Is it true that both your parents were painters?
Yeah, my mom went to art school, and my dad has continued to paint his whole life—he made that his career. My mom has such a great eye and has taught me to appreciate great art.
What was your first tattoo?
I got my first one before my daughter was born. It’s something my cousins all have, and it goes on the left side of your arm—it’s like a guardian. It’s basically like your power animal, whatever animal represents your family or your tribe. And ours is a shark, a mano. And then there are arrows that face out—out of your heart, that’s what it represents. I got it back in Hawaii. It took nine hours. It was pretty intense. I didn’t know what to expect, but it hurt like hell.
How did you deal with the pain?
Actually, it was not so much the pain of getting tattooed, as it was just really annoying hearing that [buzzing] sound for so long. It was just brutal. The last hour was pretty daunting. But I like tattoos now that are meaningful and small, like simple words. I’m not big on pain. It’s addictive. My wife and I have some special ones that are meaningful to us. I’ll probably do more with my family. There’s a tattoo artist in Hawaii who researches your family’s genealogy, and so at some point I’ll probably get that whole thing down my leg.
And your latest tattoo?
It’s a line from a Charles Baudelaire poem, which basically means, “Be happy.” I got it in London. My stepbrother got the same one.
Have you ever met a fan with tattoos of you or your characters?
No, but I’ve seen some pretty good Stargate tattoos. They love it, and that’s awesome, whatever floats their boats—I mean, I have a ridiculous Charles Baudelaire poem. And that’s the great thing about tattoos: You can wear them and express yourself.
Drogo, your character in Game of Thrones, knows how to express himself. And he’s not the greatest guy in the world.
What are you talking about? He’s a sweetheart! [Laughs.] No, he’s a good guy. He’s a savage, but out of the whole series, I think he’s the nicest and most decent person in the whole thing. It’s the greatest role I’ve even come across. It was the best experience of my acting career to date. At first all my buddies were busting my balls, like, “You don’t say anything, and you’re just naked.”
How did you get that role?
When I first read it, it was something that I knew was in my grasp. I was so stoked and I knew I could beat out the average Joe. I pulled from my family’s history, and I went in and did a Hawaiian war chant for the casting directors. So you could definitely see what this guy was like in battle. And I pretty much sealed the deal right there. And it was the same casting director for Conan, and they were kind of like, “There’s our guy.”
Have you had any bad auditions?
Many. I’m horrible at auditioning. Horrible. There’s such a technique to it. I’ve even taken audition classes. I’m just so bad at it.
Did you have reservations about being the lead in Conan—about carrying a movie?
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I hadn’t ever seen the original with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I didn’t really want to. I just wanted to do my own interpretation of it. There’s so much source material, and I’m hoping it does really well so we can do more.
How did you make the role your own?
I weight trained and transformed my body and the way I walked. I studied a lot of big cats—cougars, lions. I wanted him to be nimble and quick. I didn’t want him to be this clunky, gigantic man who’s throwing boulders and lifting tree trunks. I wanted him to be a product of his environment. It’s really an origin story of when he was born, and growing up as a boy, and then it goes into a revenge story. He’s an antihero. That’s why people like him. He’s no bullshit.
Did you do your own stunts?
Probably 75 to 80 percent of the stuff. I had some great guys helping me out.
Speaking of Ah-nold, any thoughts on his love child scandal?
Nah. I don’t even own a TV. I don’t have a cell phone.
So you don’t follow the Hollywood gossip? No TMZ for you?
No, I’ve got enough shit on my plate. I don’t have time. I’d rather study and write and play music—just work with my friends and raise my kids and be with my wife. I just don’t have time to watch all that stuff.
That’s refreshing, actually. I don’t really need to hear positive or negative. Just show up and do your job, you know?
And hopefully they’ll hire you again.