Rome may not have been created in a day, but majestic Pompeii was certainly destroyed in one. In 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted, showering the city with stone, ash and molten lava, killing more than 16,000 people. Now, Resident Evil director Paul W.S. Anderson is bringing that disaster to the big screen in the epic adventure Pompeii.
The film casts Game of Thrones Kit Harington as Milo, a rebellious slave turned gladiator determined to win the love of the governor’s daughter Cassia (Emily Browning of Sucker Punch). Just two obstacles stand in his way: the city’s impending doom and Cassia’s betrothal to the ruthless Senator Corvis (Kiefer Sutherland).
On a sizzling June afternoon on the Toronto set, Milo and the slave Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje of Lost and Thor: The Dark World) are fending off a gladiator attack. The heavily choreographed sequence requires plenty of sword swinging, stabbing and blocking. Take after take, the actors go through the motions until a pleased Anderson yells, “Cut!” Harington seizes the opportunity to settle down behind the video village to answer questions from a group of reporters about Pompeii.
How demanding is this role? It seems like you’re in almost every scene.
Kit Harington: It’s the first time I’ve really experienced something like this, because Game of Thrones, it’s very kind of sporadic filming. It is very sporadic, on and off, a week here, two weeks off because the cast is so huge and there’s so many storylines. And this is the first time I’ve been a lead role in a movie, and it is demanding. It’s tiring. There’s a lot of fighting in this and there’s a lot of stunts. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been, but I’m exhausted.
This is your first leading role. So have you been given a piece of advice from your co-stars, from your director, or from other people who have starred in these kinds of films?
It’s great that I’ve gotten to work around lots of older actors. You know, I try not to ask them too much stuff, but you can bend their ear about it because they’ve been in the industry for a lot longer. I think the advice I was given on this one was simple. It was, “You’re gonna be exhausted and you’ve gotta rest up. For your body, for your mind, for everything.” And it’s a fucking tough shoot for me because I haven’t done something on this scale. It’s a stamina test. The advice I was given was just “rest” and make sure you’re prepped for each day, and I have been.
When you’re going to be wearing a costume like this for a really long time, how involved are you with the costume department about what works for you, especially with all the action?
I was very involved with it. I got here about three or four weeks early for prep. And me and [costume designer] Wendy Partridge spent a long time doing many costume fittings together, because we wanted to get the right look for it. And so did Jeremy [Bolt] and Paul. And essentially it started very intricately, with lots of detail, and it was kind of beautiful, and I just didn’t think that was right. He’s a slave. I wanted it to be as simple as possible, like very straightforward, so we stripped everything down. And initially it had arms and different things. I wanted it as simple as possible, and also, I’ve done fight scenes before. You have to get the costume right, otherwise you can’t do things. For this, we had to keep cutting away here to get more room. I still can’t properly bend down in it.
Your Game of Thrones character Jon Snow is blowing up and becoming very famous. This film could be a huge hit, too. How are you handling the fame and being noticed?
It’s very odd, it’s very odd. I didn’t get into this for fame. I genuinely didn’t. I love acting, and I know that’s a cliché, but I was very naïve when it came to the whole being recognized thing. It was just something that might happen. And then no one really realized how big Game of Thrones was going to get. It’s kind of become this weird phenomenon, I guess. It’s huge. And obviously for this, I look very similar to how I do for him. I was absolutely fine with it up until this season. And this season, it got really big. And now it starts to get boring, having your privacy intruded upon all the time. But as an actor, that’s what you get paid for I think. This is for fun. You get paid for losing your anonymity, you know? So I’ve put up with it, because that’s my job. But it’s weird when someone comes up to you and they’re like, “Jon Snow!!” And you’re like, “Yeah, thanks, I’m Kit. But yeah, thanks.” [laughs]
It’s weird, because probably more than any other character on that show, Jon Snow is sort of the prototypical Joseph Campbell “hero’s journey,” and from what we’ve heard of this movie, it seems like your character here is very similar. He’s like the archetypal character. What does being a hero mean to you?
