Picture this, leather-clad gladiators swinging mighty axes and swords, a statuesque arena with beautiful frescoes, and a quaint Mediterranean village humming with activity. Alas the magic of the movies, the scene I'm describing isn't anywhere near Italy, but the gargantuan set of Pompeii on the outskirts of Toronto.
Earlier this summer, Sony Pictures invited us on set of their latest blockbuster action film. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson of the Resident Evil franchise, Pompeii is a swords and sandals epic that takes place in the legendary city as it is about to be destroyed by the volcano, Mount Vesuvius. Most of you have probably seen the chilling teaser trailer of the bodies, in their last moments of life, being turned to ash and preserved forever in stone by the molten lava. Pompeii is a historical recreation of that disaster set against a forbidden love story.
Kit Harington from Game of Thrones stars in his first leading role as Milo, a slave turned gladiator. He falls in love with Cassia, the aristocrat daughter of Pompeii's governor, played by the beautiful Australian actress Emily Browning. Cassia has been betrothed to the vile Roman Senator Corvis, Kiefer Sutherland, who also was responsible for Milo's current predicament. The film is heavy on action and special effects. It won't be graphically violent, as Sony is aiming for a PG-13 rating, but heads will most certainly roll in Pompeii.
We arrived on set to witness a huge gladiatorial fight scene. My mouth dropped when I saw how many people were involved in that day's shoot. There were literally hundreds of extras getting prepped. The on set publicist took us through the main production offices where we saw the production designs and layout for the shoot. I'm sworn to secrecy, but I can say the scope of the action and visual effects are on par with what you'd expect from a tentpole summer film. We're sheparded past the hundreds of extras in their tunics and robes, outside to a giant field that was swarming with people. On one side were the gladiators with their gear. On the other side were the horses and the animal trainers getting hooked up to the chariot. Directly in front of us was a huge recreation of the coliseum in Pompeii. The set was easily fifty feet tall, but was designed as a quarter cut-a-way of the actual building. Surrounding the cutaway in a loop was a massive green screen. The rest of the coliseum would be filled in digitally in the post effects process. In the center of the coliseum was a huge obelisk that the slaves would be chained too. Then they would be attacked by gladiators coming at them from the racing chariot. This set was gigantic, covering the size of a football field. Camera and lighting rigs were suspended on cranes over the obelisk. There were also camera rigs facing the set, and the mobile rig on a dolly that sat the director.
The reporters were placed in a tent beside the coliseum green screen where monitors were set up for us to view the action. The film was being shot in 3D, so we were actually given 3D glasses and could view the action on a special 3D TV. We could hear the action via wireless headsets. As we settled into the enormity of this scene, I marveled at the organized chaos going on around us. The extras, dressed like the Roman elite, were being seated in the coliseum. The gladiators were getting their make-up done, and literally lifting weights to pump up their muscles before the shooting started. The lighting team were making last minute adjustments to their rig, while the production assistants were yelling for everyone to get quiet for the rehearsal take. We get our first peak of Kit Harington as Milo. The guy looks chiseled out of stone. He's muddied, dirty, covered in sweat, and taking practice swings with his sword; which looked pretty freaking heavy to me. He's joined by co-star, and fellow slave gladiator, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who plays Atticus. The pair are chained to the obelisk in the center and the practice run begins. They are attacked on all sides by these behemoth, muscled gladiators. Kit has his sword, Adewale a large axe, they cut down the guys in front of them, and break the chains to the obelisk. Kit, now free, charges the chariot and jumps on the lead horse. Meanwhile the audience is roaring its approval at the carnage. I was stunned by how quickly the actors went through the scene. Everyone had their blocking down pat. As they reset the scene, all the actors and gladiator extras continued to workout their muscles using light weights. Paul W.S. Anderson moves his camera rig center to the audience and starts taking shots of the crowd.
