Game of Thrones Interview: Kit Harington (Jon Snow)
We follow up our review of Alfie Allen with a chat to emerging British actor, Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow in HBO's award-winning fantasy series.
I attended a round-table interview with some of the cast and producers of HBO’s award winning new series Game of Thrones. They were in town for the press launch of the Season 1 DVD/Blu-ray, which is available now. We reviewed it HERE.
In the lead up to the Season 2 Premier on April 1st, we will be posting the series of interviews to whet your appetites for what will surely be another monumental season.
Previously we met Alfie Allen, who plays Theon Greyjoy. Next up is emerging British actor, Kit Harington. Straight out of drama school, the talented thespian nabbed the lead in the Royal National Theatre’s hit production of War Horse, which he played until 2009. On the back of that, Kit landed his first screen role as Jon Snow, the industrious and somewhat hot-headed bastard child of the Starks. As a bastard, Jon has no inheritance or place at Winterfell, and as such, journeys north to the Wall to join the once illustrious Night’s Watch.
Please note the interview was from a roundtable session and not all questions were asked by WhatCulture…
Q. So you’re in a successful show now, has it changed your life? What are the differences between before and now?
Kit: It has, I’d be lying if I say it hasn’t changed my life, mainly since the first season came out and aired. I mean, there’s a lot more doors open to you I guess, people know of your work more because of how globally it’s shown and how it’s been received. I’m just enjoying it. I’m at a place in my young life, young career, where there could be lots of doors opened and I’m ploughing on towards them but this show is my life at the moment, and it will be for a few years. Everything is Game of Thrones to me. It’s been fantastic; it’s been an amazing journey so far.
Q. Does devoting so much time to Game of Thrones prevent you from exploring other, new opportunities?
Kit: Well I only shoot for six months of the year and then the other six months I have free to do other movies or theatre or whatever I want. A lot of people kind of turn to you and say, “So when you signed this, you signed for how long?” and I say, “Six years,” and they go, “That’s tying you in isn’t it? They’ve got your bollocks in a vice!” and my answer is, “Well I really don’t care!” I’m in an HBO TV show, which is in my humble opinion the best American TV there is and it’s doing well, it’s been a success and I’m an actor who’s in work for possibly six years and I can do other stuff around it. I’m in a great position and I’m only thankful for it.
Q. Tell us about your theatre work before you got onto Game of Thrones. Would you go back to it?
Kit: I graduated from Central School of Speech and Drama which is predominantly theatre training and went straight into a play called War Horse for a year, which did really well and then off that I got the pilot for Game of Thrones and then I did another stage play at the Court and since then it’s been all film and TV. I always want to return to theatre, I’m a British actor, I was trained in theatre and it’s part of who I am so hopefully I will be lucky enough to do both. It’s one of those things about doing an HBO series, you’ve got money in the bank so you can go and do those really low paid theatre jobs and that’s what you need as an actor I guess.
Q. Being your first screen credit, was it a shock to step onto such a huge production? Diving off the deep end as it were.
Kit: It was terrifying. I found it far more terrifying than stepping up in front of one thousand, two thousand people for stage. It was weird, but I got the part and I was hugely elated and then a couple of months later when I stepped onto set I was terrified. I’d never done screen before, I’d never been on camera, not even at drama school. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing! I was convinced I was doing everything wrong and then eventually, you know, the more you do the more you learn with screen work and I’ve got a whole new respect for good film and TV actors because it’s a different beast from theatre and it’s very difficult technically. But yeah, I’ve had sleepless nights over Game of Thrones, far more than I did over War Horse or any other stage play I’d done and it continues with any film work that I’m doing. You do it, it’s in the can, and you can’t touch it, it’s terrifying.
