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Akshay Kumar and Abhishek Bachchan have fought with this Game of Thrones actor

He’s fought with Abhishek Bachchan and Akshay Kumar. Read all about the original Mountain and his experiences in Bollywood.

hollywood Updated: Sep 08, 2017 13:30 IST
Kabir Singh Bhandari
Kabir Singh Bhandari
Hindustan Times
Game of Thrones,Bob Christo,Bob Christo 2.0
Conan Stevens as Asura in the Abhishek Bachchan starrer Drona (2009).

Game of Thrones fans know Mark ‘Conan’ Stevens better as ‘The Mountain’ Gregor Clegane. What many of you might not know is that this Australian actor and wrestler also has a solid Bollywood connection. He was Asura in the Abhishek Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra-starrer Drona (2008), the evil Joey in Akshay Kumar’s Chandni Chowk to China (2009) and, more recently, played the fighter Luca in Akshay Kumar’s Brothers (2016).

Conan tells us about Game of Thrones, his thoughts on Akshay Kumar and Abhishek Bachchan, his favourite Bollywood movies and more. In the end, we come away wondering if he could be the new, muscular version of Bob Christo?

Conan as Asura in Drona (2009).

You happen to be one of the few actors who read the GOT novels before filming them?

Yes, I read all the books before I started filming. The books, especially A Song Of Ice And Fire, there was a large built in audience so I wanted to keep my character loyal to the original, and try to bring the character to life from the pages. I ended up getting a lot of emails from fans who thought I had portrayed Gregor in an authentic manner.

But you haven’t seen the show?

No and for two reasons. Reading the books for work left the impression it was work, secondly I travel internationally a lot and don’t really have a home so I don’t have a cable subscription or any way to watch most TV shows for more than an episode or two.

I did see the episodes that I appeared in (I needed to get the footage for my showreel) and I also watched the two episodes following so I could see how the guys I met there worked on screen and I watched the last episode shown with a friend just this week.

I will, however, at some time in the future have to watch the battle in the North against the Wildlings, and the episodes that follow on after the last book as the books were never finished.

Conan in Game of Thrones.

What movie and TV projects shall we be seeing you in the upcoming months?

There are two movies that I worked in which are coming out this year- Nameless and Dead Squad.

You apparently were a big fan of Arnold and Hulk Hogan growing up? Ever met Arnold?

Yes, yes and yes. The first day I trained at Gold’s Gym, Venice Beach, California I was getting a group photo with a few friends I already knew from working around the world and Arnold jumped in front and photobombed us.

Since then Arnold and I have a had a chat in the gym maybe a dozen times now, last time I saw him he was training with German bodybuilder/actor Ralf Moeller and I got to train biceps and calves with them. Outwardly I was very calm. Yet inside of me there was a skinny 16 year old boy jumping around like crazy, going this guy is the reason you got into the gym!

Now the funny bit, after photo bombing us Arnold took me aside and the first thing he said was “I don’t know if you saw the movie Conan The Destroyer…...” then told me some fond stories of Andre, it was surreal.

Conan Stevens in Dead Squad, to be released later this year.

Hulk Hogan provided the blueprint for that skinny self conscious 16 year old, which was once me. Once I got big enough I got into wrestling and learnt the basics of stage fighting, getting crowd reactions, stunt falls and the like, as well as gaining popularity and confidence in public. Then I tried to use these skills to get acting jobs, it worked. My very first paid film job was a TV commercial as a wrestler, and then it continued from there.

The Hulkster was a role model while I was wrestling as ‘7ft Thunder’. While I was signing autographs after each match I took his “take your vitamins” and changed it to “You want to grow up strong like Thunder, then you have to eat all your vegetables” much to the approval of many parents.

Hulk Hogan is where I first learnt to try to use your fame to teach something good, in fact very similar to a lot of Bollywood movies and it is one reason I do love to work in India. Well that and the food of course, and the culture, and the food, and the friendliness of everyone.

What are your favourite Bollywood movies? You mentioned Amitabh Bachchan’s Black (2005) in one of your posts on your websites.

I had seen Amitabh in movies before but never really recognised him. Black was the first modern movie I saw him in, and wow! I know it did not do too well in cinemas but what a great movie. Very well received by the critics and rightly so. I think this movie raised international expectations of Hindi films from a mad rush to marry with song and dance erupting out of nowhere to that India can produce very serious dramatic films.

Following in this more serious movie theme I thought D-Day (2013) was very good, I especially liked the twist/explanation at the end and also Bhoothnath (2008), again with Amitabh.

Conan threatens Akshay Kumar in Chandni Chowk to China (2009)

The other stand out dramatic film for me is Ghajini (2008) with Aamir Khan, a very strong film and very good acting. I’ve watched it several times and look forward to one day getting to watch the earlier Tamil version.

On a lighter note Ra.One (2011) was a stand out that showed Indian cinema is technically capable of making a superb quality superhero movie, all the while keeping the Indian flavour by subtly playing on the reincarnation theme.

I’m not one for love stories but it was strongly recommended by the production team and so I went to watch Om Shanti Om (2008) in a cinema in Mumbai while I was there to film Drona (2008). This remains one of my all time favourite films to this day. I’ve also seen a few movies which had the baddie Bob Christo, and would like to be like him in present day Bollywood. In fact, i also spoke to him phone a few months before he passed away.

The wall of photos from The Hobbit, it started as a blank wall with character names then as characters are cast the actors faces are put up there so everyone in production knows who is who and to quickly see which characters still need to be cast. On Hobbit those 46 actors were main cast.

Three best compliments/fan mails you have received.

The first was a fan watching Game of Thrones and his mother came into the room as I came on the screen after watching for a minute his mother said “Why doesn’t someone put that mad dog down?” referring to me playing Ser Gregor Clegane. I am still very happy with that, a strong audience reaction like that is what any actor hopes for.

Another fellow who bought my weight training books wrote to me and told me with the diet I had recommended in the books and what he had learnt that he had been able to give up his insulin medication (with his doctor’s supervision) and was now controlling his diabetes via diet.

How was it working with Akshay Kumar and Abhishek Bachchan?

Rather than talking about individual actors I’d like to make some generalised observations of both actors that I have worked with and some interviews I have watched with other Indian stars that I have not worked with.

The stars of Indian cinema seem to take the job on as more than a job, it seems to me that they try to live as large as the roles they play. They sing and dance, do their own stunt work, they really take it upon themselves to work as hard as they possibly can at being the role model they pretend to be onscreen.

And all whom I have met are absolute gentlemen in the traditional English sense. It really has been a pleasure to work with everyone I have so far met, and I must admit I have learned and do try to emulate them in this way.

Tell us about an interesting experience you had in India.

Sitting in a hotel while in Delhi in 1994 to film a TV commercial for Indian release with nothing to do for a day I watched four Hindi movies back to back on TV, all the movies had the same 4 actors and actresses and all 4 movies were about a mad rush to find a partner and get married. In each movie the scenes changed and the partnering changed but it was essentially the same movie 4 times.

According to you, what is the difference between Bollywood and Hollywood?

This is an easy one - a producer from Drona gave me this answer when I asked him a similar question in 2007. “In India reality is too close so when we go to the movies we want to escape reality, in the West they are so removed from reality that that is what they want to see in movies.”

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First Published: Sep 08, 2017 08:48 IST