Here we are in the tent, utterly captivated by the magnitude of the scene, when Kiefer Sutherland strolls in with a production assistant. He looks fantastic, lean, tanned, cool as a cucumber in a tee shirt, jeans, and sunglasses. It's almost impossible to believe he's forty-six. Kiefer wasn't filming that day, but came in to see the coliseum fight and chat with the press. The guy is magnetic, totally at ease on a film set and talking to reporters:
We hear your character is super-nice. He's a really nice guy. He gets along with everybody (sarcastically).
Kiefer Sutherland: Obviously, he's the antagonist of the film, but it's very different. I've played a lot of nasty characters over the course of my career. I would think the worst one was a film called Eye for an Eye. This is not that guy. He's very funny, in an awful way, but he's very funny. With a class system like you had at that time, if someone was wealthy and powerful, the ease with which they dispatched other people's lives was kind of frightening. He does it with great aplomb. He's funny. I haven't really had a character to play that has had the dialogue that is as rich as in the script, so it's been a real pleasure. But you're right. He's an asshole.
This is a big gladiator scene. Do you get to do one of these deals?
Kiefer Sutherland: I almost do. In the course of the film, I'm trying to covet young Cassia, who is in love with Milo, who is the very good-looking young gladiator. I'm about to do it and she comes up and saves his life instead and then threatens me saying, "I might end up having to be your wife, but if you go against me now, back in Rome, I don't obey you." So I have to go along with her for the moment.
Would you also describe this as a disaster movie?
Kiefer Sutherland: It was described to me as a gladiator movie and a disaster movie. I was like, "Well, why are you sending me this? This would be the last thing I'd be interested in doing." I'm in an odd position because my brother is actually my agent, so I had to talk to him longer than that. He said, "Trust me. Just really read it. Just trust me." And I did. I was so surprised how beautifully well-written the script was. The dialogue was really rich. The structure is unbelievably sound and it's a very classic love story. So yes, it's a gladiator movie. Yes, it has elements of a disaster movie, but there's such a well-told story at the root of it that those seem to be in the backdrop or in the background. The story is actually really engaging, so I followed that. But yes, having gone through a month of riding horses and chariots through ash where you couldn't see a foot in front of you....yes, it's a disaster.
Can you talk more about that, about the preparation to ride the horses and so on?
Kiefer Sutherland: I've been doing this my whole life. I started riding horses when I was about sixteen, seventeen years old. I rode them in Young Guns. I rodeoed on the USTRC circuit with the National Finals of 94/96, so horses were really familiar to me. The chariot was not. I drive a chariot with four horses. The chariot is unbelievably light. That's a nervous proposition. I'm very alert when I actually pull those reins in because they are unbelievably powerful. So whoever started charting horsepower for cars really underestimated the power of a horse because I would say I have four horsepower. I've ridden a moped with sixteen and these four horses would kick the moped's ass. That was something I had to get used to, but the horseback riding, I'm familiar with that. I did extensive training for The Three Musketeers with fencing, so I had to step up with the sword play in that. Obviously with 24, there was unbelievable physical combat. Nothing is unfamiliar. It's a question of learning the specific dance for this film. Each battle sequence is a dance. I used to always make the joke that if you were in a bar fight with an actor, you'd have no problem because they are trained to miss you by that much. And they will and I've done it. So, it really is more of a dance. You learn the choreography of that and you're good to go.
With really big films like this, sometimes the complaint is the villain doesn't seem to have much of a motivation. He's just kind of evil or mean. Is there a play on class?
Kiefer Sutherland: It's two-fold. A lot of it directly informs an audience of that. He wants to marry this girl. He's come to Pompeii to marry this girl and to take over the father's company. He has a line where he says, "As soon as this deal is done and the marriage is settled..." The line earlier is my right-hand guy says, "What a mouth on her." And he says, "Yes. As soon as the deal is done and the marriage is settled, I'll take great pleasure in shutting it." That's exactly what he's there for. The deal and the marriage and then he goes back to Rome.
How does he deal with the crisis at hand once this chain of events starts happening?