Again, at drama school, I was always playing the 11-year-old boys. [laughs] think my drama-school friends, my brother and everyone is just a bit surprised that I’ve become this action hero. [laughs] It was never me growing up, really, and so it’s odd. I got the role of Jon Snow and then people see you as that archetypal hero role, and that’s great. I mean, if you’d told me when I was in drama school that I’d be an action hero, I’d be like, “Fucking A!” Yeah, it’s odd being that, but I guess that’s what I am in this film, and you’re right. It’s an archetypal kind of character, and you’ve got that classic through line, and I’m finding that I really enjoy it. I enjoy period pieces. I enjoy sword fighting. I enjoy fighting. I enjoy trying to look bad-ass.
But admit you don’t enjoy working with horses …
Ha, yeah. I’m always with horses. War Horse was my first job, and I was with a puppet horse. Then I was Jon Snow with horses there, and then in this, I’ve got like a weird bond with horses. I’m kind of a horse whisperer. I don’t know what it is. I’m not great on a horse. I’m getting better, but I’m not brilliant. So yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time with horses. They’re great creatures. I love them. I do love riding them when I get the chance to.
Speaking of the action hero stuff, what’s more fun for you to film – the gladiator scenes or the disaster scenes?
I think the gladiator stuff. I’m really enjoying all this amphitheater stuff. The disaster movie bit is kind of uncomfortable, because when that’s happening. You’ve got this ash that falls down. It’s really kind of horrible, it gets in your eyes and it’s disgusting. So I think that puts a damper on it. But there’s the cool bits where I’m running through a street and there’s shit blowing up left, right and center. So there have been pretty cool bits in that, but I like this. I get to be in an amphitheater, with sand, and with a sword and with a crowd. I mean, that’s a dream.
Does it kind of feel like being a kid?
Yeah. It’s what you’re doing, really, you’re being a kid. So yeah, it does feel a bit like that.
When you signed on for this, obviously you know that it’s going to be challenging. There’s going to be a lot of action and you’re going to have to film disaster scenes. But has the shoot ended up being even more challenging than you expected?
It is what I expected, I think. I knew what I was getting into with it, and you always discover new things and you learn how it affects you as a person. And each project changes you a bit. And this one’s definitely changed me. We’re a month away from finishing, but I feel like I’m coming out of this a different person than I came in. Hopefully in a good way.
The earthquake stuff and all that, you haven’t really done a lot of it yet? Or that’s more practical?
It’s quite practical, yeah. They get the tables shaking, everything starts going like that. The whole thing’s pretty tactile.
Sounds like you’ve taken a bit of a beating as well. We’re hearing from other actors that they are whipping you. Have you had any injuries?
Yeah. I was coming out of breaking my ankle last year and when I came into this movie, I was really worried that it wouldn’t be at full speed. I just got better in time. And it’s been great actually. But I’ve got fucking knocked on the head, cut and this finger still just won’t go down. It keeps getting hit because with swords, you always get hit on this finger. I think it’s broken somewhere in there. You get knocks and bruises, and I take an Epsom salt bath every evening and sort of set myself up for the next day.
What day sticks out in your mind that’s been the most fun for you?
There’s a guy in this movie, the stunt guy’s called Max, and he plays a character called The Big Grecian, and he hates my character. I seem to beat him up about six times in the movie, and it’s quite nice that they’ve got this kind of hatred thing going on. But the first fight we did, it was so bizarre. In real life, Max would absolutely take me to town. He’d destroy me in a fight. But I was absolutely pummeling him. I found that fun. That was the funnest day. I actually punched him in the face. I missed and fully clocked him in the face and he didn’t even flinch. [laughs] They’re just fucking nuts, those stunt guys.
You’re still filming a lot of the big action stuff in the future. What’s the biggest fight scene that you’re involved with in this film? How many days is it going to take to film?
We’re doing it now, really, this whole amphitheater scene. I’ve got a fight with a character called Proculus, who’s played by Sasha [Roiz]. We film that sometime this week, and that’s huge. That’s a big fight, six sections, a shield and sword. So I think that’s going to be my biggest test in the film. But so far, because you get better at sword fighting, they’ll change the fight last minute and they’ll throw in new things. Just like getting better at learning lines, your head gets better at picking things up and doing it off the cuff. So I’m enjoying that aspect of it at the moment.
Pompeii opens today nationwide.