Harington calls the tale of the ancient Italian town destroyed by a volcanic eruption the "original disaster epic," but the new film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (mastermind behind the "Resident Evil" film franchise) also gives him a chance to play a love story with Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of a wealthy Pompeii merchant, as well as face off against a series of fellow warriors and the corrupt Roman senator Corvis (Kiefer Sutherland).
The movie gives Harington a chance to show off his fighting skills, his abs, and his way with a woman, but he's got more than swordplay in mind. With a voice part in "How to Train Your Dragon 2," a small role in the much-delayed fantasy "Seventh Son" and, of course, "Game of Thrones" all coming up, Harington plans to keep moving between TV and film as well as lead and supporting roles.
Moviefone spoke with the actor about taking his first lead, getting in shape for the part, working with Anderson and that little cable series of his.
Moviefone: This is your first lead role in a movie. How does it feel to step into that and accept that responsibility?
Kit Harington: It's kind of terrifying and there's a lot of pressure on it, but I wouldn't be an actor if I didn't like risk to a certain extent, and this was not a big risk to take. It's terrifying now because, as the lead actor, you start looking at the film and wondering how it's going to do, or if it's going to help your career or where it's going to send you, as the lead. The really good things about it are how immersed you become in the filming and how much a part of the crew you become. You're there day in and day out, you're the person that has the closest relationship with all the crew members, with the director, with the producers, and you really feel part of that ensemble that you don't feel necessarily if you're, like I have been, more of a supporting actor. You're not coming in and doing a few days here and a few days there; it's much more immersive. And I really enjoyed that. It's kind of addictive and I definitely want to play lead roles again.
Do you see yourself more as a leading man or an all-around character actor?
I'd like to do it more, but I've done this leading role now, so next I feel like I want to step back and do some really interesting supporting roles. I never see myself as just a lead. I think that's a mistake, and never just as a supporting lead. I had a big meeting with my agents recently and I said I want to do some really interesting supporting roles. I want to back up and do some other kinds of roles so that when I'm in my post-"Thrones" 30s, I can step back into those roles with a lot of experience about what I want to do under my belt. So I've done the action hero leading role now -- I don't think my next project will be an action hero leading role.
How intense was the training to get into shape for this?
It's definitely the most intense that I've ever done, and also the most intense that I recommend anyone ever do. I really went for it -- we all did on set -- and I wanted to look the part. A gladiator historically was a very, very fit, trim person. They knew their life depended on it, they were the celebrities of their day, they were well fed, they were well kept like prize pigs, you know. So I wanted to look really, really lean and fit because the character was meant to, and that required a lot of work. I said to Paul when we first met, "I really, really want to go for this. I want to do the body transformation thing and I want to do it quite radically."
So we tried two different body types out and the one that fit me was more the lean, shredded one. That required three meals being sent to me in the morning each day and a very, very rabbit food diet, then hitting the gym three times a day, six days a week for four months. It was really intense to the point where I was exhausted three-quarters of the way through filming, what with the fight scenes and all that. If I wasn't on set, I was doing fight training. I'm very proud of this film because I put everything into it, and I hope it shows. It was a lot of fun, but it was obsessional. [Laughs]
I read that you've always had a fascination with the story of Pompeii...what struck you about this take on it?
The thing that fascinated me when I first read the script was -- I first got the script and when I saw that it said "Pompeii," I thought, "Well, that's actually not been done." And I thought, that's actually the original disaster epic, isn't it? It's in all our minds and it lives in our culture. And I think what really stuck with me as the "plaster cast" people [the people frozen in ash] and I loved the idea of telling the stories of these people...when you go to Pompeii and you see the people, you see this pregnant woman clutching her belly or you see a man covering his face or someone reaching up to God, you can't help but wonder about their lives and what they were doing at the moment of death and who they were, because they're there for eternity. I loved that idea.
Are you looking forward to one day playing a role in a suit and tie, or perhaps jeans and a T-shirt? You've done a lot of period costume stuff.
Yeah. [Laughs] I've done the period stuff now and I've enjoyed it. I really have. You never know where your career's going to go, and mine went in that direction mainly because of "Thrones." "Seventh Son" was like that too and even "Silent Hill" is a genre piece. It's sort of time for me to do something a bit more...still. So my next projects are going to be in this century and maybe holding a gun instead of a sword and that's what I want to do next.
Can you talk a little about "How to Train Your Dragon 2"?
Sure. "How to Train Your Dragon," the first one, was a film I'd seen prior to being approached for the sequel. I don't often watch family animated movies, but it's one that I loved and thought was really well done, beautifully crafted storytelling. I was thrilled to be asked to do a part in the new one. I've got a really interesting part. I'm doing my final [voice] session very soon, and then it comes out this summer. I think it's going to be good; it crosses that boundary between being just a kid's film and actually being quite a profound story.
And then of course you've recently completed work on season 4 of "Game of Thrones"...
Season 4 of "Thrones" is very much the most I've ever had to do for it, as far as my character is concerned. I wouldn't say it's Jon Snow's season, but there's a lot of stuff done up at the Wall. It's the most expensive season they've ever done, there's probably one of the most expensive episodes of television ever made within it, and whereas some seasons have been impact seasons, where something unexpected happens, this is a full-blown action season. It's going to be thrilling, I think. It was my favorite on paper -- it's just jam-packed full of really interesting scenes for all the characters. I read the whole thing. Sometimes I sort of dip in and out of my bits and everyone else's bits and read it sporadically. This time I read the whole thing and I was glued to it. It's going to be good -- I hope!
"Pompeii" blasts into theaters February 21.