Kiefer Sutherland: With unbelievable arrogance. He actually has a line where he's making a speech in the arena. The tremors start and he's like, "Come on. Come on. Get over it." He doesn't pay attention to it. It's not a threat to him. Everything he's had in his life, he's been able to control. It's also an interesting kind of result in Pompeii when you actually look because it happened so fast. One of the most awesome things I saw there was a mother holding her child and she died so quickly that she couldn't bring her own child to her breast. She was literally holding her up like that and they were locked like that forever. I don't think any of them had any idea that could possibly happen. That's an interesting aspect of the movie when it gets into that stage.
Is it important for you to find something relatable in a character like this or do you just let go?
Kiefer Sutherland: It's a combination of things. But no, and the same with an Eye for an Eye. In Eye for an Eye, that character was a much more realistic character than this. I had two daughters at the time and I would try to build a character that was my greatest nightmare if my daughter were to run into this person, so I developed the character on this. This is much more fun. I keep pushing it and Paul goes, "Okay, yeah, that was funny. Back off a bit. That was a bit flamboyant." The shape of the character for me is what I relate to in the context of the story and how much fun can I have with that part in the balance of what he's doing and what she she's doing and so forth. So no, it's not that kind of character where I have to have some kind of some deep emotional or intrinsic connection.
With Pompeii, they are doing a big exhibit in London. There's a lot of history that has literally been unearthed in the last couple of years. Have you become more of a history buff about it?
Kiefer Sutherland: Me, specifically, World War II has always been the most fascinating thing for me from a historical point of view. It is still so tangible and close to us. There were very few instances where the world was divided by what I still perceive as very right and very wrong. And yet it galvanized three and a half billion people to put themselves in serious harm's way. What I've enjoyed about this is I started to learn about Pompeii as a result of being a part of this film, which is great.
And you traveled to the site?
Kiefer Sutherland: No, I haven't. I've just read a lot of books. I'm going to actually go after. I was working when Paul went to shoot there, which was a drag because they actually shut it down for six days or something like that, and it's never been shut down before. Then they shot there, so that was the time to go. No, I'm going to go with all the other tourists when we finish.
Paul W.S. Anderson is such a nice guy. How is he when he's commanding this huge set?
Kiefer Sutherland: Well, he hasn't faltered. He's a nice guy. I keep waiting. He's a nice guy. Okay, I get that. He's a nice guy in prep. Okay, I get that. What's going to happen when you've got 400 extras, 300 people in armor, 16 horses standing by and it starts to rain? He's just a nice guy. He rolls with it. And through that, he's worked with this crew many times, so he has great familiarity with them. He commands a set with absolute authority. He's the guy in charge. And as an actor, to work for a director who knows exactly what he wants...He's so technically proficient that I'm not even aware we're shooting a 3D movie. That is a real testament to him and his crew that have done this before and know how to do it. But as nice as he is, he's very clear about what he wants. It's such a gift to work in that. There's a real safety in that. Again, I can push this direction all I want, but he'll pull me back and make sure I'm fitting into the context of this film. It's just one of the most comfortable environments I've ever been in.
Kit is obviously well-known from Game of Thrones. This is really his first movie as a lead. Paul clearly has faith he can deliver. As somebody who has played these roles before and a vet of these types of productions, what do you see in him that makes you think he's capable of leading a picture?
Kiefer Sutherland: He's an extraordinary actor. There's something about certain actors and you can't teach it. When he walks into a room, you know he's there. You just do. You don't know why, but for whatever reason you end up turning around, and he's there. He has an aura of power, or whatever you will. You just can't help but watch what he's doing. And I'm a huge fan of Game of Thrones and many times I'll wait for certain scenes to be done to get back to his storyline. I haven't worked with him a whole lot, but I've seen a lot of the work. I think he's going to be extraordinary. And let's face it... he's a good looking kid.
Words of encouragement and respect from a guy with a vaunted career like Kiefer Sutherland. He's plays a great villain and I can't wait to see him chew up the screen as the vile Corvis. We were given a quick break before Emily Browning was brought in. Emily first gained fame as a child actor in the adaptation of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, but has since done much more adult oriented fare in the risque Sleeping Beauty and Sucker Punch. Emily seemed so small in comparison to the beefcake gladiators we were surrounded by. She was forthright in our interview, but seemed a bit drained from the physical nature of the filming. She has a radiant beauty that the screen really captures. Paul W.S. Anderson would comment later on that the dirtier she got during the volcano scenes, the more beautiful she photographed. It does take a unique look to be a movie star, and Emily certainly has that in spades. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
Your character is in a compromised position in this movie, talk to us about how you get into this position where a senator has a crush on you?
