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Joe Naufahu, left, and Emilia Clarke on \'Game of Thrones.\'
When Joe Naufahu told his parents that he was cast in an important recurring role on “Game of Thrones,” his dad asked, “What’s that?”
“He thought I was going to be a contestant on a game show,” says Naufahu, a former pro rugby player who portrays Dothraki warlord Khal Moro in season 6. He made his debut on the show Sunday night.
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The New Zealand actor’s parents quickly learned that wasn’t quite the case after they started watching the hit HBO series. At first, Naufahu says, they were taken aback by the show’s subject matter – it is famous for epic helpings of sex and violence – but they eventually started enjoying it. The actor remembers his father saying, about 20 minutes into the series, “Son, this show is pretty full-on.”
Naufahu’s status as a “Game of Thrones” player has been intertwined with his family life in a few distinct ways. When he found out he landed the role of Khal Moro, he was with his daughter, who’s nine years old, and his son, who’s six, and they celebrated with a big breakfast. (Don’t worry: Naufahu says his kids haven’t watched any “Game of Thrones” episodes.) While on break from filming the series late last summer, he made his first trip to New York City to visit his sister, who has been living there for 11 years.
The “Game of Thrones” production, which is known for both its sprawling scale and military-grade efficiency, took Naufahu far from his Auckland home and the gym he owns. (It’s called Ludus Magnus, after the ancient Roman gladiatorial training school.) Naufahu’s scenes with Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen, and the Dothraki were filmed in several locations in Spain and at studios in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
But even on set, a little bit of home helped Naufahu add to the fun he was already having by making a show he’d dreamed of joining. The Dothraki language was invented for the show, but the actor — who learned his lines phonetically through two- to three-hour Skype sessions with a language expert — says it reminded him of his mother’s tongue, Samoan. “So we’d have little jokes, me and Emilia, with our own little pidgin Dothraki here and there,” he says. “And I’d slip in some Samoan and Tongan words and try to put her off.”
That joking spirit is evident in the first episode, when Daenerys is taken captive and brought before Khal Moro. He says some pretty nasty things about his plans for her, but since she was once a Khaleesi, or queen, among the Dothraki, she knows exactly what he’s saying. Daenerys then shocks the khal and his companions by speaking Dothraki and revealing that she is the widow of Khal Drogo (played by Jason Momoa in season 1), which guarantees her certain honors and protections.
The scene is mostly played for comedic effect – something you can expect more of from Khal Moro and Daenerys’s story line this season, Naufahu says. It was a hit with the audience earlier this month at the Los Angeles premiere screening of the episode, he says. Naufahu’s mom, who accompanied him to the red carpet event, was among the laughing horde.
“She was like, ‘That’s just typical Joe, anyway,’” the actor says.
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