Since director Paul W.S. Anderson was a child, he’s been obsessed with Romans. As he explained during a group interview on the Toronto set of Pompeii:
“I grew up in the north of England, in New Castle, which is where Hadrian’s Wall starts on the east coast of England and then goes across to the west. When I was a kid, every field trip was to some Roman fort because it was cheap and free. Romans were a big part of my life when I was a kid. And Pompeii also is taught in school and it’s just a fascinating subject. You know, the idea of this city that’s really been preserved in time. It’s really one of the most unique archeological sites in the world. These people were flash fried at the point of death. So you see the kind of lovers who were embraced, you see the person carrying, you see the dog.”
He went on to tell us that he’s been trying to make a movie about Pompeii since 2008 and it’s been a “labor of love.” During the rest of the interview, Anderson talked about the importance of practical sets, stepping outside his normal wheelhouse by telling a love story, why he wanted to cast Kit Harrington and Emily Browning, being nervous about the kissing scenes, and a lot more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
Before going any further, if you haven’t watched the Pompeii trailer, I’d watch that first:
PAUL W.S. ANDERSON: I’ve been obsessed with Romans since I was a child. I grew up in the north of England, in New Castle, which is where Hadrian’s Wall starts on the east coast of England and then goes across to the west. Which is of course kind of built to keep the wild kelts out. When I was a kid, every field trip was to some Roman fort or to Hadrian’s Wall because it was cheap and free. Romans were a big part of my life when I was a kid so I was always fascinated by them. And Pompeii also is taught in school and it’s just a fascinating subject. You know, the idea of this city that’s really been preserved in time. It’s really one of the most unique archeological sites in the world. You can see life as it was frozen in time. These people were flash fried at the point of death. So you see the kind of lovers who were embraced, you see the person carrying, you see the dog, it’s kind of all these figures frozen in time. And also there’s all the artifacts, like loaves of bread and things like that, that were perfectly preserved when the ash fell and buried Pompeii. I think it’s both the Roman Empire but also particularly Pompeii is very sort of evocative subject matter. That’s something I’ve been obsessed with for a long time. Particularly Pompeii, I’ve been trying to make this movie since 2008 so it’s definitely kind of a five or six-year labor of love. That’s when we started developing the screenplay.
This is your first movie in a long time that isn’t specifically a genre film.
ANDERSON: The intention was to make a straight, kind of historical movie, obviously with disaster movie elements and there are action movie elements to it. It just plays as a straight historical disaster drama love story.
ANDERSON: It’s been really fun. It’s really been kind of refreshing in a way, but there are definitely similarities from the kind of movies I make and the technical complexity of them, it obviously lends itself to making a movie like this, creating Pompeii and the whole city and the disaster elements of it. But it’s been really fun just directing the drama aspect of it and the love story as well, which has been really great. More kissing than any movie I’ve ever—probably more kissing in this than my entire career combined so far. And it’s really good kissing as well, it’s very emotional. Kit [Harrington] and Emily [Browning] are just fantastic. And also Jared [Harris] and Carrie-Anne [Moss] as the parents, it’s a really strong relationship they have. But the kind of Kit-Emily thing is the most exciting, it’s hot. She is obviously a very beautiful woman, but the more dirt and blood you put on her, undoubtedly the sexier she becomes. She’s very, very gorgeous at the start of the movie but she’s unbelievably stunning by the end when she’s just covered in ash and blood, and she’s been beaten up by Kiefer [Sutherland]. It’s great.
What was it about Kit Harrington and Emily Browning that made you think they could carry this kind of film?
ANDERSON: Kit, I was obsessed with him from Game of Thrones. I thought, for me, he came across as such a star in Game of Thrones. I thought, “That is a movie star waiting to happen.” Emily, I’ve been a fan of for a long time. I’ve seen a lot of her Australian work. Being British you see a lot of Australian movies and TV shows. She reminded me, in a little way, of Milla [Jovovich], someone who’s been working since they were a child, who although she’s very young, has an incredible body of work behind and is an incredibly accomplished actress for the age that she is.
ANDERSON: It’s a historical movie but it’s not in the mold of like 300 or Immortals that’s primarily—their world is created through green screen. I wanted a believable, historical world. I think for the disaster to work and the drama to work, you really need to feel like you’re really in that world. I really wanted to build as much of Pompeii as possible. We recreated an entire street, we had a whole villa built which we’ve since destroyed so there’s none of that left. But if you’d been here a couple months ago, we built an awful lot to really kind of reinforce the reality of the history. It made it easier for the actors because they could really immerse—you walked into Jared and Carrie-Anne’s villa and it was there. The central garden was there, the rooms off it, the bedrooms, the exedra, which is the balcony, we built it all. We built as much of the arena as possible and you can see we’ve got like 350 to 400 extras working today, so there’s a huge chunk of kind of scope and scale you’ll get in camera. As a filmmaker, it helps me solve when to go wide, when to go for the digital shots. I think in an audience’s mind that we’ve already sold it as reality.
When you get the script, you have one or two scenes that you’re both thrilled to make and also nervous. What was that scene or two scenes that hit those mark?
ANDERSON: It was definitely the scenes with Kit and Emily, the love story aspect of the movie because it’s not something that I’m particularly well-known for. It was something I was very excited to do but also I was a little tense about it. They’re definitely the high point of the movie and we filmed them pretty early. I’m very, very pleased with them. Their relationship develops so fast, they have this compressed relationship because it’s in this kind of disastrous setting. They basically have a day to kind of fall in love and live a whole life together before what happens at the end of the film. They really pull it off. I’m very proud of that stuff, it’s very emotional. Then, there was this scene we called “Love in the Ruins” where all hell is breaking loose and they think it’s the end of the world and they share this kiss, and it’s just wonderfully passionate. It’s great, it’s like one of those things you just want it to go on and on and on. So that was it, I was worried about it but then it turned out great, probably because I was worried about it. I put a lot more effort into that, I think, than kind of thinking about the volcano and the visual effects. Because I think that’s something that I know, that’s in my wheelhouse and I can do that. I think for this movie, a lot more of my planning went into the romance and the kind of character aspects of the screenplay, and the performance.
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
- Producer Jeremy Bolt Talks Shooting in Canada, Drone Cameras, How Much of the Film Is Factual, 3D, and More on the Set of POMPEII