Emily Browning: (laughs) Well, it's sort of not really ever revealed how Corvis and Cassia know one another, she's been in Rome studying and she comes back and sees him and is freaked out, so obviously they have a little run-in in Rome and she's grossed out by him. I think that's kind of what attracted me to Cassia is the fact that she has been brought up in all this privilege, but is really not interested in marrying some dude who has a bunch of money. I guess she's a little bit hardened at the beginning, like maybe she's had a lot of attention from these kind of guys and she's just really not into it. And it's me meeting Milo and realizing that, whoa, I have feelings for a boy that softens her up a little bit. I wouldn't say that the volcano eruption is lucky for her (laughs) but it kind of does get her out of, it gets her out of a very compromising position, obviously she's in a place where it looks like she is going to have to marry him to save her family, to protect her family.
Is it really hard to fall in love with Kit Harington?
Emily Browning: So difficult, he's hideous! (laughs) No, it's weird actually because we started hanging out when we were first shooting, but we didn't film a scene together for like the first two weeks. So by the time we had to shoot the first scene where we were like you know, all gaga over each other. I think he'd already met my boyfriend by then, we'd become sort of like bros. So the day before that scene I was super nervous, like 'ah now it's weird, we're friends and we have to pretend to like each other it's kinda strange' but I think we did all right, I think we managed.
Rome was very much a man's world, at this time. How does she fit in, is she a strong character?
Emily Browning: I read up a lot about women's roles at that time and it was very interesting. Obviously girls were still very much controlled by men and were oppressed in that sense, but women actually had a lot more power in ancient Rome than people expected. Daughters would often advise their fathers on their business decisions, and the thing I liked also was that, even though obviously it's a whole different scenario with Corvis because he kind of like is blackmailing her parents, but a woman would never actually... even once she was married she was never expected to answer to her husband above her father, the family was still who she would answer to. And women could represent themselves in court, so in a way it was sort of advanced I mean horrifically sexist but kind of advanced in that way. But I think Cassia is pretty tough, she doesn't want to be told what to do. She says right at the beginning of the film, I don't want to marry anyone, I'm not interested. Yeah, I think she manages to hold her own, but is still kind of frustrated that her dad won't listen to her as much as she would like, because at the very start she advises him against getting into bed with the Romans. She hates the idea that there's a Roman Senator at the house, and she disagrees with what's going on there with the Emperor and everything, yeah it's frustrating for her that he won't listen to her opinion I guess.
In Sucker Punch you got to sling swords like nobody's business, do you get in on any of this action or do you have to sit on the sidelines?
Emily Browning: I get to be part of the action in the sense that I'm running away from all the shit that's happening with the volcano. There are some pretty cool scenes in the chariot with me and Kiefer where it gets pretty intense and violent, there are big explosions and everything. I don't get to have a fight scene and I'm kind of jealous when I see the boys doing that. When we did Sucker Punch, I was so into the training, I loved doing that, so seeing them getting to train everyday, it makes me wanna do that kind of film again where I get to fight. Yeah, I'm a little bit envious of it! (laughs) But it is nice to not... even though I loved the training I do remember that thing of working out for seven hours a day. In a way it's a bit of a relief to not have to do that. Also the crazy diets they're on, I don't know if they've told you about that yet? We didn't really have to do that for Sucker Punch thankfully, but the stuff they're eating! They eat like, kale and chicken and that's all... (laughs) and it's funny because it's so often that it's the actresses on the set of a film that are watching what they eat, but on this we're all like, we all couldn't care less, but the boys are like 'how many calories is in that?' No that's too many calories, they can't eat that. So it's kind of funny, in that way.
Which scene are you most excited about seeing on the big screen? There are a lot of effects...
