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Kit Harington and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Pompeii)

Kit Harington and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: The Interview (Pompeii)

Shakefire spoke with Pompeii stars Kit Harington and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje about their roles in the film and transition into gladitors. Milo (Harington) is fighting to save his true love and must kill Atticus (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who is one fight away from his freedom. Their battle to the death is put on hold when Mount Vesuvius errupts and threatens everything, forcing the two to work together if they are to survive.

Shakefire: How familiar with the Pompeii disaster before you came on board with the project?
Kit Harington (KH): I was familiar with the story of the eruption of Vesuvius and the town of Pompeii being buried. I knew that one; grew up with that story. I think when the script came to me I was initially very interested because I sort of wondered why no one had done a movie about it before. That was the first thing that sprang to mind. I think the reason why no one had done a movie about it is that you need a lot of special effects to make a volcano explode and it’s only around now with our 3D abilities and our special effects that we can do that. I felt that I didn’t know much about Pompeii and this would be a good thing to do to learn about it.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (AAA): Well having grown up in Europe, it’s pretty much a staple part of our history so I was aware of it from that perspective, but obviously not to the detail we did in the movie. So I was aware of it.

SF: Did you do any historical research on gladiators to prepare for your role?
KH: I did, yeah. You kinda think you get into this body shape because it’s what the film needs to look like and why everyone goes to see a whole load of ripped gladiators fighting, but they were really well fed, very muscular. They were in very good shape and they were sort of the heroes, the celebrities, of their day. It was a weird life. They were enslaved and forced to fight, but you could get great fame and wealth through this blood sport if you were good at it.

AAA: Paul Anderson and Jeremy Bolt meticulously researched it. They were very helpful in providing us with literature, digital imagery, and just photographs of the time. It’s fascinating, not only how advanced the society was compared to where we are now, but just how they lived. So I did quite a bit of research. I tried to find out where my character, Atticus, who was captured and enslaved would have come from which would have informed how I played the character.

SF: Have you ever visited the site?
AAA: No, I haven’t been to the site, but after shooting it’s really my next thing I want to do to go to Pompeii and explore. It’s made me so curious. I just want to see the relics. That’s one box I haven’t box I haven’t ticked, and I’m looking do that probably next year.

KH: I did, yeah. After I finished the film I decided I wanted to see the place so I took myself there and I had a look around and it was fascinating. I urge anyone to go. It’s a very interesting place.

SF: Speaking of special effects, Anderson is known for practical effects over CGI a lot of the time. How was it filming with fire, smoke, and ash?
KH: I think he’s like a little boy; he loves big explosions. We actually had genuine big bangs and smoke and real effects and big sets built so it was kind of a combination of the two. I think he’s equally excited about the big bangs he gets from the studios and the big bangs he can create in a dark room on a computer screen. I trusted him in that way and let him do his bit.

SF: Any difficulties in acting with all that chaos around you?
KH: Uh, yes. If it wasn’t for looking at an orange cross on the wall and pretending that was my eminent death it was being in a room filled with basically housing insolation and breathing it in. It was a pretty grueling movie to do with lots of respect, but sort of the ash elements towards the end of the movie that we had to pump loads of black soot into a room was not very pleasant to film.

SF: What kind of training regimen did you go through to transform yourself into a gladiator?
AAA: The director was very keen on the actors being aesthetically pleasing like gladiators and being able to perform like gladiator and consequentially they set up a structure to get to that point so we trained and lifted four weeks before the movie, two hours of fight training a day. My ax that I’m carrying weighed about 15 to 20 pounds. Not only that but you had to wield these weapons. We had to repeat these fights frequently so your endurance needed to be high.

KH: A lot. I was in a gym. Before the movie started, there was five weeks of bulking up and that means eating as much protein over a period of time, which is horrific. Then I got out there and had to shred down. That was an eight week period to get in the shape I wanted to for this role. And was of course because I think it’s a very aesthetic film and I had to fit in to that aesthetic. So I got very tone and went to the gym probably three times a day, six days a week for a very long time. I had a trainer and nutritionist. It was tough but it was one of those films that required it.

SF: Gladiators are known for their ferocity and viciousness but there’s this love story between Milo and Cassia. How did you balance the two different dynamics with your character?
KH: That was quite the interesting thing about the film for me. Here’s a character that is quite similar to other characters I’ve played in looks and outlook on life, but the main difference I could see was that he was dead set on vengeance. That’s the one thing that drives him. It’s the one thing that moves him through the film to avenge his family, but also he doesn’t really share purpose in life. He sees a way of living as just killing people.

Then he meets Cassia and that all sort of changes. Then we go through the film after that with a man who’s not entirely sure what he’s feeling but knows that he has changed his outlook on life. And then the fucking volcano explodes, haha. Guy can’t catch a break.

SF: Atticus is a gladiator on the brink of freedom and then this whole volcano explodes and triggers the end of the world. What’s going through his mind?
AAA: It’s a very fascinating predicament knowing that at any moment you can die and then to have to find some kind of peace with that. The only way that I could find a reason for him to survive that circumstance was to focus, cause he’s a very spiritual man, and he really yearned to return to the family that he was taken from 20 years ago. That’s what was keeping him alive; the very thin hope of winning his freedom and being able to return home to his family. It’s a lovely texture for character for a character that obviously gets paid to kill as a form of entertainment. It is a difficult line to ride because he needs to be grounded in some kind of faith in order to have any kind of life. That was how I played him, with this nobility and hope that winning freedom would let him return to the family he loved.

SF: Which did you prefer more, the gladiator scenes or the natural disaster scenes?
KH: I prefer the gladiator scenes. I like fighting in a movie. I find it quite the cathartic experience really, weirdly. I enjoy it. Doing fight scenes is like doing a dance, and I love getting immersed in them. So yeah, I really like the gladiatorial aspect of the film.

SF: Both Milo and Attics must kill each other in order to survive, but then they end up having to work together. That must have created an interesting dynamic between you two.
AAA: Absolutely. Both men are in the same predicament. They have to win the fight. They both have their personal quests and they both need to win their own freedom. It’s an unusual dynamic of living together and initially they’re assessing each other’s weaknesses out, they’re training, and then the circumstances forces them to respect each other and come together but still knowing that they have to kill each other. It’s a wonderful dynamic.

Pompeii is now out in theaters. Be sure to check out Shakefire's review of the film.

Matt Rodriguez
Interview by Matt Rodriguez
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