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"Pompeii" Stars Talk Exhausting Training and What They Would Save From A Volcano

Adewale Akinnuoye- Agbaje and Kit Harington attend a promotional screening of "Pompeii.
Adewale Akinnuoye- Agbaje and Kit Harington attend a promotional screening of "Pompeii.
Photo by Araya Diaz/Getty Images for Sony

The new movie “Pompeii,” in theaters now, is an epic disaster film in the vein of “The Day After Tomorrow” or “2012.” Starring “Game of Thrones” actor Kit Harington and Adewale Akinnuoye- Agbaje from “Lost” and “The Wire,” the film follows Milo, a slave turned gladiator, who partners with a fellow gladiator in a race against the clock to save Milo’s true love as Mount Vesuvius begins to erupt.

The actors made a stop in Philadelphia last month to promote the film. Fittingly, The Franklin Institute, which is currently has the “One Day in Pompeii” exhibit on display, hosted a promotional screening of the film. The actors walked the red carpet prior to the screening to discuss the exhausting nature of working on a film of this magnitude, and, of course, how Harington’s big screen role measures up to his iconic “Game of Thrones” character.

What drew you to the project?

Kit Harington: I’ve always been intrigued with the story of Pompeii; I've always been fascinated. There’s lots there historically that I was interested.

Adewale Akinnuoye- Agbaje: There are always two things that I look at when I approach a project. Do I like the story and do I like my part in that story. It was yes in both accounts. You don’t get characters that are so well crafted and layered as Atticus. He is truly iconic. But at the same time, the emotion is human. As an actor when you see that, you know it’s gold. It’s something to emulate that as a man.

You both have a resume filled with genre films. Are you attracted to these types of roles?

KH: Yes, I am actually. I’ve done a lot that is fantasy and period, but now I am wanting to do some things different from that. I think when I initially got "Thrones" through when it was a pilot, I loved it because of the fantasy element in it. Through "Thrones" I loved being in a period drama.

AA: I love the physicality [of action films]. When you are still agile and able to do that I think it is great. I love the physical roles. I play a range, but I do like that. I love, for instance in this movie, the whole regime – the training program – it was quite intense. They built a serious structure around us, fight training, weight training , nutrition, so we can really emulate the gladiators of their day. Not just look like it, but feel like it. As a human being, you take a little something from every movie you do. The discipline, the focus, is what I strive on.

What was the hardest part of preparing to make “Pompeii”?

KH: It was exhausting. It was the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. A physician diagnosed me with exhaustion. I was so tired. You push yourself to the limits on an action film like this. It’s physically demanding and a body transformation.

AA: The diet. It was like eating paper. You have to do that for four or four and a half months and you go coocoo. It was really tough. But ultimately, it was rewarding.

Kit, this is your first leading role. What was it like jumping into that role from being in an ensemble with “Game of Thrones”?

KH: "Game of Thrones" is very segmented into lots of different stories. I am a principal character on the show, but it doesn’t mean that much screen time. In this, there was a lot of filming. There was a lot of days on set. I was there most of the time. It was my first leading role. It was a new experience and it was a very demanding role. Then I went back to Thrones and got the luxury of jumping in and out as I do. So, I could get addicted to leading roles. I love them. That’s one of the reasons I took this film, to do a leading role.

With taking a big, leading role like this, that will increase the likelihood of being recognized on the street. How do you feel about getting recognized?

KH: Recognition leads to jobs, that is the main reason you do it. You get to do more and more interesting roles. So that’s great. I don’t think any of us as actors would say we didn't like getting recognized on the street. It’s lovely meeting fans.

In the film, Milo is racing against the clock to save the girl he loves before the volcano erupts. If you were in a situation like Pompeii, what one thing would you take?

KH: My character takes the girl, I think that is a pretty good one. I think if I was in love with a girl, I would probably take the girl. I think that was his first and foremost thought.

AA: I think for me, it would be my lover. When you are that close to death, you are always going to seek that which touches you the most.

You both play gladiators in this film. But Kit, I have to ask the inevitable question. Who would win in a fight between Jon Snow and Milo?

KH: Good question. They fight very differently. Milo very often fights with two short Roman swords. Hes very, very quick. Jon Snow is a slugger. He’s got a big two handed sword. I think Milo [would win]. I had to do a fight with a long sword against two short swords before and its very hard. So maybe the two short swords. Maybe I can make it happen one day with CGI?

Adewale, you have a diverse resume that has seen you as both the hero and the villain. Do you have more fun playing one versus the other?

AA: I always love the villain. But in this one, it’s a combination of both because he is really a well-crafted character. He is villainous in the way he has to kill, but he is a hero in what he stands for. So this was the perfect combination.

What is coming up next for you guys?

KH: I am in an animated movie "How To Train Your Dragon 2". I loved the first one and loving doing the second one.

Adewale, you have been filming the upcoming remake of Annie with Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz. What can we expect from that?

AA: It’s a marked difference from what I played with an actor in the sand. It was a really fun project to do. I loved working with young Quvenzhane Wallis. For me, what drew me is to show another side of my own acting repertoire, which was the lighthearted, humorous and goofy side. In a movie like "Annie," you have to be goofy. It’s for children, there’s a freedom in that.