Emily Browning: I think the most exciting scenes for me I've been a part of is our part of the imperial box scene which we just finished today. I'm excited to see that just because I get to go head to head with Kiefer. It was really fun getting to stand up for myself against him, and we have a little fight. But it's a very wordy scene so I don't know that's necessarily going to be the most exciting scene for me to see, considering the fact that it's 3D. But I guess... I don't know! I'm really excited to see some of this fight stuff, I think it will be really fun stuff to watch to be honest.
Is it fun being on this kind of set? Because this is how I imagine a movie set to be, with all the gladiators walking around...
Emily Browning: Totally! That's exactly what I thought too. I spent last year making all kind of tiny indie films, which I loved doing, but coming back here it was like 'oh yeah this is like, a big Hollywood movie' you know the sets are all epic and huge. Yeah its kind of fun having all these big greased up muscly dudes walking around as well.
And funny seeing guys walking around with Roman robes and then, headphones, a weird disconnect?
Emily Browning: Yeah it is. There were some of the extras up in the stands, in the audience the other day and it was funny because they're in these amazing dresses and everything but they all had sunglasses on, because it was so sunny, (laughs) it was a funny contrast. Or like they'll have a hoodie on or something.
When you do a movie like this about a historical event you do some research, what was the thing that really surprised you to learn about Pompeii? Besides the women having power...
Emily Browning: Yeah, well that was kind of a big thing. I mean everything I read about it surprised me because I'm terrible with history; I know nothing about that kind of thing. So when I get in there to learn about this kind of thing it's always a big surprise to me. But I think the thing that was most interesting was just seeing the pictures of these mummified figures after the eruption. Because there are people embracing and they've been completely calcified or I don't know exactly what it is scientifically, but there are these perfect statues of people in the moment that they died. That was really... kind of made me really emotional. That was an intense thing to see for sure.
Have you shot a lot of the disaster stuff?
Emily Browning: We have shot a lot, but I think we still have a lot more to shoot. It's pretty hardcore filming that stuff because it's like, ash and dust in the air, and by the end of the day you're just covered in this back greasy dirty stuff. You blow your nose and it's black. It's pretty revolting shooting that stuff! But it's really fun because again that's when it feels like a big proper movie with these huge explosions going of. It's really great because it's a lot of green screen but the sets are built in their entirety, it's kind of cool to see. I don't know if you guys have had a tour of the sets or anything... but yeah it's pretty amazing the way that they've built these massive sets like the streets of Pompeii, and they have these crazy, completely lifelike dead horses and dead bodies littering the streets. It's pretty cool.
Do you enjoy having those practical sets as opposed to a virtual environment like Sucker Punch was?
Emily Browning: Yeah, I mean Sucker Punch we had a lot of sets built too, but we definitely had pieces that were all green screen. And it, yeah it's harder for sure. First of all if you're in a room that's just completely green walls for any more than sort of an hour it makes you really dizzy and nauseous, it's really weird... you walk outside and everything looks purple. It's kind of a strange thing. But also, yeah I mean it is nice to have something to react to. It's weird when you just have to sort of react to a pink x on a green wall... that's not the most fun thing to do.
After Emily left the tent, it was really the Kit Harington show from that point on. The scene he was filming seemed grueling. After breaking free of the obelisk and killing those gladiators, he steals the horse from the chariot and rides it. The ending of the scene, which we didn't see that day, is where he pulls down the obelisk and uses it to wipe out the remaining gladiators in the arena. This scene was shot from multiple angles over the next several hours. It was the summer in Toronto and the sun was absolutely brutal. I must have guzzled five bottles of water while watching from the tent. I couldn't imagine how Kit and Adewale felt doing the scene repeatedly under the glaring sun. Finally in the late afternoon there was a break in filming and we had a few minutes with Kit. The guy was drenched in sweat and came in the tent with a little boxed lunch. He hadn't had a chance to eat all afternoon, at first started eating, then decided to stop because it wasn't professional. Even though he had just spent over five hours shooting an intensely physical scene, Kit wanted to be as upright as possible. That's pretty admirable and a rarity let me tell you. Here's our interview with Kit:
How demanding is this role? Because 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 is kind of sporadic filming. It was 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. I think I'll get ill after this, I think I'll have to relax. But it's great, I mean, I love being busy.
