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POMPEII

The Cast of Pompeii
Anderson and the producers of Pompeii assembled a talented and appealing group of performers who deliver stirring dramatic performances against the backdrop of the impending cataclysm. "We have a story that's so powerful and characters that are so believable," explains Bolt. "We were determined to find actors that so completely engage the audience that by the time the volcano explodes, you've almost forgotten there is a disaster on the way."

Filling the film's leading role, Milo, posed multiple challenges, especially since the character is both the film's romantic leading man as well as a ruthless professional warrior.

"Milo is a survivor," says Anderson. "He's been trained to fight since he was six years old and he's very good at it. In the Roman Empire, gladiators came from all walks of life. Some people chose to be gladiators because you could actually make a very good living. Some needed to pay off their debts. Some, like Milo, were slaves who were forced into combat."

But Milo is no ordinary slave. His strength and cunning in the ring have been nurtured by years of rage and determination to avenge his parents' murder. "There's a sense of destiny in his story," Anderson says. "When he gets to Pompeii, he finds the man who killed his people. He believes that his gods are helping him take vengeance."

Kit Harington, familiar to audiences as the dark and brooding Jon Snow on the popular series "Game of Thrones," was selected to play the fiery Celtic gladiator. "We wanted somebody fresh and exciting who would take the audience by surprise," says Bolt. "'Game of Thrones' is a massive TV phenomenon, but Kit hasn't been the lead in a huge movie like this before. He has all the emotion and charisma-as well as the physical presence and ability-that we needed for this role."

The actor says he was immediately drawn to the role of Milo. "I knew this would be a terrific project to be a part of. I love action. Milo's tragic backstory and quest for vengeance appealed to me. Then I met Paul. He is so wonderfully enthusiastic and committed to what he does. He knows so much about old-school filmmaking, and he's also always willing to experiment with new technological developments."

The historical aspect of the film held great appeal to Harrington as well. "I've done lots of period movies and I genuinely enjoy them," he says. "Growing up in Britain, the story of Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius resonated with me. I was most intrigued by the plaster casts of the people caught in the eruption. I loved the idea of taking this horrific event, throwing a load of quite interesting characters into the mix, and making it into an entertaining watch."

Milo is the most physically demanding role the actor has ever taken on. "I was on set every day and when I wasn't filming, I was in stunt rehearsal," he says. "It was tough. Paul demands a lot from his actors, but I like that in a director."

His training began more than a month before filming started. "Kit certainly looks like a movie star, but he wasn't the gladiator that we needed at that time," says Anderson. "He became very focused on getting the perfect physique, which is what you see in the movie. He looks awesome."

The character's strength is not just physical, says the director. "He has a strength of character as well. Early in the film, he has to put a horse out of its misery. It's an impressive scene and the moment that he captures Cassia's heart."

The daughter of one of Pompeii's most powerful families, Cassia is returning from her studies in Rome when she meets the slave caravan bringing Milo to Pompeii. Intelligent, independent and determined, Cassia is ready to defy convention to get what she wants. To play the young noblewoman, the filmmakers selected Australian actress Emily Browning.

"Cassia is a very complicated character and the success of the movie depends on her," says Anderson. "Emily is still very young, but she already has an incredible body of work behind her. When we met with her, we thought the chemistry between her and Kit would be electric. That was essential because the love story is really the heart of the movie."

The entire passionate love affair between the aristocrat and the slave spans just 48 hours. "They only meet a few times and it was very important that those meetings be really dynamic," notes Anderson. "They don't even touch; they just look at one another."

"Emily did a terrific job," says Bolt. "The emotional anchor in the film is the relationship between Milo and Cassia. Emily Browning is a very strong actress and when they are together, you absolutely buy them as a couple."

Browning found the idea of an action epic set during Roman times exhilarating. Her only concern was that her character might be relegated to the sidelines. "I've always wanted to do a film like this," she says. "But the female characters are usually a bit boring. Cassia, however, is clever and tough. She even saves Milo's life a couple of times. She thinks for herself and she's not interested in the men around her, so she can be a little bit closed off."

Her connection with Milo, however, is almost instantaneous, as was the rapport between the actors. "Kit and I got on well," she says. "We became good friends before we ever had to shoot a real love scene, because for most of the movie, it's all stolen glances. The first day we actually had to kiss was sort of terrifying because we felt almost like siblings and by that time."

Harrington calls his leading lady "a wonderful balance of consummate professional and a pleasure to work with every day." He goes on: "She's great fun on set and that's an essential dynamic, especially in a production this grueling. I've genuinely made a new friend."

Insurmountable issues of class are not the only things standing between the young lovers. Quintus Attius Corvus, an arrogant and ruthless Roman Senator, has set his sights on Cassia and hopes to make her his wife. He was also the commander of the Roman soldiers who slaughtered Milo's family.

