Exclusive Interview! Director Paul W.S. Anderson Talks Pompeii

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Veteran director Paul W.S. Anderson has done space horror (Event Horizon), literary adaptations (The Three Musketeers) and a post-apocalyptic science fiction franchise (Resident Evil). His latest film, Pompeii, is a return to the disaster film genre with elements of gladiatorial, sword-and-sandal adventures and high romance. Anderson took some time to speak to us about the film. Comicbook.com: I've heard that you've been a little bit fascinated with Pompeii since you were a child. What is it that fascinates you so much? Paul W.S. Anderson: I'm more than a little bit fascinated. I grew up in the North of England, close to Harridan's Wall, which was built at the final frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain. I was surrounded by examples of the Roman Empire's architecture. Pompeii is taught at schools in England and, for a young boy, the combination of the Roman Empire and a volcano was irresistible. What struck me was the casts of figures frozen at the moment of their death. You saw how people met their end, whether it was the woman carrying her child or the lovers into each other's eyes and not at the blast. I found that incredibly evocative and moving. In my imagination, I would wonder, "What were the stories of these people?" The city itself was lost for 1700 years, but almost perfectly preserved in time, like a glimpse into a lost civilization. Comicbook.com: You're mostly known for science fiction style films, like Resident Evil. Was doing something based in history a new challenge? Paul W.S. Anderson: It was a change of pace for me, it's the first movie I've done that's an attempt to be historically accurate, but it's a movie and not a documentary. It's fiction, but I thought the actual reality of it is so fascinating and fantastic that we should try to put it on screen as accurately as possible. The reality is better than fiction. Most people think Pompeii was destroyed by a volcanic eruption, but it was equally wiped out by a massive earthquake and tidal wave. Those are aspects that nobody had really dealt with before. Comicbook.com: Is it challenging to tell a story when people know so much about the events already? Paul W.S. Anderson: People know that the volcano is going to explode and it's probably not going to end well for most of these characters. My job as a storyteller was to get you as involved as possible with these characters. Hopefully, you're so wrapped up with these characters and the battle in the arena that you almost forget about the volcano. And then when it finally does go off, hopefully, against all the odds, you're rooting for the characters to survive. Comicbook.com: What was the biggest challenge you had with the practical effects? Paul W.S. Anderson: The ash was a hugely challenging part of the movie, both for the crew and the actors, just to get it looking correct. It would have been easier if we had just gone completely digital with the ash, but it just wouldn't have looked as good. The reality you get when you put those actors in that environment, that transfers into their performances and gets you really excited about the last 20 minutes and completely brings out the 3d of the movie. When there's something like ash falling you give the image thousands of levels of depth, even if they're falling a few inches away from each other. It adds so much extra depth, but it was difficult even for the crew because it kept getting into the equipment. Comicbook.com: How do you enjoy working in 3-D? Paul W.S. Anderson: This my fourth 3-D movie, with the same crew, so I think no crew is more experienced. Even when we're not shooting movies, I really believe in the format and I shot a bunch of commercials for cinemas using the 3-D equipment. It's been a long time since I did 2-D. Comicbook.com: How was it working with the film's impressive cast? Paul W.S. Anderson: It was fantastic cast to work with. I put these people through hell. It was a hard working environment. We used a lot of very practical effects, lots of ash falling, everyone looked like they were working in a coal mine by the end of the day. They were always enthusiastic even when we were just beating the hell out of them. It was a nicely varied cast too. Kiefer had so much experience. I wanted to reengage with the Kiefer from my youth, who always played a villain. He's played a hero for so long, I wanted to see him as a villainous bad ass again. I was also working with a lot of pop culture icons. It's got Trinity from The Matrix and Jack Bauer from 24. There's a great scene where Carrie Anne Moss tells Jared Harris to kill Kiefer Sutherland, so it's like The Matrix telling Mad Men to go kill 24. As well as them being very good actors and working very hard as my cast, they're such iconic figures. Set in 79 A.D., Pompeii tells the epic story of Milo (Kit Harington), a slave turned invincible gladiator who finds himself in a race against time to save his true love Cassia (Emily Browning), the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant who has been unwillingly betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. As Mount Vesuvius erupts in a torrent of blazing lava, Milo must fight his way out of the arena in order to save his beloved as the once magnificent Pompeii crumbles around him. Pompeii comes to theaters February 21, 2014.