The actor talks to us about life as a front runner to the Iron Throne and saying goodbye to a career-making role
It’s hard to tell apart the actor Kit Harington from his famous character on TV — when we meet him in person in West Hollywood, Kit is as soft-spoken and melancholic as Jon Snow, one of the central players in Game of Thrones, touted as the greatest television show in history. He speaks in a soothing, pleasant voice and tends to be serious. The actor’s round glasses add to his somber look, only broken occasionally by his gentle laugh. He sports Jon Snow’s mustache and long, curly, dark hair.
The similarity shouldn’t come as a surprise. Kit has devoted the better part of his 20s playing Ned Stark’s brooding illegitimate son who eventually becomes the King in the North. “It’s going to be really emotional leaving Jon Snow,” Kit says, although GoT isn’t set to conclude until Season 8, coming next year or possibly in 2019.
The story of how he got the role is a good one. With only a few theater credits, including the role of Albert in a West End production of War Horse, and no film or TV roles on his resume, Kit turned up at the audition with a black eye from a brawl at a McDonald’s, sustained while standing up for a girl. He claims the bruise made him look battle-worthy and possibly got him the job that would then change his career and his life. He has more reason to cherish his star turn as Jon Snow — it’s how he met girlfriend Rose Leslie, who played Ygritte, Jon’s lover, during the show’s second and third seasons.
Now 30, the London native is already working on his post-GoT career. He currently stars in and executive produces Gunpowder, a mini-series set in the early 17th century. He will also appear alongside Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain and Bella Thorne in The Death and Life of John F Donovan, a drama set to be released next year. We caught up with Kit for a quick chat on the current season of Game of Thrones and some of his plans for moving on.
We’re in the thick of Season 7 — can you tell us about it without giving too much away?
The first thing that struck me when I read this season was just how drastically different it is from every season before it. Each year we come around and we say, “Oh, it’s different,” to try and sell the show. And we mean it. But this year, I was amazed with the pace of how the show moves. Thrones set this benchmark for slow-paced TV, where no one meets — everyone crosses paths, but they don’t quite meet, they miss each other, and you are waiting for the slow cogs to move. Finally, this season, people meet. Those unions or reunions we have been anticipating for so long happen — well, many of them do anyway, and I can’t tell you which ones.
So there’s been a change of pace.
That is the major thing. Everything happens at such a fast pace. At the end of the last season, you saw my character achieve the greatest amount of legitimacy, becoming King in the North — greater than Warden of the North, which his father was. From being an illegitimate child who was never going to amount to anything to King in the North — there was that minor moment of immense satisfaction and pride. But at the start of Season 7, we find him having to deal with his sister who is being an irritant to him. And the Army to the North, the zombies and the undead are still coming to kill people. So he has problems to work out. And that is the same across the board for everyone. No one is in a good place at the start of this season, and no one is happy. But then again, when is anyone happy in Game of Thrones!
At the end of Season 7, there probably won’t be happiness either.
I don’t think so, too [laughs].
But what about your character? What’s different about Jon Snow this season?
Jon is probably one of the more stable characters all the way through. You return to him each year and he doesn’t change a great deal. I have always quite liked that about him. But this year, he does change. He becomes a politician. Having gone to the brink and seen things that other people haven’t seen, he starts manipulating people — in a very Jon Snow way, in a very kind way. You see the greatest change in him. It’s a weird thing playing a character like that. You live with him for all these years, and as he changes, you change. He is not the kind of mopey teenager type anymore. He is a bit more of a man on a mission. So this is a good year to look out for him.
And how has playing Jon Snow changed you in real life, if at all?
I went through a hugely strange journey with Thrones in my 20s. It was an abnormal journey for a guy like me, where I was thrust into this position of fame because of this TV show. I struggled with that right around the 28 mark. I really kind of freaked out about it. Over the last couple of years, I feel I have changed.
Tell us about some of your favorite memories from the show so far.
I met my girlfriend on Thrones, and we are now living together. That is the greatest gift the show has given me. So my favorite memories are from Iceland when we first met in Season 2. Iceland is really a special place for me. Other than that, the last season was actually very special. I got to work with a lot of people I had never worked with. And a lot of us were in the same place at the same time. It felt like a huge reunion. Somewhere in the middle, we all got split apart and people were doing their thing. I remember not seeing people like Emilia Clarke for a whole season.We saw each other on press tours, but I didn’t see her once in Belfast. But in Season 7, everyone seems to be seeing each other all the time. So Seasons 2 and 7 are my favorites.
How much do you think you’ll miss the show when it’s all done?
It’s going to be really strange. It’s been all of my 20s. That’s a remarkable thing, having come into a show and not having done any other TV or film, and the show becoming this crazy, big cultural phenomenon. I am in a unique position. I don’t think it has happened to too many people ever. It’s going to be really emotional leaving Jon Snow.
If there’s one souvenir you could leave the show with, what would that be?
I said at the end of Season 1 to David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the show’s creators, “When this finishes, please let me have my sword.” They said, “Yeah, yeah, of course.” As the seasons have gone on and the show has gotten more popular, the value of that sword has gone up and up. I suddenly don’t think I am getting that sword anymore (laughs). That sword is worth a few hundred thousand pounds. But I am still hinting heavily and this time they go, “We will see.” So I might get a replica of the sword.
Photo by Denis Makarenko / shutterstock.com
This article first appeared in the September 2017 issue of Smile magazine.