Athletes & Celebrities

Gains of Thrones: Joe Naufahu Trains Like a Warrior

The athlete-turned-actor used his passion for fitness to land the TV gig of a lifetime.


Joe's New Throne
Edgar Artiga

Former New Zealand rugby standout Joe Naufahu has headed into a different arena these days. The 38-year-old actor played the role of Khal Moro, head of the Dothraki tribe warriors in HBO’s highly acclaimed show Game of Thrones.

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One of the most watched on television, the series airs in more than 170 countries, with a cult following worldwide. The tough and physically fit Naufahu rocks a ponytail, rides horses, wears lots of armor, leads a team of warriors in fighting the enemy, and gets up close and personal with co-star Emilia Clarke. We tried to pry spoilers from him but failed. However, we did get the GoT actor to reveal how being a lifelong fitness fanatic helped sculpt him for the role of a lifetime.

Naufahu was born and raised in New Zealand, and like many young boys in that part of the world, he was drawn to rugby.

“I can remember as a child playing with a rugby ball, aspiring to be part of the national rugby team. That’s all I thought and cared about,” he recalls.

Naufahu would eventually turn that passion into a profession, earning the chance to play for pro organizations such as the Canterbury Crusaders, Leicester Tigers in England, and Glasgow Warriors in Scotland; he also played as a representative of New Zealand’s under 19s and 21s team. But when he was 26, a spate of injuries changed the game for Naufahu.

“I had a few serious knee injuries where I had most of the cartilage removed from my right knee, leaving it virtually bone on bone. I remember the doctor coming in after surgery telling me that I still could play but I would be risking the quality of life down the road with my family, my children,” says Naufahu, who has two kids, Freddy, 6, and Eva, 9. “I couldn’t have that, so for me it was an easy decision to give up rugby.”

The decision would turn his world upside down. He went through a “period of darkness” during which he would shut himself indoors and ponder his options.

“I would be all alone [because I] didn’t feel like going out or meeting anyone, but I never stopped training,” he explains. “I learned how to train without equipment in solitude since I did not feel like going to the gym or being around people.”

But that alone time was ultimately a blessing in disguise as it eventually led to him to set up his ownpersonal-training business—Ludus Magnus School of Training, in Auckland, New Zealand ( Their emphasis: body-weight training. Today, Naufahu has more than 20 “lanistas” or trainers working for him, one of whom is his brother, Rene.

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