It was a dream come true for actor Joe Naufahu when he nabbed the role of Khal Moro in S6 of Game Of Thrones.
Being a fan of the hit series, he was naturally excited to play the leader of the Dothraki clan whom audiences first meet in the premiere episode of S6.
In that introduction scene, we saw his character insulting the captured Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) in Dothraki, not realising Daenerys’ identity and that she totally understands Moro’s mother tongue.
No doubt Naufahu’s athletic build and unique look gave him an edge in portraying a member of nomadic horse-mounted warriors.
The 38-year-old New Zealander, who used to play rugby professionally before a knee injury cut his career short, is of mixed parentage. His father is of Tonga origin, while his mother is a mix of Samoan, Portuguese, German and Irish.
Nonetheless, having to tackle a dialogue completely in Dothraki is understandably a huge challenge. “Learning a completely fabricated language from scratch was definitely a new skill I had to acquire,” he shared in an e-mail interview.
According to him, the difficulty lies in the fact that Dothraki doesn’t have a grammatical structure that he could follow. Instead he had to rely on remembering its sounds.
This led to some memorable moments on set. “I had a lot of fun with Emilia and the other Dothrakis whenever we’d forget lines. Let’s just say there were some very interesting adaptations that came out.”
Since switching careers, the 1.8m-tall actor has been in a couple of acting projects in his home country, including a lead role in a drama series. International wise, Game Of Thrones is not his first major gig; in 2012, Naufahu tackled the sandal-and-sword genre playing Liscus in four episodes of Spartacus: Blood And Sand.
Apart from acting, he has a personal training business called Ludus Magnus in Auckland.
Leading by example, Naufahu trains at least an hour a day, be it at his centre or a hotel gym if he’s travelling.
“There are so many options available to us, there is no need for fancy gym equipment at all,” he explained. “In short, there are no excuses to exercise for at least 15 minutes a day.”
No doubt a code the highly-skilled Dothraki fighter lives by too. Little wonder then, in between breaks of filming in Spain, Naufahu and his “fellow Dothraki” spent their time working out. Well, besides practising Dothraki language and satiating their appetites with Spanish food and wine, of course.
Were you a big fan of the show before getting the role?
Absolutely. I can remember sitting around with my family watching earlier seasons and saying to them, “Man, if there was one show in the world that I would want to be on, it would be this one”.
My mum and dad didn’t really know what it was but when I got the role they made a special effort to start watching it. They watched a few episodes and my dad said to me, “Son that show is, ummm, it’s pretty full-on eh!” I burst into laughter.
As a newcomer to the show, what is your observation of it? It’s been reported that the production runs like a well-oiled machine.
It’s not a machine at all. It’s a family; one that functions extremely effectively. After five seasons, everyone knows their role extremely well, but are all so welcoming to new faces.
How did you get started on rugby?
Rugby was definitely my passion through my youth and I represented NZ in all the age grade teams.
I was fortunate enough to play professionally in Canterbury, Leicester, and then in Glasgow. Unfortunately, I had some serious knee injuries while I was in Glasgow.
However, I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. When I was forced into early retirement, at the time it felt like my world was ending, but if that hadn’t happened, I would never have got into acting and I would never have started my gym.
How did you cope with this personal challenge?
Hardest time of my life. But it’s these types of situations that shape your destiny. They also shape your character. Test your mettle.
I had to look deep inside and I needed the support of my family which was there, and always has been, always will be.
I had to search again for something that would reignite the fire in my belly. I am so grateful that I found that.
How has your rugby background helped your acting?
To me, acting is just like rugby. You train and prepare for a scene just like you do for a game. And just like rugby, you only get out what you put in.
When I’m learning my lines and researching characters, it’s exactly the same as when I’m preparing for a game – I debrief my previous performances, look at my weaknesses, how I can improve, things I need to work on.
And in terms of physical preparation, I train like I’m still playing. Only now, I can train exactly how I want to manage the protection and longevity of my knees.
My discipline is solid from years of being in a team environment. Of course rugby has also taught me how to have a good time too!
I have always loved performing. I just never had the time as a youth with all my sports and studies. I can remember watching the school play with all the jocks wishing I could have been involved.
I had the opportunity to take up a full-time contract on a soap when I was a teen but my folks flatly denied it, saying I had to stay in school and in my sport!
As a trainer, what is your take on keeping fit?
I run a gym called Ludus Magnus and its foundation lies in community. Our motto is Have Fun, Train Hard and Belong. Those things are everything to me in leading a healthy lifestyle.
Have Fun: You won’t keep something up if you aren’t enjoying it. I want to be fit and healthy till the day that I die and I want to laugh and smile the whole way. This means, I want to train to the best music, joking and laughing and smiling all the way through the workout, well most of it anyway!
Train Hard: To get results, you got to train hard, you got to go to the dark place. You can’t grow unless you put yourself under the pump. You don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re forced to ask questions of your body and when that happens your mind has to take over. But the sense of achievement when you surprise yourself and the growth that results is out of this world.
Belong: And finally, I like to train and workout with my community. And that community is anyone that wants to workout and train with me. I want people to feel that they belong, when they come to their gym, they know they are home. They can do whatever they want, be free. They have found their place.
What do you say to people who’d want to get fit?
Start. That’s it. And that start may take any shape. Twenty press-ups when you get out of bed. Do that for a week, and you’ll find your body start to crave the endorphins.
Next thing you know you’ll be rolling out of bed, knocking out 20 press-ups, 20 squats, 20 V-sit ups, 20 mountain climbers, 20 burpees and finishing off with a run around the block.
Once you get yourself into a routine, set some goals and put some dates next to them. Find a training buddy, someone that will keep you honest on the hard days and that you can support when they’re struggling.
You might even be able to form a small group. If you live in Auckland, your best bet is to come and join Ludus of course!
Game Of Thrones airs every Monday at 9am on HBO (Astro Ch 411).