Q. What was it that first attracted you to the role of Jon Snow?
Kit: When I got the pilot (script) through I read it, and I thought, “What is this?” It really did stand out as something completely original, completely strange and I hadn’t read the books so I didn’t understand what the hell was going on. It’s hard to get your head around. That was the first thing I liked about it, but the actual character, I mean he’s got the title of a bastard attached to him, he’s separated out from his family from the very start by being this bastard child. He has an albino wolf rather than a normal wolf. He’s got a lot of great little things that are keys in for an actor, great little ways in to go. Being a bastard in this world makes him who he is, growing up in a noble family and having all that riding on him, it was kind of clear from the go that I found him really interesting.
Q. And have you read the books since?
Kit: I have read the books yeah, I love source material so if I’ve got something there that I can read I go into it head first. I haven’t read the latest one. I got too far ahead of myself and read all of them and had to kind of reel it back in and sort of think, “OK, we’re only in the first one.” But yeah I have read them.
Q. Is Jon Snow your favourite character in the books?
Kit: You know it’s hard to tell isn’t it because once I knew I’d got the part, then I read the books and obviously I was reading the whole book but I was kind of looking forward to the Jon chapters so I’d know what happens to me but I’ll never be able to know whether he would have been my favourite character had I just picked up the books anyway. I do think he’s got a fascinating storyline, the fact he’s up north. We’ve got this element of the White Walkers that he’s going to be dealing with, he’s got the mystery of who his mother is, you know these bits are what make him an interesting storyline but I think Tyrion was also the other one I looked forward to reading.
Q. Your character is very separated from the rest of the story, would you like to be closer to the action?
Kit: I kind of like it. Like Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), Jon’s got a completely separate story. There are lots of people and it’s completely away from all the politics of this world. I just quite like it when it comes on the TV and it transports you away from all that sniping. The series needs that you know, it needs those Daenerys/Jon parts. We can get away from the political intrigue or what have you. I enjoy having that separation. Eventually, hopefully, maybe, he’ll get stuck in with it but who knows?
Q. Would you say you drew the short straw in terms of location though?
Kit: (laughs) Yeah I always say to people, “So I’ve landed this lead role in an HBO TV series and somehow everyone else is in Croatia or Malta in the sun by a beach with like, scantily dressed women… and I’m in Belfast with loads of bearded men!” That’s kind of the ‘short straw’ part of it, the other part of it is that for Season 2 I went to Iceland and the places I get to film anywhere on this series are stunning and Iceland was one of the most romantic, beautiful environments I’ve ever been in so I wouldn’t say I’d ever pulled the short straw but yeah, there’s still no women around for me! Oh well, never mind…
Q. What’s been your toughest moment on set so far?
Kit: I think towards the end of the first series, there was one day. Every now and again with this series we’re asked to go beyond what should be asked of you as an actor, I probably shouldn’t be saying this but we were really pressured towards the end, we had to get stuff done and so I had one day which was maybe a 24 hour day of filming, in bad conditions and there was a point where, even though I was amazed to be in the series, I was just so tired. There was a point where I realised that film work, the actual process of it, can be unglamorous. They treat you well, but it can be tough when you’re in that patch.
Q. Like the other Stark children, Jon Snow has a pet direwolf, Ghost; was it easy to work with the dogs on set?
Kit: No, it wasn’t. They say don’t ever work with children or animals. The children on this were impeccable; they were brilliant, so professional, and wonderful to work with. The animals did what they could but they’re animals. I was learning the ropes as I went and if you do eleven takes and you get it right every time but the dog doesn’t and then on the twelfth take you mess it up but the dog gets it right, that’s the take they’re going to use! It’s really tricky because you really want to hit the dog but no you love the dog as well! Yeah it wasn’t easy working with animals, I’m not going to say it was. CGI for next season though, thank God!
