While Emily Browning was front and center kicking ass in Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, for director Paul W.S. Anderson’s disaster epic Pompeii, she’s more on the sidelines, trying to flee a forced marriage to Kiefer Sutherland’s character while also trying to reconnect with her true love, played by Kit Harington. If it sounds like she’s playing the typical love interest in a big budget disaster film….it’s because she is. However, during a group interview on the Toronto set earlier this year, Browning told us she gets to “go head to head with Kiefer,” and she’s part of a number of action scenes. In addition, she talked about filming on the practical sets, what it was like work with Harington, what she learned about ancient Rome, and much more. Hit the jump for what she had to say.
Before going any further, if you haven’t watched the Pompeii trailer, I’d watch that first:
EMILY BROWNING: (laughs) Well, um, it’s sort of not really ever revealed how Corvis and Cassia know one another, she’s been in Rome studying and she comes back and sees him and is freaked out, so obviously they have a little run-in in Rome and she’s grossed out by him. I think that’s kind of what attracted me to Cassia is the fact that she has been brought up in all this privilege but is really not interested in marrying some dude who has a bunch of money and she… I guess she’s a little bit… she’s a little bit sort of hardened at the beginning, like maybe she’s had a lot of attention from these kind of guys and she’s just really not into it. And it’s me meeting Milo and realizing that woah I have feelings for a boy that softens her up a little bit. But, yeah in a sense I guess… well, I wouldn’t say that the volcano eruption is lucky for her (laughs) but it kind of does get her out of, it gets her out of a very compromising position, because she, obviously she’s in a place where it looks like she is going to have to marry him to save her family, to protect her family.
And really hard to fall in love with Kit Harington?
BROWNING: So difficult, he’s hideous! (laughs) Um, no, it’s weird actually because we started hanging out when we were first shooting, but we didn’t film a scene together for like the first two weeks. So by the time we had to shoot the first scene where we were like you know, all gaga over each other, we’d become kind of like… I mean I think he’d already met my boyfriend by then, we’d become sort of like bros. So the day before that scene I was super nervous, like ‘ah now it’s weird, we’re friends and we have to pretend to like each other it’s kinda strange’ but I think we did all right, I think we managed.
BROWNING: I read up a lot about women’s roles at that time and it was very interesting. Obviously girls were still very much controlled by men and were oppressed in that sense, but women actually had a lot more power in ancient Rome than people expected. Daughters would often advise their fathers on their business decisions, and the thing I liked also was that, even though obviously it’s a whole different scenario with Corvis because he kind of like is blackmailing her parents, but a woman would never actually… even once she was married she was never expected to answer to her husband above her father, the family was still who she would answer to. And women could represent themselves in court, so in a way it was sort of advanced I mean horrifically sexist but kind of advanced in that way. But I think Cassia is pretty tough, she doesn’t want to be told what to do. She says right at the beginning of the film I don’t want to marry anyone, I’m not interested. Yeah, I think she manages to hold her own, but is still kind of frustrated that her dad won’t listen to her as much as she would like, because at the very start she advises him against getting into bed with the Romans, she hates the idea that there’s a Roman Senator at the house, and she disagrees with what’s going on there with the Emperor and everything, yeah it’s frustrating for her that he won’t listen to her opinion I guess.
In Sucker Punch you got to sling swords like nobody’s business, do you get in on any of this action or do you have to sit on the sidelines?
BROWNING: I mean, I get to be part of the action in the sense that I’m running away from all the shit that’s happening with the volcano. There are some pretty cool scenes in the chariot with me and Kiefer where it gets pretty intense and violent, there are big explosions and everything, but I’m kind of, I mean I don’t get to have a fight scene and I’m kind of jealous when I see the boys doing that. When we did Sucker Punch I was so into the training, I loved doing that, so seeing them getting to train everyday, it makes me wanna do that kind of film again where I get to fight. Yeah, I’m a little bit envious of it! (laughs) But it is nice to not… even though I loved the training I do remember that thing of working out for seven hours a day. In a way it’s a bit of a relief to not have to do that. Also the crazy diets they’re on, I don’t know if they’ve told you about that yet? We didn’t really have to do that for Sucker Punch thankfully, but the stuff they’re eating! They eat like, kale and chicken and that’s all… (laughs) and it’s funny because it’s so often that it’s the actresses on the set of a film that are watching what they eat, but on this we’re all like, we all couldn’t care less, but the boys are like ‘how many calories is in that?’ No that’s too many calories, they can’t eat that. So it’s kind of funny, in that way.
BROWNING: I think, for me the most exciting scenes for me that I’ve been a part of is our part of the imperial box scene which we just finished today. I’m excited to see that just because I get to go head to head with Kiefer… it was really fun getting to stand up for myself against him, and we have a little fight. But it’s a very wordy scene so I don’t know that’s necessarily going to be the most exciting scene for me to see, considering the fact that it’s 3D. But I guess… I don’t know! I’m really excited to see some of this fight stuff, I think it will be really, that will be the fun stuff to watch to be honest.
Is it fun being on this kind of set? Because this is how I imagine a movie set to be, with all the gladiators walking around…
BROWNING: Totally! That’s exactly what I thought too. I spent last year making all kind of tiny indie films, which I loved doing, but coming back here it was like ‘oh yeah this is like, a big Hollywood movie’ you know the sets are all epic and huge. Yeah its kind of fun having all these big greased up muscly dudes walking around as well.
And funny seeing guys walking around with Roman robes and then, headphones, a weird disconnect?
