Time Out Melbourne

Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow goes from ice to fire in a new blockbuster disaster movie

Kit Harington did not get to visit the real Pompeii until after work had finished on the movie, but the experience was no less affecting. Victims of the volcano, which erupted in AD79 and buried two entire cities in the Bay of Naples, had their forms preserved in layers of ash for 2,000 years; plaster casts made in the 19th century reveal them in their death throes, like macabre statues.

“There’s a woman who’s sort of curled up clutching her pregnant belly,” Harington recalls, “which was very moving, because if you think about it, what do you protect in the moment of death? Most people were protecting their faces because of the gas and this woman is just clutching her belly.”

Harington, a slight, unassuming and – all right – strikingly handsome 27-year-old from Worcester, England, plays Jon Snow, a brother of the Night’s Watch, on HBO fantasy series (and worldwide water-cooler obsession) Game of Thrones. Unlike many major characters on the show, which is adapted from the gritty fantasy novels by George RR Martin, Jon Snow has survived into the fourth season, airing in Australia on Showcase from April 7.

(“I can say it’s a very action-packed season,” Harington tells Time Out when we meet him at Sydney’s InterContinental Hotel. “We normally build towards a final climax whereas in this season we climax every third episode.” Insert your own joke here, fans of the show's rampant sex and nudity.)

Last year Harington was looking for a movie project to complete in between seasons of the show. And movie projects, in return, were looking for him. “I thought this guy was just a movie star waiting to explode,” Pompeii’s director, Paul WS Anderson, told The Washington Post recently. After binge-watching the first two seasons of Thrones in 48 hours Anderson was convinced he’d found the actor to star as Celtic gladiator Milo in his long-cherished project about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

“I was a bit flattered and I thought, OK, I like the idea of the movie,” the actor says. “Paul showed me pictures of what he wanted to do visually and I did respond to his enthusiasm.”

The film, easily the best Anderson has made in a critically ungarlanded career (ahem, Alien vs Predator, cough, Resident Evil), blends the swords-and-sandals genre with romantic historical tragedy – Gladiator meets Titanic, if you will.

“Milo’s whole family is slaughtered at the top of the movie and he’s taken into slavery as a child. He’s raised to be a gladiator then taken to Pompeii. He’s driven by rage and revenge because of what’s been done to him and he doesn’t see a purpose in life until he meets the woman he falls in love with.” Harington laughs. “And then the volcano comes along and ruins it all.”

The actor plays opposite Australia's Emily Browning (Sleeping Beauty, Sucker Punch). Browning’s aristocratic lady of Pompeii, Cassia, notices the buff Milo across a crowded chain gang, and passion starts to smoulder like magma.

To obtain a warrior’s physique, Harington threw himself into a regime first of weight gain then of three-times-daily gym sessions prior to the film’s Toronto shoot. Already familiar with sword fighting, he was pleased to find by the time he returned to the Thrones set that his blade technique had vastly improved.

One thing he did not relish about his first starring Hollywood role, however, was the preponderance of digital special effects. “Once the volcano goes off there was a lot of looking at green screens and pretending it was our impending death. It’s great for audiences but I’m not a huge fan of green-screen acting.”

Then again, much of the experience was all too real.

“There were lots of plastic boulders falling on you, and ash – which was apparently potato starch, but I think was more like house insulation. The crew all wore masks and we’d go: ‘Are you sure this is safe?’ And they’d go: ‘Yeah, no, it’s fine, don’t worry about it.’ And then they’d put the masks back on.’”

Pompeii opens in cinemas Thu Mar 20.

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Updated on 6 Mar 2014.

By Nick Dent   |   Photos by Daniel Boud

Kit Harington on Pompeii video

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