By Karin Herig
Big T Editor
IT’S been a steep career path for Kit Harington – from drama school straight on to London’s theatre stage for a leading role in the critically acclaimed play “War Horse” and then on to playing Jon Snow in HBO’s “Game of Thrones”.
Kit vs Christopher
Kit did in fact not know that is full name was Christopher until he was 11 years old.
“I was filling out some forms at school to find out what set I’d be in, to see where (they would) place me, and I put down ‘Kit Harington’ and they came along and sort of went, ‘that’s not your name...your name is Christopher’.
“(It was) this weird sort of existential kind of crisis at the age of 11 where I thought, ‘Who am I, Mum? Why did you not tell me my name?’ But in the end it didn’t matter because by that point I was Kit.
“(The name is) something I carry around in my passport and causes me endless amount of trouble when filling out forms; I keep to have putting Christopher. I didn’t know how to spell it that first time. I put it with an ‘f’ and immediately (the school was) like, ‘right you’re bottom set’.”
In just four years, the 25-year-old British actor has gone from dreaming of making his passion into a profession, to being one of the main stars of an award-winning television show watched by millions around the world.
Now in its second season, “Game of Thrones” – based on the books by George R R Martin – tells the story of how the Houses of Westeros continue to battle for the Iron Throne as five kings vie for the crown.
Playing Jon Snow, Ned Stark’s (Sean Bean) ‘bastard’ and a Brother of the Night’s Watch, has taken Kit to such remote filming locations as Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier.
As his character ventures beyond the Wall to investigate wildlings and the mythical White Walkers, Kit got to engage in what he calls “guerilla filmmaking.”
To bring the world north of the Wall to life, the “Game of Thrones” producers chose the frozen landscapes of Iceland as their filming location. The Big T asked Kit if shooting on location on a glacier meant that the cast and crew had to ‘rough it’ for a few months.
“It was (tough), I’m not going to lie. It was longer hours. We had very little light to film in. In Iceland it gets light very late and dark very early and so it sort of like guerilla filmmaking.
“We had to go in the dark to set everything up in very treacherous conditions. It was minus 30 (degrees) a lot of the time and really, really, really cold, and then we had to film very, very quickly before the light went, which is not how we’re used to doing things with ‘Game of Thrones’. ‘Game of Thrones’ takes its time filming because we’ve got a long period to film in and get everything just right, but with this it was very rapid-firing filming. I quite enjoyed it, loved the places we were in; Iceland is stunningly beautiful. It was hard at times, like we had to film fight scenes in deep snow with heavy, heavy clothes on. All in all I came away from the Icelandic experience feeling very satisfied and very happy with what we got there.”
Kit said he also liked being able to “stay” with his character for an extended period of time.
“Rather than flying back and forth, having to come in and out of Jon, I was there and I could – not stay in him as a character in a method way – but kind of just stay with him on a journey in an intensive block, so I enjoyed it.”
All about the hair?
Starring in “Game of Thrones” has meant many things for Kit Harington, including changing his appearance and growing his hair longer.
But the young actor hopes that he is not defined by his luscious locks and promises he will cut them one day.
“I’m going to cut it off at some point, but I have to keep it during (Game of Thrones). I hope it’s not part of my personality. I hope my personality is not that shallow, that I’m just my hair. I’ve become one of those guys with long hair and a beard; I never thought I’d be that. I put it in a ponytail every now and again and I went ‘what?’. I never saw that happening.”
The Worcester born actor has also become very protective of his character and said he regrets some comments he made in the past which could have been construed as him thinking of Jon as slow or stupid.
“I regret that I said that, and it was slightly taken out of context and slightly misquoted. What I meant to say was when I was thinking about him recently coming up to the second season, I kept thinking ‘why is he making these mistakes, why does he keep jumping in where he is not supposed to be jumping into and saying things he shouldn’t say’.
“And what I meant to say in that context was ‘is he just being stupid’ and it was a slow burn for me because I realised this all along, but he’s just a very instinctual person. He doesn’t exactly intellectualise things, and I think that is important for me to realise that in this world he wouldn’t intellectualise things. He’s not grown up like I have, going to school, studying geography and maths and philosophising things,” Kit said.
“He’s grown up training (with) the sword, learning to be a leader – not even being how to be leader because it would be Robb who is taught that. He’s just learned how to fight. Now I think he’s more intelligent than that, more ambitious than that in a very different way, so I think what I meant was he’s instinctual, he a lot of the time acts before he thinks. What he has to learn to do is to grow up to be a man who does both, who uses his heart, uses what he thinks is right and wrong – his natural sense of what’s right and wrong is very good – but know when to step back and when to act. I think throughout the second season this was what I was pondering over. When he starts learning that, you start seeing him (make) decisions which are right or wrong. He’s definitely not stupid, I take that back.”
Kit added that Jon “has to learn really big lessons this season.”
“He’s been eager to get out there and fight, to see some real action. He’s raring to go to and do what he’s trained to do and gets ahead of himself.”
A new story this season will see Jon interacting with a woman, a rare occurrence for the steward of the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. While he could not give too much away about this particular story line, Kit said he was very excited for Jon to meet a woman.
“It’s one of the only times he gets scenes with the opposite sex, so it was a lot of fun to do. The actress I was working with, Rose Leslie (of Downton Abbey fame), who’s brilliant, is going to be fantastic. It was enjoyable.
“I won’t say what happens; I’ll not say if it’s a romance or not, because I strictly don’t know whether it is. Hopefully it will be exciting to see him interact with someone who isn’t the kind of burly, bearded bloke. I think he’s really bad with women and it will be interesting (to see) how he deals with that.”
