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Friday 19 January 2018

Game of Thrones's Kit is the perfect fit for epic Pompeii

Actor Kit Harington has been in the line of fire as Jon Snow in the hit TV series Game of Thrones, but nothing prepared him for the heat of the battle as a gladiator in his first blockbuster, Pompeii.

Kit Harington in Pompeii
Kit Harington in Pompeii

Katy Harrington

If you don't know who Kit Harington is, then I have three words for you – Game of Thrones. When season four of the show (based on George R.R. Martin's novels) aired in the US earlier this month it attracted a record-breaking 6.6 million feverish American fans. Over half a million fans in the UK stayed up until 2am to see it at the same time as US audiences, while Irish viewers had to wait patiently for another 24 hours before catching the first episode on Sky Atlantic here. Game of Thrones is not just the biggest fantasy show on TV, it's the biggest TV show in the world, full stop.

Harington, who plays Jon Snow, has been a central character from day one and a huge hit with viewers who have fallen for the dark-eyed, brooding hero with his trademark blacker-than-an-oil-slick curls and lips that were made to be kissed. He's been on the cover of Rolling Stone, had spreads in Esquire and GQ, fan sites and blogs devoted to him. If you need any proof of how many people fancy him, type his name into Google where you'll find that 'dating' and 'shirtless' are two of the most searched words after his name.

The third most searched word is Pompeii, the film he is in London to promote. It's his first blockbuster – a fast paced action/adventure movie with lots of flesh, fighting and one epic natural disaster courtesy of a very angry and fiery Mount Vesuvius. Harington plays Milo, a.k.a 'The Celt', a gladiator with a grudge. He's not "a modern man" says Harington, "he lives to fight, until he falls he in love, then it's a case of see girl, get girl. He's a pretty simple character".

In person, Harington is small but perfectly formed. Intense and sexy, the actor has a face that could launch a thousand ships, and a body that will float just as many boats. Pompeii director Paul W. S. Anderson wanted a leading man who could do romantic and be believable as a ruthless professional warrior; he knew Harington could do mean and moody, but he hadn't played the lead in a huge movie before and he didn't have the body of a gladiator – yet. By now Harington is fed up of being asked about his abs (which feature prominently in the movie). "There's a lot of skin on show," he admits, and getting in gladiator shape wasn't easy. He started training more than a month before filming started and from then on there was no let-up for the four months it took to shoot Pompeii. "I was on set every day and when I wasn't filming, I was in stunt rehearsal," he says. "It was tough".

Beefing up wasn't the only challenge. "I've had mud, rainstorms and severe winds thrown at me. There were days when we were fighting outside in the amphitheatre where the temperatures hit 100 degrees," but nothing, he says, was worse than the ash. "If you were doing dialogue, you ended up inhaling a lot of it ... we've been pretty much covered in every element there is in this movie, it was pretty brutal."

While strong, silent (and violent) characters seem to attract him, Harington says the historical aspect of the film was a draw too. "I've done lots of period movies and I genuinely enjoy them. The story of Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius resonated with me. I was intrigued by the plaster casts of the people caught in the eruption." Which begs the question, if he had been alive when Vesuvius erupted what would he have been caught doing? "I think I'd like to have been doing something fun like dancing. But I suppose what you're asking me is what I'd like to be doing in the last moments of my life, so ... " he says, leaning forward and almost whispering ... "having sex". Which begs another next question – with whom? To which it's a flat "no comment". (Rumours are Harington is single, having split from Rose Leslie who plays his on-screen love interest in Game of Thrones).

As for his sex symbol status, he says: "I am very British so I'm quite reticent about talking about myself. It isn't something that comes naturally ... it's a bit embarrassing really. Every shoot that I go to now they ask me to take my shirt off. I don't like being objectified." It's equally strange seeing himself on billboards and the sides of buses and not getting caught up in the hype requires "practice". He has seen how the movie business can change you if you aren't careful, but says his friends and family keep him grounded.

Christopher Catesby Harington (Kit is a nickname) was born in Worcester. His father David Richard Harington, mother Deborah Jane Catesby (a playwright) and older brother John are listed on a genealogical website of Britain's peerage, in other words, he's posh. He studied drama and theatre at the Central School of Speech And Drama, but before graduating in 2008, he landed the lead role in the award-winning stage production of War Horse. After a year in War Horse, he appeared in Posh at the Royal Court Theatre in London before being cast as Jon Snow, the role that changed his career but not his life. "In my day-to-day living of my life, it hasn't [changed] really. My friends are still the same. I still spend time with my family." He's shot two more films in between Game of Thrones commitments, so the biggest change so far he says is simply is that he is "never home".

Home is London, but Harington spends half the year filming Game of Thrones (or just 'Thrones' as he calls it) in Northern Ireland, where the scenery at the Cushendun Caves in Co Antrim; Castle Ward and Tollymore Forest Park in Co Down, Downhill Beach in Co Londonderry and Strangford Lough is used as the settings for the Stormlands, Dragonstone, Iron Islands, Riverlands and Winterfell. He admits that outside the North he hasn't seen as much of the country as he'd like. "I did go on a trip to Donegal with a friend and rented a little cottage outside Killybegs and loved it there". He's planning a second road trip so he can visit Dublin and see the South if he can find the time.

Having just wrapped on a First World War movie, he might give heroes a break for his next role, but it sounds like he will always be drawn to dark characters. "I'd like to play someone modern, someone f***ed up, or do a road movie."

As for Pompeii, it's an hour and 45 minutes of non-stop action with an epic fire and brimstone finish. Its male protagonists are muscle-bound, monosyllabic and blood thirsty, its women are loyal, whimpering and busty. It's a film with a great body and no brain, but luckily its leading man has both.

Pompeii is in cinemas now

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