BROWNING: Yeah it is. There were some of the extras up in the stands, in the audience the other day and it was funny because they’re in these amazing dresses and everything but they all had sunglasses on, because it was so sunny, (laughs) it was a funny contrast. Or like they’ll have a hoodie on or something.
BROWNING: Yeah, well that was kind of a big thing. I mean everything I read about it surprised me because I’m terrible with history; I know nothing about that kind of thing. So when I get in there to learn about this kind of thing it’s always a big surprise to me. But um, I think the thing that was most interesting was just seeing the pictures of these mummified figures after the eruption. Because there are people embracing and they’ve been completely calcified or I don’t know exactly what it is scientifically, but there are these perfect statues of people in the moment that they died. That was really… kind of made me really emotional. That was an intense thing to see for sure.
Have you shot a lot of the disaster stuff?
BROWNING: We have shot a lot, but I think we still have a lot more to shoot. It’s pretty… it’s pretty hardcore filming that stuff because it’s like, ash and dust in the air, and by the end of the day you’re just covered in this back greasy dirty stuff. You blow your nose and it’s black. It’s pretty revolting shooting that stuff! But it’s really fun because again that’s when it feels like a big proper movie with these huge explosions going of. It’s really great because it’s a lot of green screen but the sets are… it’s a little bit of green screen but a lot of the sets are built in their entirety, it’s kind of cool to see. I don’t know if you guys have had a tour of the sets or anything… but yeah it’s pretty amazing the way that they’ve built these massive sets like the streets of Pompeii, and they have these crazy, completely lifelike dead horses and dead bodies littering the streets. It’s pretty cool.
BROWNING: Yeah, I mean Sucker Punch we had a lot of sets built too, but we definitely had pieces that were all green screen. And it, yeah it’s harder for sure. First of all if you’re in a room that’s just completely green walls for any more than sort of an hour it makes you really dizzy and nauseous, it’s a really weird… you walk outside and everything looks purple. It’s kind of a strange thing. But also, yeah I mean it is nice to have something to react to. It’s weird when you just have to sort of react to a pink x on a green wall… that’s not the most fun thing to do. (laughs)
There have actually been like two phases of the sword and sandal epic, there’s been Ben-Hur and Spartacus, and then the more recent ones with Troy, Gladiator, 300… do you have a preference of those two eras?
BROWNING: Geez, well this is probably embarrassing to admit but I don’t think I’ve really watched many of the older… I can’t really say a preference because I haven’t watched any of those sort of older gladiator epics, but um… yeah I guess the newer ones! (laughs) I’m not sure, it’s not… it’s also for me, it’s a genre that I like, but have never been massively into because I feel like there’s very rarely a cool female character and that always frustrates me when you’re watching a film and you’re like, well this is great but where are all the ladies? I know there’s not many girls in this, but I liked the fact that Cassia gets to save Milo a couple of times and I think that’s rare you see that in this kind of film. It’s still very boy-centric, but it’s nice to read it and think ‘Oh the girl does something and she’s not a moron and she doesn’t just get saved, she’s not just a damsel in distress the whole time.’ So I think that’s an addition to this film that will make it, hopefully… elevate it.
BROWNING: Yeah, I guess so. Of course it’s never going to be exactly period specific, it’s impossible to do something like that because we don’t know how things were. I guess that does make it a bit modern. And maybe, hopefully, slowly, people learning that audiences do want to see girls doing something in a film. There are still a million films with just dudes and the girls are pathetic, but maybe that’s started to change.
Do you know what the Bechdel test is? Would this pass the Bechdel test?
BROWNING: Well the one thing is, I think there has to be more than one conversation between two females that isn’t about men… that’s tricky because my whole problem for this movie is the Corvis thing. That’s the big thing for me. So I feel him and Kit both come up a lot in my conversations. But I feel like otherwise it does. Me and Jess Lucas, she works for our family, she’s the hand maiden, but we’re actually best friends. And it’s nice also that we’re really close and that we risk our lives for one another. That’s really cool. But I’m not sure we have a conversation that doesn’t include boys! (laughs) It’s hard not to in this! What would be talking about? My major threat is Corvis. I don’t know what… uh, yeah. (laughs)
I want to ask about your character and Kiefer, he’s playing the guy you don’t want to marry. So do you guys interact outside your scenes or do you stay away from each other?
BROWNING: No, not at all. He’s so entertaining, he’s a total comedian. It’s nice. Everyone kind of is, actually. It’s a really friendly, jokey cast. I’m so far from method it’s not even funny. I couldn’t stand that thing of, not interacting if you don’t like each other on camera. Obviously it works for some people, I mean, I think Daniel Day-Lewis is doing ok! But for me, I feel like… things just work so much better when you connect with someone and you’re able to chat to someone, you’re so much more comfortable with them. There are scenes where he has to like, throw me around and be quite rough and it’s nice to end that scene and say ‘Oh well, let’s go have a cigarette and chat!’
Check out some of my other coverage from the set visit:
- 5 Major Takeaways and 65 Things to Know About Director Paul W.S. Anderson’s POMPEII From Our Set Visit
- Kit Harington Talks Bulking Up for the Role, His Love of Action, the Popularity of GAME OF THRONES, and More on the Set of POMPEII
- Kiefer Sutherland Talks Playing the Bad Guy, the Production Value, Looking Back on His Career, the Return of 24, and More on the Set of POMPEII
- Director Paul W.S. Anderson Talks Building Practical Sets, Expanding into Love Story Territory, and More on the Set of POMPEII
- Producer Jeremy Bolt Talks Shooting in Canada, Drone Cameras, How Much of the Film Is Factual, 3D, and More on the Set of POMPEII