In the 3-D spectacle “Pompeii,” which opens Friday, Kit Harington and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje play slaves forced to fight in gladiator battles in giant arenas – at least until that pesky volcano starts acting up. To reveal that the two men start out as mortal enemies and end up as friends doesn’t spoil anything: Instead, it reveals that “Pompeii” is a disaster movie with an unusual emphasis on character. Yes, the destruction is awesome, but the people who are swept up in it make you care.
Because there are so many plotlines in the film, Harington, 28, and Akinnuoye-Agbaje, 47, don’t get a lot of screen time to depict their transformation from foes to allies. But during a recent stop in Miami to promote the film, the actors said developing a genuine connection was easy while prepping for the film.
“We didn’t have any choice but to spend time together,” Harington says. “We were constantly at gladiator boot camp and training in the gym together. It helped that Adewale is such a professional and lovely man. But by the time we started filming, you could see our camaraderie on the screen.”
The two actors also had certain things in common: Both were born in London and burst into stardom via HBO shows: Akinnuoye-Agbaje spent four seasons playing the memorable Adebisi on “Oz,” while Harington is in his fourth season playing Jon Snow on the hit “Game of Thrones.”
Although actors who become famous playing iconic characters on TV often have difficulty being considered for other roles, both men say the attention their HBO shows brought them has been mostly a boon.
“It is definitely – excuse the pun – a double-edged sword,” Harington says about the snowballing popularity of “Game of Thrones.” “But without ‘Thrones’ I wouldn’t have been offered a movie like this. I love working on TV because it’s liberating. You get to spend six months on the same project, you’ve got steady work each year, and then you have six months to do what you like. You don’t have to do movies for money. You get to make them for passion. But yes, there are times when a TV role keeps you from doing some things you want to do.”
“There’s a nice balance that comes from working on TV,” Akinnuoye-Agbaje says. “If the material is good, nothing else matters. Good work begets good work. When you’re fortunate enough to work with HBO, where they make groundbreaking shows and really focus on character development, that has ramifications on your career. Everything I’ve done since, from ‘Lost’ to ‘The Bourne Identity,’ I’ve been hired based on my performance of that character on ‘Oz.’ So I could never knock it.”
With its gargantuan special effects, “Pompeii” requires a leap of faith from its actors (the cast includes Kiefer Sutherland and Carrie-Anne Moss) to hope the director will be able to bring to life what’s written on the page. But Harington and Akinnuoye-Agbaje say they didn’t hesitate to put their trust in the hands of filmmaker Paul W. S. Anderson (the “Resident Evil” movies, “Death Race”).
“This was a pet project for Paul that he had wanted to make for years,” Akinnuoye-Agbaje says. “Finally the special effects technology became sophisticated enough for him to make it, and he had a big enough stature to get support from a studio. That gave me confidence in him, because he had such a personal attachment to Pompeii. He was fascinated by it.”
“I knew I would be in good hands, because there are few directors out there who have as much experience with 3-D special effects as Paul,” Harington says. “He knows what he’s doing with this stuff. And when he’s directing you, he knows exactly what he wants. That’s a great place to be for an actor.”
Harington has already completed filming on “Seventh Son,” a fantasy-adventure co-starring Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore, and Akinnuoye-Agbaje is wrapping up production on “Annie,” a new version of the Broadway staple. As for the fourth season of “Game of Thrones,” which debuts on April 6, Harington says he’s braced for the extra exposure, since the show’s fan base grows with each year.
“Getting recognized in public is not too bad,” he says. “It’s a nice balance. It started off always with people saying ‘Look, it’s Jon Snow!’ and I guess my job is to do movies like Pompeii so I’m known for something other than that. I love the character, and I love growing with him over a long amount of time. He’s a young man, he makes mistakes, he learns, and that’s happening in my personal life, too: I’m a young man, I’m learning, and we’re growing up together.”
But will the North get payback on the treacherous Lannisters this season? Harington stays mum but flashes a knowing smile. That’s good enough for us.