“I love Tyrion (Lannister). I think there’s a weird correlation – Jon loves, likes Tyrion, I like Tyrion. I also like Jaime Lannister. I think he is a really fascinating character because he’s one of those characters you should hate but you actually really quite like. And it’s perfectly played and perfectly balanced by Nikolaj (Coster-Waldau), because he sees the world for what it is.
“He’s sleeping with his sister, he’s a Lannister, he tried to kill my father, he’s got this conflict with my brother; but I just think he’s this really sympathetic character, I actually think you will grow to like him more as it goes on.
“I love Bronn as well, Tyrion’s bodyguard. He’s just so kind of laissez-faire, so ‘whatever’. He’s got the best lines. Brilliantly written.”
One of the ongoing mysteries surrounding the character of Jon Snow is the identity of his mother. Before heading south to become the Hand of the King, Eddard “Ned” Stark promised his illegitimate son he would tell him the truth about his mother the next time they met. Of course, Ned Stark’s death has now made that impossible, and Kit said viewers will definitely not find out who the woman is this season.
“It will be (revealed), but I don’t know when. I don’t know who it is. Only three people who know are George ( R R Martin) who writes the books, who obviously has to know, and I believe David (Benioff) and Dan (Weiss), who are the creators of the show.
“They won’t tell me. But I think you can’t set up a question like that without telling the audience at some point,” Kit said.
At the moment, Kit is working hard at keeping the character of Jon in the show as similar to the character of Jon in the books as he can.
“I read the books a long time ago. This will always be an adaptation of the books and it’s important that we keep reminding people of that in case they think it will be an absolute true telling. It will be a true telling, but there’s bits we have to change; we cant directly adapt his books onto the screen, doesn’t work. And the same with my character, it’s always going to be an adaptation of Jon in books. For a start he’s 14 in the books, I’m 25. But it does help having (the books) as a source material to have to refer back to.
Baring it all?
Sex and nudity are a normal occurrence in the fantasy world of Westeros, but some characters have yet to strip down for a sex scene – chief among them Jon Snow. The question is, would Kit be willing to do nude scenes if the script called for it?
“I had to sign a clause saying I would,” he said. “My argument against it is that it is so cold that it would be a bad idea.”
“(I have to) find a happy medium, keep the fans of the books happy, also keep the fans of the show happy and keep myself happy, and telling the truth of the character and story.
“I’m hoping series Jon won’t drift too far away from book Jon. I think they’re as similar as I can make them at the moment, essentially all of the same qualities are there. As long as he keeps his moral compass which he has, his ambition which he has – he’s very strong-willed and a fighter – if I don’t try and change him too much, I think the writing will serve.”
The elaborate and detailed costumes created for “Game of Thrones” are one of the things that help him get into the character of Jon, Kit said.
“I really love the costume, it’s a brilliant costume to wear, it has such weight to it. (In costume design) nothing is done for show, it’s not about looking good, there’s no women to look good for, so everything is really heavy and practical and it also gives everyone that kind of weight and that was important to me,” he said.
Wearing costumes and changing his appearance are also what drew Kit to the profession of acting and something he hopes to get an opportunity to do more of in future.
“I want there to be different roles that come along which force me to do different things with my appearance. That’s one of the things I like about being an actor, that you get the excuse to keep changing how you look and developing who you are around that.”
Kit said he has already gotten the chance to change his appearance a little for the upcoming “The Seventh Son”, a fantasy movie based on “The Wardstone Chronicles” by author Joseph Delaney. The film is set in the 18th century and is centered around a young Thomas (Ben Barnes) who is apprenticed to the local spook to learn to fight evil spirits.
While the premise of the film is in a similar vein to “Game of Thrones”, Kit said at the same time it is very different.
Filming the movie in Vancouver has been a “very exciting” experience for Kit, not least because it also stars Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges.
“(They are) two actors that I have a huge respect for and they are incredible,” he said.
“I’d be a very happy man if I get a career like those two.”
Other actors Kit said he admires include Ben Whishaw, Andrew Garfield, James McAvoy and Eddie Redmayne – young British actors whom he said are a level above him and who he aspires to be like.
Kit said he has a lot of respect for television and movie actors, a respect he did not have prior to working on “Game of Thrones”.
“I’ve learned a lot about camera work and filming. I have a huge respect for film and TV actors that I didn’t have in the past. I had a huge respect for theatre actors and (with) TV actors I thought, that’s easy, it’s just a camera.
“It’s a whole new art form for me...to get those moments across in a very specific, detailed way,” he said.
“Games of Thrones” might be a huge production, spread out over several countries and employing hundreds of actors and extras, but Kit said the cast are a tight-knit group.
He said he often meets up with the other actors, especially Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Richard Madden (Robb Stark) and Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy) to go out for a night on the town. He credits a shared love and enthusiasm for the show with keeping all the cast mates close.
As for changes in his personal life since getting the role of Jon Snow, Kit said gets recognised more and more often – sometimes people in the street people shout out him, calling him ‘bastard’ – “but in a very kind of loving way,” he said.
And while he is very appreciative of the show’s fan base, and feels that it is important to know how fans think and feel, he said he tries not to pay too much attention to what is said about him or “Game of Thrones” on the internet in case it influences him in any way.
He does have a Facebook page under a private name, but no Twitter account.
“Personally, I don’t think it’s helpful. I talk about myself enough in interviews that I don’t feel the need to tweet about myself. It can become very narcissistic,” he said.
Starring in the show has also meant that Kit spends a lot of time away from home and gets to attend award shows, which he described as bizarre affairs.
All in all, Kit said “Game of Thrones” has opened a lot of new doors for him as it concerns other film work.
• Check out next week’s The Big T for part two of the “Game of Thrones” interview series in which we talk to Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy), one of the major movers and shakers in the Seven Kingdoms this season.