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.

SEE ALSO: New ‘GOT’ Actor Joe Naufahu Models for M&F

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.

Joe n rugby

“For me, training was therapy and ook me out of my depression,” he admits. “I had to do it to keep me sane, and it’s the same type of training I am doing today with clients and in my business. So, you know, everything happens for a reason.”

He adds, “If I hadn’t gotten injured, I wouldn’t have done that type of training. And during that time to reflect, I got introduced to acting and Rene [an accomplished writer and director] gave me a small role in a crime series, which led to other acting roles.”

More opportunities soon presented themselves, including roles in the television series Spartacus: War of the Damned (2012) and The Last Saint (2014), which premiered at the 2015 Harlem Film Festival and was directed by Rene.

“I have a passion for acting,” says Naufahu. “[It] kind of took rugby’s place. I get the same buzz and feeling when I go into a scene as I did when I was running on a field. For me, I need [acting] to breathe now, and if I can carry on getting good roles, I will be happy.”

SEE ALSO: Watch Out for ‘Thor’ on ‘Game of Thrones’

Part Samoan, German, and Irish, Naufahu says his background is similar to that of WWE Superstar and Hollywood heavyweight Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in that they both have Samoan heritage. Samoans are known for their massive structure and ability to build muscle easily.

“Samoans just look at weights and we get bigger,” he jokes. “Look at The Rock. He is an incredible guy with a massive build. Coming from a small island and seeing his successes, you can’t help but be inspired to be something like him.”

When asked what kind of workout he would give Johnson, Naufahu had an answer in the chamber: “Body weight! He would so smash me in the weightlifting, but I would get him on cardio.”

For his ‘Game of Thrones’ prep, Naufahu wasn’t out to get as huge as Johnson, nor did he change anything diet-wise. He eats no sugar (he doesn’t have a sweet tooth) and shuns all processed food.
“My rules are pretty basic: I try to eat clean. Nutrition is not rocket science; it’s common sense, really. As long as you are burning more than what you are taking in and not eating too much crap and processed foods, you are good to go.”

Naufahu usually has a light breakfast because, he says, he just doesn’t feel hungry in the a.m. For the rest of day, he sticks to a Polynesian diet, which is high in fish such as snapper, teriyaki, vegetables, and fruit. He’ll down a protein shake sometimes, too. His cheat meals include boiled green bananas or savory island chips. But there’s one meal he refuses to go without: oka.

“Oka is an incredible [raw] fish dish my mom makes. You can never say no to oka, or my mom, for that matter. It’s my favorite dish by far.”

SEE ALSO: Dwayne Johnson Reveals How He Became ‘The Rock’

Naufahu trains seven days a week for about 60 minutes a session using “fun pieces of equipment,” which include sledgehammers, tires, and kettlebells. Unsurprisingly, he most enjoys training using only his body weight, as those exercises allow him to be more creative and versatile. And that creativity came in handy when he was traveling to places like Spain and Ireland for ‘Thrones’; In between filming, he even put some of the GoT cast members through his Ludus training when time allowed.

The leader of the Dothraki tribe may be open about his workout, but when it comes to revealing any inside info on the most popular show in the world, Naufahu is tight-lipped.

Joe's New Throne
Edgar Artiga

“I was at the red-carpet premiere in L.A. with my mom, and reporters were hounding me,” he reveals. “They were asking about any secrets. But I didn’t divulge. I was good.”

Smart move. And although Khal Moro faced an early and grisly death, the fate of his character will not shatter the dream Naufahu is currently living.

“I remember watching Game of Thrones with my siblings [he has four brothers], and I would say to them, ‘If there is one show that I would love to do, it’s gotta be Game of Thrones,’ and they would laugh at me. And a couple of years down the road, here I am on the show playing the leader of the Dothraki.”

SEE ALSO: 6 Reasons Why Arnold Should Be on ‘Game of Thrones’

Along with being a standout rugby player, respected personal trainer, and talented actor, Naufahu also enjoys reading magazines.

“I read almost every issue of Muscle & Fitness when I was 10,” he says. “It’s such a huge honor to be part of it. I have always had so much respect for [M&F]. I remember at 19, going to train with my cousin, the famous bodybuilder Sonny Schmidt, at his gym in Melbourne. We used to read the magazine, and now, years later, I am in it. It’s pretty awesome.”

Despite traveling the world to film, and running a business, Naufahu stresses that without his family’s support, he would have never achieved the kind of successes that have come his way.

As a token of his appreciation, he had his family’s names tattooed on his body.

“There are Mother Mary and Baby Jesus for my mom; the birds are doves and represent my two sisters; my oldest brother’s name is Tiger, so there is one for him; and the horseshoe is for my other brother, whose nickname is horse.”

In addition to having a rose tattoo named after his godmother, there is also a set of praying hands and a profound phrase in Latin on his chest that translates to “Be strong. Pain will be useful to you someday.”

“I wanted to have that because pain strengthens you,” he explains. “At the time it happens, it seems like the worst, but you get through it and you’ll see how much you grow as a person.

“Nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it. Focus on it and you can achieve it. When the lights turned on after the L.A. premiere, my mom turned to me with pride and said, ‘Son, I didn’t know you had so many lines.’ For me, the coolest part of doing what I do is setting goals and achieving them— and for my mom to be here to see my success.”

Naufahu’s Circuit: The 10-1 Ludus Vine circuit starts with 10 reps of each exercise per round, then drops to nine, eight, and so on until you reach one. Between rounds, row 15 calories and run 400 meters.

Whatever Works: If kettlebells aren’t available, Naufahu suggests using “whatever you can get your hands on—barbells, dumbbells, weight plates, boulders.”

Push It: “Pushups are probably the best upper-body/core exercise you can do. Some favorites: spider (above), Roman, and crouching tigers,” Naufahu says.