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Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

1 of 4 Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in full gladiator mode
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in full gladiator mode
2 of 4 Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
3 of 4 Paul W.S. Anderson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Kit Harington on the set of Pompeii
Paul W.S. Anderson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Kit Harington on the set of Pompeii
4 of 4 Atticus and Milo are two equally matched gladiators in Pompeii
Atticus and Milo are two equally matched gladiators in Pompeii

TEN's Sarah McIntyre spoke to British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje about his role as fierce gladiator Atticus in Pompeii.

The 3D epic disaster movie from director Paul W.S. Anderson stars Kit Harington, best known for playing Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, as a former slave turned gladiator in ancient Roman times.

Harington's character Milo meets his match in Akinnuoye-Agbaje's Atticus, an unbeaten gladiator who has to win just one more fight to gain his freedom. 

Sarah McIntyre: What attracted you to the film?

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: I think what I was attracted to was not only the historical phenomenon of a disaster movie that left with us today these relics that have been mummified, you can still see them, but this iconic character of Atticus, an enslaved African who rises to become a gladiator in Pompeii. And his whole arc of trying to win his freedom and still maintaining a code of gladiator-ship and a dignity despite the face that he's a trained killer for other people's entertainment.

Was it fun to embrace such a physical role?

You enrol in these films to play those kinds of roles, that's what you sign up for. It's a lot of fun, but it's a lot of hard work. We were assigned to what I call gladiator bootcamp, essentially four weeks of working out prior to the shoot of the movie and it entailed two hours fight training, an hour's weight training and an hour's cardio and this is all with an 1800 calorie diet, designed to get you into an Adonis-like shape and give you the stamina to get through these kinds of fights. So yeah I enjoyed that, and it gets you in the zone of being a gladiator.

What was it like working with Kit Harington; you have some pretty impressive sword fights throughout the movie!

It was great, Kit's a great actor, he immerses himself in character as do I, and we got to train together, which allowed us to organically form a friendship which leaped onto the screen as our characters. So it was very enjoyable to work with him and we had a lot of fun. We looked out for each other because the fight sequences are very intricate and quite dangerous. We used real swords and we had to be really aware of each other's safety.

Your character has a great arc in the story, did you enjoy that?

I really did, I've played a lot of characters who have been more sinister, but here was one that though his job meant that he had to be sinister, here was a man with nobility and compassion, and he really had a heart. The nice thing is we get to see all of these levels when he saves the child during the tsunami, he even saves Kit Harington's life during their own fight. I just think it was such a lovely arc of a character to play and rarely do you get these kinds of characters as a black actor. I relished it, I really enjoyed playing him.

What was it like getting in costume, did you feel faintly ridiculous wearing the skirts or did you enjoy it?

That's the one thing I'm don't regret leaving behind! I did it and it looked great at the time but…I have a very healthy respect for women after wearing that skirt and thong and sandals for four and half months. It was a challenge but we did it! But you know what, that is all part and parcel of looking like a gladiator. At the time, we loved it.

Can you give us an idea of what it was like on set; you must have been exhausted playing such a physical role.

It was, and some of the fight sequences were filmed over a number of days and at the end of the first day we had nothing left and the next day we had to go back and give more. But I think the training we did really prepared us for this, and you really did you need to be at the top of your fitness to perform this stuff because it was very intense. Even when we weren't shooting the fight scenes, in between the fight scenes we were working out, we were pumping. We had a mini-gym right next to the set just to keep the body in its form, to keep the consistency, so it was a full-on job!

You went from filming Pompeii to Annie. That must have been very different for you!

Yeah I needed a bit of a holiday after that! I've been a friend of Will Smith's for a while and we were trying to figure out a way that we would work together. And he had said that he was producing this movie and there was a smaller role in it, and it'd be great to start the relationship off in that manner. So I said 'Let's get on with it', and we did it. It's a fun, lighthearted, family, feel good movie and it's a side that people haven't really seen me play on screen... and in the end I even get to sing and dance!

Has there been progress on your hope of getting a romantic lead in a movie?

Well we're trying to put that together now, and there are a couple of projects that might happen so I am just urging to keep posting on that. But there will certainly be Adewale playing a love interest in the next six months to a year.

I also read that you wrote a screenplay about your youth called Farming, it sounds like an amazing story, have there been any developments on the project?

We're just in the process as we speak of putting the financing together. It's been challenging trying to get together all the pieces of finance together. We're making some very good headway right now, so again that's one you'll have to stay tuned for. If you ever want to find anything more about it go on my website adewaletheartist.com or speak to us on Twitter @adewale. It's a very powerful coming-of-age story.

Pompeii is released in cinemas on April 30.

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