We saw you pumping iron between takes. Is that a constant? How regular do you have to keep that up?
Kit Harington: I just do it on and off. I put on a bit of weight leading up to this film because I wanted to be really, really bulky and big. And I think they saw my face and I'd got a bit chubby and they were like, "Okay, actually, no... We don't want you big, we want you very lean and muscley." So I then dropped loads, I'm on this special diet, and yeah, I've been pumping up right before scenes and stuff. You feel like a bit of a douche, because they've got like 100 extras, and I'm there going [mimes bicep curls]... But you know, it's an action film, where I've got my arms out the whole time, so I have to try and look tough. And I'm next to all these stunt boys who are huge, so I need to kind of compete with them, so it doesn't look ridiculous that I'm beating them up.
You must get offered a lot of projects. What grabbed you about this script?
Kit Harington: I love action. I love doing fight scenes, I always have. I love it. I've sort of found myself in a kind of period niche. I've done lots of period movies, and lots of sword fighting movies, but I genuinely love them. What grabbed me about this one was I just wanted to throw a sword about. And I just thought it was quite an exciting script, really. And I met Paul W.S. Anderson, because I didn't know whether I wanted to [do it] or not. And I met Paul and I think he's wonderfully enthusiastic about what he does and very committed to what he does, and he works so fucking hard. And I always like that when I meet a director and I can see that in them. So it was Paul and the script really, the fighting.
We've seen the scenes of you fighting and the physicality involved, but the producer and everyone was talking about the great love story also as the base of this. Have you shot a lot of scenes with Emily Browning? Can you talk about the romance aspect of it?
Kit Harington: Yeah, I was really hoping that I'd get on with Emily and I did. She's really lovely, she's a lovely girl. And Aussie. And yeah, we go at each other, we like taking the piss out of each other, it was fun. But it's good to have that. It's a nightmare if you're working with someone you don't get on with, especially if you have to be in love with them. But I just have a great time with her, I think she's a great girl and she's a great actress, and we've had a lot of fun actually. And it's bizarre, because you've got a love story and it's in the middle of a fucking volcano going off, so it's not your classic love story. It's not what you'd expect it to be really, which is, again, what I quite liked about it. They don't have time to go through all the talky-talky, kissy-kissy, lovey-lovey. The volcano's going off, so they have to get on with it.
Obviously you researched Pompeii after you landed the role. Were there any things that really surprised you when you were researching getting ready for this?
Kit Harington: It was really annoying actually, because there was a brilliant exhibition at the British Museum which opened about Pompeii. There seems to be some sort of resurgence of interest in Pompeii. But there's a lot out there. Because I've read the Robert Harris book, "Pompeii," and that's enough research for anybody. If you've read that book, it's a great story, but it's like a fucking book of research. The man researches like mad. So I read that and that was very useful. I don't know if anything surprised me, I just liked learning about it. I've always known about Pompeii, but I didn't know the ins and outs of it. I haven't actually been, I'm thinking of going on a trip there after this. Before I do publicity proper for the movie. What amazes me is how it was the Romans and how advanced they were, and what they invented. You wouldn't believe how many things that they came up with first, and it was two thousand years ago or something. That was what surprised me.
This being your biggest film role, your leading role, have you been given a piece of advice from your co-stars, from your director, from other people who have starred in these kind of films? Has there been a great piece of advice that they've given you about the length of time that you're shooting or your workout regimen or anything like that? What have you heard from people that has helped you?
Kit Harington: 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 is, it's a fucking tough shoot for me. Because I haven't done something on this scale, so it's a stamina test and I think, yeah, the advice I was given was just "rest." And make sure you're prepped for each day, and I have been.
Does it help when you're shooting a scene like that one before - which is quite physical, with you running and on a horse - to have the extras cheering you on?
Kit Harington: I love those guys. (laughs) They're fucking hilarious. Every time something good happens, they go "Yay!" (claps) And you know what, it's weird. I started in theater and it's weirdly like being back in theater, having all them watching what you're doing. And it gives it a different vibe.