To play Corvus, the filmmakers turned to Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner Kiefer Sutherland, well-known to audiences for his portrayal of Jack Bauer in the long-running hit series "24."

"I thought it would be interesting to take a familiar actor, known for playing a hero, and flip that by having him play the bad guy," says Bolt. "Kiefer has the confidence to be a really delicious villain, and also be believable."

Anderson asked the actor to channel the dark and twisted energy he had seen in earlier work, like The Lost Boys and Stand By Me. "To me, it's almost like there are two Kiefer Sutherlands," says the director. "There's Jack Bauer, who is a dark character, but ultimately a good guy. But it was the earlier Kiefer I really wanted to reengage with and he was very much up for that."

Adds producer Don Carmody: "His work as Corvus is a real revelation. I've never seen him play a role like this before and he really nails it. He's a very scary villain."

For his part, Sutherland says he signed on because of the quality of the screenplay and the people he would be working with. "For me, it begins with the script," he says. "I was so impressed with the writing of this. The dialogue was extraordinary. Plus, it's a really beautiful love story and I'm a sucker for that."

It was also an opportunity to work with a director he has long admired. "One of the things I've always found most attractive about acting is that it is a collaborative effort, a team sport, if you will. And Paul has assembled one of the best teams I've seen."

Visually, the movie is breathtaking, according to the actor, and the story has something for every kind of audience member. "Some people will root for the love story," he says. "Others will love the action-the fight sequences in the arena are extraordinary. For people who like history, the attention to detail is unmatched, and it's a beautiful, well-told story."

Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss play Cassia's parents, Marcus Cassius Severus and his wife Aurelia, a wealthy and ambitious power couple at the forefront of Pompeian society. Harris, a classically-trained stage actor best known to American audiences as Layne Pryce in "Mad Men" and Professor Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, says he was drawn to the project mainly because of its historical bent.

"I think everyone has heard of Pompeii," says Harris. "The complete annihilation of the city and the idea that it happened so quickly is so fascinating in a macabre way. And I've always wanted to be in one of these gladiator films. I love this period of history. I begged Paul to throw me into the arena-I know how to sword fight. But he didn't go for it."

The wealthiest man in Pompeii, Marcus Cassius Severus has a grand vision to reinvigorate the city, but he has drained his own resources and needs the Emperor's support for his projects. He hasn't counted on making his daughter a part of the agreement, however.

"He's a business man," says Harris. "He's a hustler just trying to get that deal done. Pompeii suffered an earthquake about 18 years earlier and a lot of the city was destroyed. There's great opportunity for people to be involved in the rebuilding process."

But Corvus, who has come as the Emperor's representative, sees the situation as an opportunity to enrich himself and ensnare the woman he covets. "Severus is a good man with good intentions," Harris believes. "But he ignores all the danger signs in pursuit of that one goal. He ends up doing business with the equivalent of a gangster, a guy who doesn't bat an eye at having people killed."

Both Severus' wife Aurelia and daughter Cassia are independent women who speak their minds. Aurelia also takes an active role in the Severus' development plans. "It was very common for Roman women to be educated," says Anderson. "Severus is an intelligent man, but it really felt like the steely heart of that relationship, both the marriage and the business side of it, is Aurelia."

The opportunity to play such a strong female character was extremely appealing to Moss. "Pompeii was a very modern culture and upper-class women wielded a degree of influence in society," she says. "Aurelia is definitely the empress of this place. She embodies grace and strength, as well as humility. She and her husband have a strong marriage. They're very much equals.

"The script is a great combination of story, character, action and history," adds the actress. "At this stage of my life I love to learn. During my research, I found so many things that surprised me. To think that this actually happened is pretty awe inspiring."

Milo's fiercest opponent in the ring becomes his strongest ally outside of it, as the captive Celt befriends Atticus, an African gladiator on the verge of winning his freedom. Atticus and Milo find real friendship as well as mutual respect, knowing that it is inevitable that they will eventually face each other in a fight to the death.

Atticus is played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, the mysterious Mr. Eko of the television series "Lost." "Ade brought a wonderful weight and gravitas to the role," says Anderson. "Because he's a fresh face to many moviegoers, he's able to inhabit that role totally without any baggage."

After many years as a slave, Atticus is one last victory from freedom, according to Roman custom. "He trusts and believes in Roman law," says Anderson. "These gladiators have a code of honor by which they live. It's brutal, so for them life and death are sacred."

"A character this rich and heroic doesn't come around that often," says Akinnuoye-Agbaje of his role. "Rarely in action films like this do you have such substantive drama and fully realized characters. The script doesn't shy away from the fact that these two men are bound to kill each other, but they are able find a kind of friendship and respect for each other. Atticus has one more kill before he's a free man, and that's what he's been living for. He cares about Milo, but he's not going to lose. Milo's death means Atticus' freedom."

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