Kit Harington on first leading movie role in ‘Pompeii’: ‘I enjoy trying to look bad-ass’

“Pompeii” the film is a disaster flick, a gladiator movie and a love story all wrapped into one, with Kit Harington in its center. Already with the experience of living the life of Jon Snow in “Game of Thrones,” the British actor took up the sword again, added some muscle and got all-new sizes for his leather-dominated wardrobe to star oppisite of Kiefer Sutherland, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Carrie-Anne Moss and more.
On the set of “Pompeii” in Toronto, a practically built gladiator arena was warm and flush with extras, of whom were cheering (and jeering) Harington’s Milo as he slaughtered armed combatants and flung himself on top of a runaway horse. Milo’s struggle from freedom will be tested in the many preceding disasters to the big blast, like large waves from the sea, rolling stones and a rain of ash and fire, his story set during the couple of days that lead up to the infamous eruption of Mount Vesuvius which leveled the Roman-run Italian city.
It’s a hard days’ work it seems. Which is OK, because Harington likes to be bad-ass.
Here is Harington’s interview from the set.
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,” it”s very 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?
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 curl]… 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?
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 f*cking 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?
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 f*cking 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?
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 f*cking 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?
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 f*cking 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?
I love those guys. They”re f*cking 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?
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 f*cking 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, what you”re going to be wearing all the time?
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 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?
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. What does that mean to you? Being a hero, what does that mean?
Again, at drama school, I was always playing the 11-year-old boys. [laughs] Because without this, 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.
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 sh*t 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.
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?
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.
Have you learned something along the way that you will be able to apply to a future movie or when you pick another project?
Yeah, I”m getting a lot of confidence from this, and conviction. I”ve always been a bit of a self-doubter, I think a lot of actors are. I still am. But there”s something about being a lead in a movie which gives you a certain confidence about yourself that I didn”t have before maybe. And I think that”s the thing that I really have learned. And also, when you”re a lead role, I”m learning that you set a tone for the movie in a way, like a director does, or like other actors do. But it seems like you set a mood on set.
I know what you”re saying. If you”re in a bad mood, it can trickle down.
Yeah, because you”re there so often, and you know the crew so well. And I don”t know, I think it may sound arrogant, but I think you do.
Can you talk about your character and the backstory? We”ve heard from other people about the character. What are your feelings on him?
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 f*cked 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. 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.
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.
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 who are whipping you and everything. 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, and I just got better in time. And it”s been great actually. But I”ve got f*cking 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?
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 f*cking nuts, those stunt guys.
I know you”re getting ready for next week, you”re doing a big fight scene. 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 filmed 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 just picking things up and doing it off the cuff. So I”m enjoying that aspect of it at the moment.