Like immediate gratification?
Kit Harington: Yeah, and kind of like in the theater, you want to play to them a bit, and that's good. Because this is what it should be. It's playing to an audience. I went to a hockey game recently and it was quite interesting. It was good research for this. It was a good feeling of what bloodsport might be like. Because the whole crowd - you know, I mean, you've seen hockey, when someone goes to punch someone else, they're all instantly up on their feet going, "Come on! Fucking do it!" And it was quite good research for this, because you could see how humans react to violence. It's fucking strange.
When you're going to be wearing a costume like this for a really long time, how involved are you in talking to the costume department about what works for you to be able to do action in? Do you talk about that?
Kit Harington: I was very involved with it. I got here about three or four weeks early for prep. And me and Wendy Partridge spent a long time, so many costume fittings together, because we wanted to get the right look for it, and so did (producer) 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 want 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. And this, we had to keep cutting away here to get more room. I still can't properly bend down in it. And I don't know, I just quite liked it. I just wanted it to be really, really simple. But yeah, I always love costume, and I'm always heavily involved in how things should look. Or how they should feel really, because that's part of the way I suppose I get into character in some ways. It's a lot about costume.
Jon Snow is blowing up and becoming a very famous character, and this film could be a huge hit. How are you handling fame as an actor, and being noticed?
Kit Harington: 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 didn't really, 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."
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, and I was wondering, what does that mean to you? Being a hero?
Kit Harington: Again, at drama school, I was always playing the 11-year-old boys. I look a lot younger, and I think my drama school friends, my brother who's just out there, and everyone is just a bit surprised that I've become this action hero. It was never me growing up really, and so it's odd. Like, 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, I guess, 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. I don't know.
But admit you don't enjoy working with horses...
Kit Harington: Ha, yeah. I'm always with horses. Like, War Horse was my first job, and I was with a puppet horse, and 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?
Kit Harington: 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 mean, it's great, I get to be in an amphitheater, with sand, and with a sword, and with a crowd. I mean, that's a dream. That's great.
Does it kind of feel like being a kid?
Kit Harington: 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, you know 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, or sort of what you expected?
Kit Harington: 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.
Can you talk about your character and the backstory? We've heard from other people about the character. What are your feelings on him?
Kit Harington: As you can guess, I like playing dark, broody types. And that's kind of what I'm doing at the moment. I want to play other types, obviously, but I like that you had this real vengeance to him, that he'd been really fucked over when he was a kid, and his family got killed, and then he doesn't have a mission, he just wants to keep fighting til he dies. He's got this anger that's always bubbling up in him, and I like that about him. But essentially he's a slave who they find at the beginning of the movie, and they think can be quite entertaining in the ring, and they take him out to Pompeii and he is pretty good at fighting. (laughs) And then the volcano goes off, and he meets the girl. And there's love somewhere in there, yeah. It's got everything.
What have been some of the challenges with the CGI? Because you've never done something on this scope before.
Kit Harington: You know what? I thought there'd be a lot more CGI than there is. There's actually quite a lot built out here, I thought it was going to be a lot more green screen. I generally find green screen stuff quite difficult. I like being surrounded by all this, I think it's part of the pleasure of acting, and I find green screen stuff - I mean, it's great, Paul's brilliant at it, and he's very good at directing you with it. but generally he's been throwing stones and things at me and I've been sword fighting in front of a crowd like this, and there's not been a huge amount..
Sounds like you've taken a bit of a beating as well. We're hearing from other actors who are whipping you and everything. Have you had any injuries?
Kit Harington: 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, and I just got better in time. And it's been great actually. But I've got fucking knocked on the head, cut, 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. I don't know, 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's been the most fun you've had shooting? What day sticks out in your mind so far that's been the most fun for you?
Kit Harington: 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. And 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 I fully clocked him in the face and he didn't even flinch. (laughs) They're just fucking nuts, those stunt guys.
Pompeii will be in theaters on February 21, 2014 with a PG-13 rating.