Game of Thrones' Kit Harington from Westeros to Pompeii
- 2 May 2014
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
As one of the most talked-about TV series around the world, HBO's fantasy drama Game of Thrones has made stars out of its main actors. Now 27-year-old Kit Harington, from Worcester, who plays Night Watch soldier Jon Snow, has just taken his first lead role in big-budget Hollywood movie Pompeii.
Made by Resident Evil director Paul WS Anderson, Harington plays a Celtic slave, Milo, forced to fight as a gladiator in the city of Pompeii in AD79 - the year an eruption from nearby Mount Vesuvius wiped out the population of the Roman town.
The 3D film portrays the volcano, the earthquake and then the tsunami that engulfs Pompeii, adding up to a sizeable movie budget of $100m (£60m).
"I took the part deliberately a year ago because it was a lead role, and I wanted to try that out," Harington says. "Then once I was in it, I stopped feeling the pressure.
"It's only when it's done and you're the centre of attention, talking about it, that it hits you that the success of the movie is resting on your shoulders. But I really enjoyed it and I want to do more lead roles again, if I'm allowed."
Anderson describes Pompeii as "the Las Vegas of the Roman Empire" - it was where the Romans came to gamble and have fun on the Italian coast. Pompeii's unique history is down to the town, and its residents, being perfectly preserved across the millennia after they were buried in volcanic ash.
Excavations began in the 18th Century, and since then, the site near Naples has attracted thousands of tourists each year. But Harington admits he didn't go until after the film was finished.
"I didn't have time before we started shooting. I know it's bizarre, but I went after we wrapped. I wanted to go to this place that I'd be pretended to be in for so long. I'm ashamed to say I didn't do a whole amount of historical research, I took the script as gospel.
"But then I went to all the exhibitions and I was pleasantly surprised to see that we were very historically accurate. I mean, we're a big-budget action movie and we're bound to take historical liberties. But not many.
"We were very painstaking in re-creating Pompeii in Toronto, where we shot the film. I think we built around 30 different sets, including the Coliseum where the gladiators fight. It was strangely similar walking through the real town."
Ancient disaster movie
Inevitably, Harington admits, there will be comparisons to Ridley Scott's Oscar-winning 2000 drama Gladiator. "But I'm not about to try and do Russell Crowe impressions. There is a lot in this movie that is Gladiator-esque, but you can't make a historical film featuring gladiators that won't.
"The main focus in this is the volcano erupting, then the earthquake and then the tidal wave. Really, it's an ancient disaster movie."
Two of Harington's co-stars in Pompeii, Keifer Sutherland and Jared Harris, have also enjoyed huge success in big-budget TV dramas, 24 and Mad Men respectively. Harington's Thrones co-stars, including Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner and Lena Headey, have all been offered film roles off the success of the TV series.
Harington believes that "TV has been able to offer all actors opportunities it couldn't have a decade ago - and it's made my film career happen. Certainly the quality of television is on an equal footing to film now, but I can't think of committing to any other TV series apart from Game of Thrones.
"Actually, I'm contracted to them right now anyway, so I can't, but it's the only one I want to do. I'm doing all my film roles in between shooting for the series, I can't even change my hair or my beard for parts, which limits me - I've got to look like Jon Snow.
"I'm always amazed by how much people love the character of Jon though, I suppose he's one of the truly good people who's managed to survive so far. I know that I'll be thought of as him for a long time - sometimes fans come up to me and are really upset that I'm not actually Jon Snow, wearing fur and fighting Wildlings."
'Star on the rise'
Game of Thrones, originally written as a novel by author George RR Martin, has much of its roots in ancient and medieval history - including Jon Snow's military stronghold, The Wall, loosely based on the Roman Hadrian's Wall in the North of England.
"I think Thrones has had a real impact on producers being willing to invest money in period pieces in film and television in order to make something look historically accurate, as I think it's tapped into a fascination we all have with the past," the actor says.
"I'm not sure that Thrones could qualify as a historical set piece though, it's got too much fantasy in it, and it's not 'swords and sandals' the way Pompeii is.
"I don't have much luck with my roles though, do I? I'm either Jon Snow, stuck in the Night's Watch, unable to get married or leave, or I'm a gladiator in an arena about to die horribly every day. I'm really stuck as to which of my characters has the worst life. For real life this is amazing though - I never thought I'd make it this far as an actor."
Critics have declared themselves "not blown away" by Pompeii, volcanic eruption or not, with the Hollywood Reporter saying, "the lava flows, as does the cheese".
The Washington Post notes that "Harington's star is on the rise, but his first starring role doesn't showcase what he can do from an acting viewpoint. His startlingly defined six-pack abs are the most memorable part of the character."
Kit Harington says he's "very proud of the film - it's old-fashioned action with great special effects" but admits that he's "had enough of historical characters for now" - although he will star in fantasy adventure Seventh Son, with Julianne Moore, next year.
"I was desperate to do something contemporary after Pompeii and the last series of Thrones," he says, "and now I'm filming the movie version of another hit TV series, Spooks. I just had to go and be someone modern for a change."
Pompeii is in the UK cinemas now.