a catalyst of sorts for many young kids, opening ideas, interests and dreams that they then pursue throughout their lives. Why do you think this is so?
Conan: For me I was still to young to realise that adventuring isn’t the way life usually goes. You know what, with reinforcement from all the other fantasy/sci fi/mythology I read, it probably set me up with what many would call “unrealistic expectations” from life, I guess it was lucky I did not listen to these sorts of people, in fact with my stubborn streak the more I was told I could not do it the more determined and defiant it made me – “because you won’t do it doesn’t mean I can’t”.
I also think that fantasy/sci fi/etc is an outlet from modern drudgery and the subtle oppression of individuality in todays Western society. There often seems very limited options in the modern western system, it certainly is presented that way at school. You fit in, get a job, get a loan for a car, get a wife then a mortgage and work the 40*40 plan (40hrs a week for 40 years) to retire to your “golden years” physically deteriorated with health care eating into your savings. This isn’t bad, after all it is a system that works for society. It just did not appeal to me personally.
I think a growing number of people are deciding not to follow this life option. Fantasy books and games are a form of escapism, as can be seen in the previously “weirdo geek” conventions going mainstream – like ComicCon, and geek movies turning in wild box office successes like Star Trek and, of course, the LOTR trilogy.
Kel: What aspects of this universe appealed to you the most, and how did you realise that in your own life, in your goals and in your career?
Conan: One thing I do see in the LOTR universe is that there is an underlying moral lesson without hammering the point. I see this in a lot of Hindi movies too. Honour and truth triumph while deceit and lies (evil) are defeated.
Though there are two sides to every story and I would highly recommend all Tolkien fans to read the free ebook ‘The Last Ring Bearer’ from the Russian palaeontologist Dr. Kirill Yeskov (available here http://ymarkov.livejournal.com/270570.html). Keep in mind it is not going to be true to Tolkiens style or works but is an interesting paradigm shift from the Orcs point of view and reminds us that history is written by the victors. A brief excerpt to whet the appetite:
…that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic. The shining tower of the Barad-dûr citadel rose over the plains of Mordor almost as high as Orodruin like a monument to Man – free Man who had politely but firmly declined the guardianship of the Dwellers on High and started living by his own reason.
The second part of this question is harder, but I think it is that the journey and overcoming obstacles, achieving goals, having the adventure, that is more important to me than the “win at any costs” approach I see so much of these days.
In a more practical sense I learned from Amway: what is the point in success if you do not have the ability to control and keep that success? A ridiculous percentage of big lottery winners end up in worse financial shape than from where they started from in just a few short years because they do not have the financial education to know how to control the money. The same goes for fame. So becoming a successful actor has a double whammy awaiting the unprepared and unwary with lots of litigious sharks, financial pitfalls and your private life being thrown into the spotlight.
I heard a song full of anger by Eminem last year about him hating the way his life is now a public spectacle with everything he does being criticised by someone. The DVD cover was of his living room being a glass cage in a public square. Being famous is not the life you expect when you start out.
Kel: You indicated that reading The Hobbit, via a long chain of events, actually lead back to working in The Hobbit movie itself. Can you tell us a little more about how this occurred?
Conan: Maybe a simple table will be best to summarise this process:
Read ‘The Hobbit’ → Read everything by Tolkien then mythology then Asimov available at local libraries → involved in Role Playing Games (RPG’s) → egotistical DM made us dress up in blanket cloaks and cooking pot helms and actually act out meeting with kings and gods (played by himself) → started watching sword & sandal, sword & sorcery and martial arts movies → saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in a movie → went to the gym → made a non-standard career choice of Pro-Wrestling even though none existed anywhere I knew → went to the gym religiously, bodyweight went from 70kg to 150kg (154lbs to 330lbs) → approached by Pro-Wrestling in Sydney the same time I was contracted by Sydney Dance Company → moved to Sydney to follow dreams → became Australian Pro-Wrestling Heavy Weight Champion → got some TV commercial work then acted as Marvel Comics Man-Thing in the movie of that name → got a nerve injury, spent 5 years working in/on my IT business until I hated it → moved to Thailand for 3 days stunt work in a kids movie → stayed, made a name, did some big movies in India and China too → made it into Game of Thrones with a lot of help from the fans → contacted ‘The Hobbit’ casting mentioning my role in GoT, got an audition → after three stressful months of waiting was offered a role in ‘The Hobbit’
So 27 years after the book “ruined” my life whereby I played the “devils game” (D&D) and listened to the “devils music” (Black Sabbath) I somehow resisted the urge to commit suicide (lol, those were the sensationalist headlines for both D&D and for Metal in those days) and finally managed to complete the journey to actually play in the movie, but now being congratulated for it rather than bullied for it.
Strange circle of events.