An Interview with 7′ Actor Conan Stevens

HBO’s upcoming series A Game of Thrones will be one of their biggest ventures to date. Adapted from George R.R. Martin‘s novel series “A Song of Ice and Fire”, it’s epic fantasy of the most engrossing kind. And everybody knows an epic fantasy needs a giant.

Gregor Clegane, “The Mountain That Rides”, is the ultimate bad-ass. Almost eight feet tall, he has “massive shoulders and arms thick as the trunk of small trees”. And he’s not a nice dude — he carries a six feet tall two-handed great sword and isn’t too worried about how he uses it.

That’s all well and good in a book, but who on earth could play a guy like that in a live action adaptation?

Enter Conan Stevens.  Using some smart internet marketing, Conan made it known that he wanted to play Gregor 3 years before the role was even cast. He won the part and today he’s agreed to do an interview with Anne for The Tall Blog (yay!)

Conan, you spend a lot of time playing the Big Scary Huge Dude in South-East Asian action flicks. Is it fun to have a ‘type’ or do you get sick of it?

I originally planned to play the typecast and serve out my ‘apprenticeship’ acting in Asia, to prove my abilities so that I could move into US movies in action oriented speaking roles. Until recently being a white guy in Asian movies has been as bad as being an Asian guy in Western movies, the typecast is there and it is every actor’s dream to break it and have a chance to really challenge your abilities.

Having said that, having a ‘type’ makes life easier when you are starting out. You determine a niche market then corner it as being the most suitable character for that market. For me it was being the BIG guy. So whenever a big guy was needed I got a call, more recently I would get a call and not have to have an audition.

[Don’t try this at home kids! No actresses were harmed in the making of this interview.]

But many actors do not think beyond this. Whereas I have (mis?)spent my life acquiring skills that also allow me to move well, fight on screen, do my own stunts and display a range of emotions. All the other skills a really good big guy would need to progress up the ranks and gain reputation and respect.

Look at it this way, it’s no good being just a big guy. When you think about it big guys are often going to be in fight scenes, so if you cannot fight well the scene is not going to be as good and the stunt team will not recommend you for further movie roles (this is another way to get into a movie besides the acting auditions). If you cannot do your own stunts that will be a problem too as it will be impossible in some cases to find a believable stunt double. So even being a typecast you do need a good range of skills.

Another problem I see with some actors is after achieving success in their typecast is to try to move too quickly to prove themselves as a fully rounded actor, thus losing touch with or alienating their original fan base. I believe it is essential to build up this original fan base before you try to branch out.

Surely being two feet taller than everyone on set (and in town) must impact on your daily life? How do you deal with these situations?

I do not notice it. I have a good friend who is 4’9″ whom I see several times a week, to me there is no difference though people do look, it is only Westerners who are rude about it. This is a very important consideration of why I live in Asia, the people here are much more polite and fun to be around.

Is it very different working on an HBO show — does it offer you something new as a tall actor?

Working with HBO has been a good experience for me, mainly as I was working within the ‘Hollywood’ industry circles, rather than on the fringes. Pretty much everyone I was working with had a good track record and a ton of experience. For me to be chosen to work within these circles was a massive confirmation.

When you write about the advantages of being tall, you’re almost always talking about social advantages: never about reaching high shelves! It’s a great attitude and one that more tall folks should seriously consider.

For example, instead of being annoyed at having to buy exit row seats you take advantage of being seated near the hosties and make new friends. Love it! Did you make those attitude choices consciously, or do you think that being constantly ‘on show’ forced you to act as an extrovert?

Originally I was shy as a child and young teenager, then I realized that everyone was looking at me so I could continue trying to duck and hide, which wasn’t working or I might as well make the most of it. I have written an article on my website that deals with this explicitly.

I had the good fortune to be introduced to Bodybuilding when I was 16, which I took to over-enthusiastically straight away, got a stylish haircut and started dressing well. From being an unpopular geeky looking school kid I went to be one of the biggest socialites on University campus 2 years later, and one of the best dressed guys with one of the best bodies.

My confidence grew in leaps and bounds from this which is why I am an extrovert most times, I do not care what other people think, I really don’t. If they don’t like me then it is a reflection of their own inner turmoil and self doubt more so than anything to do with me. Their problem not mine, I have too many personal and work problems to be bothered with someone else’s issues.

[Conan makes friends in Cambodia – and wherever he goes – using his height as a talking point.]

Confidence is attractive to both females and males, people want to be around confident people: they get a energy boost out of it.

I would also like to mention that many people place successful people on pedestals and then treat them like non-persons. This is stupid, we are all the same, we all have problems, some of the more basic problems successful people have already overcome but it doesn’t make us god like beings the celebrity magazines would like to make out. Treat everyone with respect until they prove themselves otherwise and you’ll do well.

You’re (um, obviously…) big on training and physical culture. Have you found that your height has been a challenge in that respect? Can you share any tips?

All that rubbish about tall people and training [being difficult or dangerous] is exactly that – garbage. It is tall people using excuses as to why they cannot get the body they want, any excuse would do when in reality it is pure laziness.

I used to do powerlifting training with a bunch of really strong New Zealanders back in Bondi Beach, Australia. I did all the exercises tall people are ‘not supposed to do’ and excelled at them over time, eventually becoming one of the strongest men in Australia.

Being tall it took longer to build the muscle and the strength due to the leverage disadvantages, in effect it took more force for me as I had to move the weight a further distance, but it was achievable and in the end I believe my physique is more pleasing and more intimidating (good for my acting work) than a short muscle bound man.

Determination and persistence are the key factors in attaining your dream body. If you really want it you can have it – but do you really want it? That is the only question, no other factors come into play.

Any funny stories you can tell us about being tall? Anything else that you’d like to share?

I don’t really have any funny stories, I take advantage of things as they come along. Like the other night I was with my 4’9″ friend and we went to dinner. At the restaurant she said “Can you sit down, everyone is looking at us” so I went to one knee like I was proposing to her and asked “Will you marry me? (and quietly) Is this better?” – she punched me for my troubles, that drew more looks than we originally had and we both laughed.

Have fun with it, be yourself and enjoy life. Too many tall people use being tall as an excuse not to achieve or to not be happy, if it wasn’t their height they would find another excuse. Many of these ‘tall people’ who complain about their height are only like 6’3″ or so, whoopty do big deal, that is near average on the bell curve and they hate it when I call them whingers or complainers yet in reality that is what they are just imagine if they were 7′ feet tall – how much more complaining would they do?

Just get on with your life and concentrate on the things you can change, like you body shape and composition, get healthy, get lean, being fit and attractive you’ll get more energy (I cannot stress this enough – you won’t believe the difference) and you’ll have more confidence, a bigger range of potential partners, pretty much everything in life will improve with this simple starting point that anyone can achieve.

Conan blogs about his life as an actor and stuntman at The first season of “A Game of Thrones” will screen in 2011.

Anne Shea is the founder of the Sarah Vain and Tall clothing line: find her at