Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

How Kiwi actor Joe Naufahu found himself terrorising Daenerys on Game of Thrones

Kiwi actor Joe Naufahu spent his evenings bingeing on his favourite TV show and dreaming about one day appearing in it. Then it happened. He tells Chris Schulz how.

On his first day on the set of Game of Thrones, Joe Naufahu didn't believe what was unfolding in front of him.

"I'm sitting there with my gear on in my tent in the middle of desert. I've got a couple of wives sitting next to me, and then Khaleesi comes up to me," says the Kiwi actor, who played a pivotal role in the show's sixth season debut this week.

"You've gotta pinch yourself and say, 'Is this really happening, man?'"

Joe Naufahu as Khal Moro in a scene from the latest season of Game of Thrones.
Joe Naufahu as Khal Moro in a scene from the latest season of Game of Thrones.

Naufahu plays Khal Moro in the show, the Dothraki leader who has captured the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, after one of her dragons dumped her in the middle of nowhere.

The scene was the first time fans had seen Naufahu in the show, the second Kiwi to feature in a high-profile role after Keisha Castle-Hughes debuted as Sand Snake Obara during season five.

In this week's episode, Naufahu's Moro discovers "Khaleesi" is the former wife of Dothraki leader Khal Drogo, who died in the first season, and decides her fate is to spend the rest of her days at Vaes Dothrak living with other widows.

Naufahu, who runs an Auckland gym when he's not starring in TV shows like Spartacus and Go Girls or movies The Last Saint, was a big fan of the show and admits he was lucky to get the role after sending in an audition tape in which he looked nothing like a Dothraki warrior.

Joe Naufahu in the 2014 film The Last Saint.
Joe Naufahu in the 2014 film The Last Saint.

"At the time I had really short hair, no facial hair. I was like, 'Man they couldn't have picked the worst time to do this casting, I look nothing like a Dothraki at the moment'," he told the Herald.

"They obviously saw something they liked ... It's something you never think will happen in lil' old New Zealand."

Four weeks later, Naufahu found himself being fitted for his beard, wig and costume on set in Ireland, before being sent home to learn Dothraki - the language George RR Martin made up for his book series and features sporadically in the show - before shooting began.

Read more: Two Kiwis ruled Game of Thrones last night

He admits learning the made-up language was the hardest part of the role.

"It's not like learning Spanish or French at school. It's all phonetics ... we're learning our lines and what our acting partners are saying as well because you have to react to what they're saying," he says.

"Because the directors don't speak Dothraki you've got to be able to learn it so well that if they want to pick something up they've gotta be able to say it in English and you've gotta know what they're talking about (and be able to repeat it in Dothraki)."

But Naufahu admits he also had a bit of fun with it.

"It sounded quite similar to Samoan and Tongan so I'd slip words in and they'd never know. I was a bit scared to do it in the takes, but I'd add a Samoan word or Tongan word here or there into rehearsals. Emilia caught wind of it and she started throwing her own made up words in there to throw me ...

"I'm sure there are people out there sitting there saying, 'He didn't say that properly,' or, 'That's not the word for that'."

Joe Naufahu as Khal Moro in the latest season of Game of Thrones.
Joe Naufahu as Khal Moro in the latest season of Game of Thrones.

While Naufahu is sworn to secrecy about this season's events, and how big his role is, he says there's plenty more to come from his character.

"It's a good role. There's some good meat in there, I'm really happy with what I've done in the first episode ... there's some good stuff coming."

And he admits that it's going to be hard to top having a starring role in his favourite TV show. But there's one thing that could do it - a spot on zombie hit The Walking Dead.

"Dude, that would be the bomb, shot, done. I'd love to."

* Game of Thrones screens on Sky TV's SoHo channel on Mondays at 1pm and 8.30pm, and is available for streaming on Neon.

- NZ Herald

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