If you were surprised to see a shredded Kit Harington slashing foes with ease in a gladiator arena then he’d understand. In fact, he’s a little shocked himself, because as Harington explains, he’s always been cast as a ‘baby-faced teen’ since he began acting.

But now the 27-year-old Brit appears to have graduated from playing skinny juveniles to being a fully-fledged action star.


Bodybuilder training

As if playing sword-wielding ranger Jon Snow in hit HBO fantasy drama Game of Thrones didn’t make him a certified badass already, his latest role as Milo – a slave-turned-invincible gladiator who’s on a quest to save his true love before the Roman city of Pompeii is destroyed by a volcanic eruption – should put him in that category.

But to get the incredible physique he has in the film, Harington had to take on a rigorous training schedule that would make any bodybuilder sweat.

He recalls: “I went into a heavy training regime five weeks before filming. I started by bulking up and then when I got out there I had four weeks to shred down and get toned. It’s a full-time job that you have to carry on for the whole of the movie.

“And it was interesting because each of us had different goals, with my goal being to build muscle. So my training regimen was very weight-intensive, old-school bodybuilding.

“Weights wise it was the bread and butter bodybuilding stuff: bicep curls, bench press, shoulder press, squats, pull-ups, chin-ups, cable stuff; and then a lot of abs exercises, a lot of weighted exercises like cable twists, weighted leg raises, exercises with a weighted ball. It was very tailored to my body and what I needed to look like for the role.”

He adds: “While it was a lot of heavy weights, I had also had to be functional for the fights and stunts and action, so we did do a lot of bodyweight stuff as well. We would hit everything through the course of the week.”


Shredding for the part

Even though Harington managed to successfully overhaul his physique to become a huge, muscular gladiator that could intimidate even the most fearless of his Roman foes, once the film’s producers saw him in the flesh, they decided he’d actually become too big for the role and forced him to go on a drastic diet.

He explains: “I had to put on a bit of weight leading up to Pompeii because I wanted to be bulky and big. But then when they saw my face they thought I’d got a bit too bulky and they were like, ‘OK, actually, we don’t want you big, we want you very lean and muscly. So I then dropped a few pounds by going on a strict diet.

“The diet was very high in protein and then mixed with veggies and complex carbs. Because I was cutting down it was strict; it was pretty brutal. I had my meals set out for me every day, and then I would gulp down protein shakes. It was very concise.”


Doing his own stunts

While dealing with an uncompromising training schedule and a calorie-depleted diet, he also had to learn all the fight choreography, which according to Harington was a workout in itself.

“It wasn’t just about the basics: the kicking, punching, slashing and hitting,” he explains. “Our fight coordinator and our director, Paul W.S. Anderson, really wanted to bring character and narrative into the fighting.

“I was on set every day and when I wasn’t filming, I was in stunt rehearsal or training. It was tough. Paul demands a lot from his actors, but I like that in a director. There are a lot of fighting scenes in Pompeii, and there are a lot of stunts. I was easily in the best shape I’ve ever been.

“We went through a boot camp with the stunt guys. I had some experience working with swords in roles I’ve played in the past, but this was a different type of sword training. We were also pretty much covered in every element in this movie (laughs). I had mud, rainstorms and severe winds thrown at me. There were days when we were fighting outside in the amphitheater where the temperatures hit 100 degrees. But nothing beat the ash. That was pretty brutal.”


With Pompeii now screening in cinemas across the world, Harington is going from one extreme to another as he readies himself for the much-anticipated fourth season of Game of Thrones.


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