EXCL: Fredrik Malmberg and Marcus Nispel on Conan the Barbarian

Marcus Nispel: I can talk to you guys effortlessly, but I can hardly carry on a conversation with my wife and my own children after two years of this. You live in this completely artificial world and when you go home, it’s sometimes hard to shift gears.

SHH: Are the kids fans of Conan?

Nispel: They’re twelve now and they were there when we were shooting. To them, it’s kind of like daddy’s job more than anything else. They have a weird way of getting into that world. They hung out with Leo [Howard, the actor who portrayed Conan as a child] a lot and when we shot that scene with the pigs, they kept talking about it. I can show you the same scene without cuts and it still looks incredible. He’s a real martial arts champion and they said to my wife, “Leo is like a grown up in a child’s body!” They were playing with him the week before and then they saw him bludgeoning ten pigs.

SHH: Well, even though you’ve been in this world for two years, Fredrik has been trying to bring Conan to the screen even longer. When did you first come across the world of Conan?

Nispel: They love the world, but they’re very particular about it. If you look at science fiction fans or horror fans, they’re very, very particular. It’s actually my favorite audience and it’s the toughest because they’re very creative people. They f–k that stuff. I said it to [Producer] Avi Lerner when we went in, “This will be your toughest movie ever because you’re working for a fanbase that cares and you’re working with a filmmaker who cares. This is a Holy Grail. We cannot spoil the burger.”

Malmberg: Even as we were just starting, we’d get contacted by the makeup artist from “300” who said, “We have to make this. We are big Conan fans,” or the hair guys or the costume guys. Then Jason Momoa would go, “No, Conan would not say this because…” or “Conan would do this.” It was a big ship and it was not easy for Marcus to hold the rudder because everyone was so opinionated.

Nispel: I remember doing the last scene and Jason had been such a dear working though all of this. In the last scene, on the last day, he was supposed to hold up the sword. It was the first time he refused to do something. I didn’t care one way or another, but he wanted to hold the sword up hilt first, almost like a cross. One producer said, “No, no! The sword has to point up, just like, you know…” He says, “What? Just like Arnold did? I don’t want to do anything just like Arnold did.” He knew he had done that because he had seen the photos. He had never seen the movie, he professed. In a way, that was what we were all trying to do. To do our own Conan, but with great reverence for what’s in our collective consciousness. In a way, that’s much, much harder than making something up on the spot. And it makes it harder to sell because everybody now has an opinion. Remember in comic books when they used to sell Chip Away sets? You had a choice between Michelangelo ‘s David or a baseball player that was encrusted in Plaster of Paris. The figurine is made of a harder resin, so you go at it with a rubber mallet and a plastic screwdriver. You would reveal the sculpture and it would give you the feeling that you sculpted it. In a way, that’s my job. The difference is that it’s not in there in a harder resin. It’s in your mind and his mind and the minds of ten other producers and hundreds of thousands of fans. They have in their collective subconscious that action figure. That’s really it. Yeah, it’s in there, but no one had defined it quite yet. That’s really the best way to put how I look at my job.

SHH: Moving forward, the plan is to expand out Conan’s cinematic universe?

Malmberg: Yeah, I think the beauty of the Conan universe is that it’s not really a three story arc. There are so many episodes where he is a thief, a warrior, a pirate or a king. He’s everything. It’s all up to the audiences whether they come to the theaters. The verdict is out there.

Conan the Barbarian hits theaters in both 2D and 3D this Friday, August 19th.