Q. Considering it has quite a niche market as a fantasy series, can you explain why the show has been so successful?
Kit: I think at the moment there’s a big trend in film and TV, because of where we are in the current (economic) climate, of escapism. There are a lot of films coming out at the moment that are transporting audiences away from the gritty reality of life and I think what HBO did was they saw this trend and they saw a good opportunity for a good fantasy. The reason why I think people like this show is that it blends the two, in that; I’ve never seen a fantasy that’s quite as based in reality as this one. There’s no real good or evil, there’s only peoples’ mistakes and peoples’ errors of judgement. It also deals with sex in a very graphic way. It doesn’t hold any bars this show and I think people respect that, they don’t want to be closeted and say, “Oh look this is fantasy, isn’t it fun,” no this is a brutal show, but it’s also escapism at the same time. I think people like it because it’s complicated; it takes a lot of brain work to get into and people want to be tested in that way. How many stories can they remember? What links in here? How much intrigue is there? I think these are all elements of why it’s a success.
Q. Do you see any connection to some of the great fantasy works such as Lord of the Rings?
Kit: I think it’s very different to Lord of the Rings; it’s very similar in that this is a world completely made up, but what’s different is that there’s no dark, evil power and there’s no good. That’s one way of doing it. There’s more blurred lines that way, you don’t know who’s good or who’s bad, it’s all about real human behaviour. I think if we’re lucky enough to carry on and it goes the full way and people are still intrigued by it, it could go down as an iconic series but it’s way too early to tell for that yet.
Q. You’ve recently been cast as King Arthur in the upcoming Arthur & Lancelot film; do you have any concerns about being typecast as a fantasy genre actor?
Kit: Not really, I think that’s what the industry does; I think they see me in something like Game of Thrones and I get an audition for Arthur & Lancelot, another medieval fantasy, and it’s an instant connection that they make. I think in your early career you have to go through that process and luckily for me, the film Arthur & Lancelot I love, I think it’s brilliant and I love Game of Thrones. I mean they’re two similar things but they’re also very different. What’s intriguing for me is thinking about how Jon Snow differs from Arthur. Where Jon Snow is instinctual and doesn’t think first, he acts, Arthur’s the opposite. He’s more inward and he thinks things through. So those are kind of interesting things to play with but yeah, I’m not worried about being typecast because I keep getting roles and I keep working and eventually there’ll be a really brilliant movie that comes along that will be about drug dealing in the West End and they’ll need a long haired, bearded guy for it!
Q. Would you say that the quality of TV productions in recent years have caught up to the level of film?
Kit: I think so, I think it’s a really interesting time for TV at the moment and I think people are realising that you can do things with TV that you really can’t do with film. With film you have a two-and-a-half hour slot where people have to attach themselves to a character, they have to go on the journey, and then it ends. With TV like Game of Thrones, we’ve got ten hours in the first series, ten hours in the second, ten hours in the third, or however many it’s going to be. For an actor that’s brilliant because you get to really enjoy this arc you know, you don’t have to tell the audience everything in an hour, you’ve got a whole arc to do this and you’ve got so much time and space to develop a character and I think the audience members watching the TV program have time to invest in all of these characters. In a weird sort of way, since I’ve been doing Game of Thrones, where before I was a film and theatre buff, I’ve now really moved into my box-sets. I’m onto Breaking Bad now; it’s good isn’t it? I‘ve watched pretty much every American TV show there is out there but I think American TV, especially at the moment, is phenomenal. It’s second to none.
Q. Was that one of the reasons you went for the part, when you saw the HBO logo attached to it?
Kit: Yeah strangely I’d only just discovered HBO when the pilot (script) came through. I’d started watching The Sopranos and I was on the third season and I was loving it and I was buying other box-sets like Deadwood so I was discovering HBO as Game of Thrones came through and I loved HBO so it coming through instantly caught my eye you know, “New HBO TV series,” and again it was so original, so different from The Sopranos or Deadwood and I really thought, “I can do this, I want this, this is perfect for where I want to go next.” Luckily for me I was in the right place at the right time doing the right character so yeah it did make a difference. I think HBO’s stamp on something means a hell of a lot; it means you’re going to get quality. It really does, I’m not just saying that because I work for HBO! I think we can all agree it means they’re going to throw money at something and do it properly.
Keep your eyes peeled as we post more of the interviews in the days leading up to the Season 2 Premier on April 1st. For our top 10 reasons to watch Season 2, read HERE.