Khaleesi, aka Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), may have come full circle, landing right back where her Game of Thrones story began with a clan of crazy Dothraki, but this season, there’s a new Khal in town. And, if you thought Jason Momoa was hot as the original Khal Drogo, chieftain of the Dothraki people, in Season 1, lay your eyes on Khal Moro, played by newcomer Joe Naufahu. We sat down with Naufahu while he was in Los Angeles, and got the scoop on what really goes on behind-the-scenes of Game of Thrones and what’s coming up this season. The New Zealand native and former pro rugby player, who endured hours of tattoo coverage and beard and wig fittings for the part, even let us in on a secret: co-star Emilia Clarke is a goofball on set. Read on for more insider intel and get to know Naufahu—because this father of two, who cooks, gardens and plays guitar in his spare time, proves there’s a soft side to every warrior.
On his GoT audition: “I had short hair and I had no facial hair, so I was thinking I was least likely to look like a Dothraki at that time.”
Thank goodness for those beard and wig experts: “I can grow a pretty good beard, so I grew a decent one, and then they stitched, with a needle and thread, my beard into the beard extensions. And the actual wig was heavy, man. It was down to my butt. Because the Khals, if they lose a battle their ponytail is snipped and [Khal Moro] hadn’t ever lost.”
On his Khal predecessor, Jason Momoa: “Those are big shoes to fill. He’s another Islander though; he’s from Hawaii and I’m from the South Pacific as well. My mum is Samoan and dad is Tongan, so we got common ground there.”
How do you say swoon in Dothraki?: “[The show has] two language experts, and they work completely on Dothraki and High Valyrian. So we would spend a couple hours at a time, two or three times a week in the lead-up Skyping. And you get all the translations, because you have to learn what the other characters are saying as well so that you can react. But it was fun on set with the language. It sounds actually quite similar to some Samoan and Tongan words.”
On working with Emilia Clark: “She’s the bomb. She’s a consummate professional but also able to have fun. I like to joke around on set but on a big production you’re trying to be on your best behavior. But she just eased the tension. She was lovely to me, too, as a person. She’s really down to earth; she’s got brothers so she knows how to hang with boys. She would try to make me laugh. She would just throw her own spin on some [Dothraki] words and I would just crack up laughing.”
On getting in shape for the role: I own a gym in New Zealand so I just kept my same routine. They said, ‘turn up ready to go,’ and I was like, ‘sweet, I’m ready now.’ Pacific Islanders, we just look at weights and we grow! And you know, Dothraki, if you’re being true to the ancient people, they are fit from the activity of fighting and riding horses, not from hanging out in a gym and doing bicep curls.”
Spoilers, please!: “You’ll have to wait and see. I mean obviously Emilia was my main acting partner. But you’ll have to wait and see who else… You see the dragons in the teaser and stuff, flying over the top of what looks like Vaes Dothrak, but you’ll have to see. There are fireworks that come up in the coming episodes that may involve the dragons or not.”
On watching live: “I’ve seen [the first episode] three times. I was Skyping with my family and stuff all over the world, because I’ve got family everywhere, and they were all sort of messaging me and Skyping while it was on, like, “That was really cool, man. So cool to see you,” you know? So I prefer watching it with everyone else when it comes out.”
Tune in to Game of Thrones Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.