Pompeii star Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje on the joy of making an explosive swords’n’sandals epic
“Myself and Kit Harington were sent to Gladiator Bootcamp four weeks prior to shooting. We did two hours of sword fighting, an hour’s weight-lifting and an hour’s cardio every day, and we were put on a 1,800-calorie diet.
Our director, Paul WS Anderson, was intent on having the actors not only look the part, but also be able to perform our own stunts.
We were trained in what I call ‘the alphabet of swordsmanship’, which was a very dull, monotonous drill every single morning. But when you put those things together with another fighter, it’s poetic, it looks beautiful. I had to take my hat off to Kit, because yes, I was very handy and there were a few fancy twirls, but he had two swords, and that requires a lot of skill.
His character was about the speed and primal ferocity, whereas mine was about technique and power. To see those two fighting styles clash is really interesting. We shot most of the dialogue scenes first, so as characters we were able to bond and get a feel for who they were, as opposed to jumping around and beating
each other up.
The sets were enormous. There were days when we shot in the amphitheatre – that’s the arena where the fights took place – when there were up to 400 extras in there, which really conjures the atmosphere – when they’re cheering you, you get into it.
When the volcano erupted, it would throw these boulders that were about five-miles wide, and then land on you indiscriminately. We had explosives on set, so when you see the boulders being thrown and landing close to us, an explosive would go off next to you. The most effective CGI was when I was running from the tsunami. There were two massive tanks of water over my head and a very distinct marker I had to hit in a certain time, because otherwise I was going to drown. That was real water being released every time I crossed the line with a baby in my hands. Remarkably, I found I could sprint extremely fast when they told me to. Plus the baby I was holding was the stuntman’s daughter.
This is the reason I got into movies. I grew up watching the epics – Spartacus, Ben Hur, Ten Commandments – and this is a homage to that. To be able to do this while I’m young and fit enough is a delight.”