Kit Harington began his career in the London West End production of “War Horse,” and went on to land the coveted role of Jon Snow, a skilled horseman, in the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”
This weekend, Harington makes his debut as a big-screen leading man in the Paul W.S. Anderson action epic “Pompeii,” which finds the 27-year-old Brit playing Milo, a slave-turned-gladiator with a knack for reigning in – you guessed it – horses.
Set amid the devastating 79 A.D. eruption of Italy’s Mount Vesuvius, “Pompeii” follows Milo as he attempts to rescue a wealthy merchant’s daughter (Emily Browning) while thwarting the pursuits of a corrupt senator (Kiefer Sutherland) and fleeing the city before it’s buried in poisonous ash. Actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (“Lost”) co-stars as fellow gladiator Atticus, who puts an initial feud with Milo aside to aid him in the quest.
I recently sat down with Harington and Akinnuoye-Agbaje to talk about the dazzling 3D adventure, uncover the perils of movie ash and find out what the deal is with all those horses.
David Onda: Have either of you been to the real Pompeii, and what did you take away from the experience?
Kit Harington: I went after the movie finished. I decided to go to Pompeii because I wanted to see it after doing a movie about all these people who died. It felt important to see the place – not in a very spiritual way, but I just wanted to see it. And it was fascinating. It’s amazing. It’s much bigger than you think it is. It’s very, very moving and, at the same time, it’s just so intriguing to see in very great detail how Romans lived. And they weren’t so different from us, apart from a few certain things.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: They had a few odd obsessions, but they were quite a sophisticated society back them. And in the movie, there was meticulous [attention] paid by the production to try and recreate it. It’s astonishing what we were able to recreate – and then input some of what they shot in Pompeii – and put it all together to have the spectacle we have now as the movie.
Onda: The fight scenes in “Pompeii” are pretty great. What’s it like training for those battles?
Harington: It’s a dance. Those things are dances, and it’s very important to think of it like that. You are learning sword fighting skills, but you’re also – for want of a better word – it’s like having a dance partner. You’re really trying to make it look like a real fight, when actually it’s very, very safe. But there are times when we were fighting on sand that had bits of glass in it; we had cuts all over us, bruises. You go home stiff every night.
Akinnuoye-Agbaje: It’s all part of the process. You put your input in as an actor, but safety is the key. We were using alloy blades. They weren’t rubber. We got a real sense of the weight of the blades, and the ax I was carrying was 15 or 20 pounds. They can injure you, which is why it’s important to do the choreography and look out for each other’s safety.
Onda: Kit, this may seem like a silly question, given your extensive history with horses, but are you comfortable with horses?
Onda: There are some actors who are terrified of them!
Akinnuoye-Agbaje: That would be me!
Harington: I knew nothing about horses before starting my acting career, and then suddenly every job I do, I’m on a horse. It’s really strange how that happened. So, yeah, my first job [“War Horse”] was being a horse whisperer. My second [“Game of Thrones”], I’m an adept horse rider. And in this, I’m a horse whisperer. There were times in this – there’s a scene where the horse is bucking up. We tried to do it in separate bits with the horse doing that and then me, but at times you have to be together and that got scary. I feel like we have a love-hate relationship, me and horses. They know I’m not really very good on a horse, but I kind of think they’re beautiful creatures.
Onda: And you’re not so great with horses, Adewale?
Akinnuoye-Agbaje: You know, I have a very healthy respect for horses. [laughs] So much so, that I leave them alone.
Harington: A healthy respect from a distance.
Onda: Emily Browning seems like a lot of fun. You’ve said you enjoy teasing her, Kit. Could you elaborate?
Harington: It’s like I’m a tiger and she’s a possum, and I’m attacking her. [laughs] She’s great. That’s a very weird analogy. She’s really fun and a very good friend now. We had a great dynamic, I hope. The way I work as an actor is I like to feel out a dynamic with another actor off-set, so I know what I’m dealing with. And I got on very well with her. She’s a good laugh and she’s an Aussie, which is fun.
Onda: Through the latter half of “Pompeii,” you are covered in this thick volcanic ash. What was that substance made out of?
Akinnuoye-Agbaje: He looked like me. [laughs heartily] He came out looking like my twin.
Harington: Oh, god it was a bad day. That ash was made out of house insulation. We’re basically breathing in house insulation. They assured me it was safe, but I’m waiting for the lawsuit in the future.
Akinnuoye-Agbaje: [still laughing] When he develops a third ear on his forehead.
Harington: When I get lung cancer, I’m calling up Paul W.S. Anderson. It was horrible. It really was.
Akinnuoye-Agbaje: I felt for you, man. I really felt for him.
Harington: The sand was nasty, the heat was nasty, the rain could be nasty, it could be cold – it was a really tough shoot. But the ash… I never wanna go through that.
Onda: What is the “Game of Thrones” line people yell at you the most?
Harington: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
Onda: And I bet it never gets old.
Akinnuoye-Agbaje: It’s going to follow you all the way through your 50-year career.
Harrington: And I still won’t know what it means.
“Pompeii” is now open in theaters everywhere. Click here to purchase tickets through Fandango.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.