Sitting down for a roundtable interview with Kit Harington is more akin to having a chat with a friend over a pint than a Q&A session. Wonderfully candid and open, the man behind Jon Snow tells us what he thinks about the bastard son of Ned Stark and how his hair helps him get into character, while we resist the urge to say, “you know nothing Jon Snow!”
He is currently filming another fantasy epic, the feature film Seventh Son with The Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore and Ben Barnes and will next be seen in Silent Hill: Revelation 3D.
Had you heard of the books when you got the part?
I had never heard of the books when I got the pilot through. I read the pilot and didn't touch the books until I got the part and then once I got the part I went out and bought all four of them and read them but I'd never heard of them up until then.
So having read them all does that influence how you play Jon?
I love having source material so having something there that is giving you as much about your character as you can, I love to know as much as I can. I got too far ahead of myself and had to reel it all back in, "wait a minute this is a long process we're going on, I need to make sure I don't endgame and end up somewhere where I've got nowhere to leave myself to go." So I reeled it back in and realised that at the start he's different from how he is when he gets further along the line. But I think it was important to read them because I could get a real grip of who he was.
What have you learned about Jon?
Something I learned about him recently, I was trying to work him out and I was thinking, "actually is he quite stupid?" Because I made a few decisions about him and it led to this person who in the books he makes a lot of mistakes, he acts first and doesn't think about things and so I realised recently he's a very instinctual person. He's a good person, he'll do the right things for people but he won't think ahead of time.
I had another part that I had to think about that was similar to Jon but for a different project and I was trying to think how to differ them and actually the other guy thinks about things and then acts. So he's [Jon} an instinctual person that's what I realised about him and I think that makes him who he is. He's not exactly intelligent as we think of people being intelligent, he knows how to use a sword and he's a good person and he's a natural leader but he doesn't think ahead too much.
He's probably one of the few good people in the entire series isn’t he?
Well again he does bad things, I think that's the exciting thing about this series. No one's really good, no one's really bad. He's one of the more sympathetic characters and you should like him, I think if you're a good person but he makes mistakes further on as do other people. So he's not entirely clean as a white piece of paper or whatever the expression is [laughs].
Do you think that's part of the appeal of the series, it's everyone doing bad things?
I think it is yeah. I think you're right. The appeal of this is that there is no Gandalf who's wonderful and does everything right. Ned Stark did stupid things, was wrong. He fathered an illegitimate child. He's not completely clean. I think people can relate to this because it's about people's faults, it's about what people do for power. It's been said a hundred times but it really is a fantasy that's based with a real sense of reality and the characters are faulted, every single one of them in some way.
He's also one of the outsiders in the whole series, like Tyrion Lannister. Does that give you another perspective on the story?
Something about this world is that it's a cruel world we're in and it's not a fair one. Where Ned has fathered an illegitimate child, in this world a bastard child, all the guilt is put on them. It's not on the father it's on them, it's their fault. With Tyrion he's an imp, he's half a man. It's a brutal world this one. I think that's what makes Jon sympathetic, that's why he stands up for people he sees as being hard done by and so does Tyrion as well. If you look at what Tyrion does as well he'll stand up for people who are being unfairly treated I think they have that in common. I think when I read the books I inevitably enjoyed Jon's story because I knew I'd be playing it but I also enjoyed Tyrion's because I think that they're actually two of the most sympathetic characters, they do good things, they stand up for people weaker than themselves.
If you weren't in the show would this kind of fantasy topic appeal to you?
It's really hard to tell that because I wasn't a huge fantasy fan before getting into this. I read certain books, which I loved. Certain trilogies, the Pullman trilogy [His Dark Materials], an Ursula Le Guin trilogy called A Wizard of Earthsea which I Ioved but I wouldn't say I was a fantasy fan at all, not in anyway. I watched the Lord of The Rings movies, they weren't my favourites. I kind of always, maybe even turned my nose up at it at times. But since being involved in this I've started to love it. I'm a fan of the series and I'm a fan of the books. I couldn't really tell you if I would watch it. I hope I would. I think maybe I would. I'd definitely give it a go. I've been watching every other box set there is available why not this one?
Does it suit your haircut having this part?
Yeah [laughs] I always had short hair before I did this and then they went, "could you grow your hair and can you grow a beard?" And I went, "well I've never grown my hair and I'm pre-pubescent but I'll give it a go!"
Wasn't there an internet poll about who has the best hair on Game of Thrones and you won it?
Yeah, apparently. I've since been putting loads of products in it and primping it up every day [laughs]. I don't know, I think it immediately puts you in a character slot. I think as an actor you have to decide what you look like and stick with it for a while because if you keep changing people find it difficult. I change per role. If I get a movie that someone needs me to cut my hair then I'll cut it but at the moment I keep getting hired for long haired dudes.
Speaking of the look, do the costumes help you to find the character? Does it change your posture and the way you move?
Yeah I love it. I've always loved costume. I'm not a method actor; personally it doesn't work for me. But the part of method acting that does [work] is putting on the costume. It takes about 45 minutes to put those costumes on but as you get it on you kind of feel, "ok there he is again." And there's a real weight in those cloaks that give, especially my character, way up north, trudging through barren lands and snow and it's cold, all of that gives you a kind of feeling of what these people live like and I think those costumes are hugely helpful for the character.
Have you noticed people recognise you and associate you with Game of Thrones since it came out?
Yes I wouldn't say it's a huge amount. In America you get stopped more whether that's because in England people don't stop as much and say, "well done," or whatever I don't know but it's not really intruding onto my daily life at all. It's a popular series but I'm not in the gossip mags, thank God. Anyone who's come up has been really generous, really lovely about their comments and I've not had any bad feelings so far and so it's only been a good thing. I'll tell you what you get a lot of, you'll be on the tube or something and you'll get a lot of people looking at you and going, "fuck I know him, I know him." That's quite fun. I had one person reading A Game of Thrones the book sitting opposite me and he looked and went [performs comical double take]. I like to think he was on a Jon chapter.
Is it strange to see your face on all kinds of merchandise?
Yeah. I had to sign 750 baseball cards the other day for HBO and it was weird I had a whole table full of my face. That was a bit strange. It's a very new thing for me. I really didn't think about the public side of acting before I got into it. I thought about the acting side of acting strangely and that was a mistake because when you get into TV it is about yourself as well as the person that you're playing.
How did you prepare for the role? Did you have to train much with swords?
Yeah I did. I love sword fighting and physical work because it takes you out of yourself immediately. I saw Jon as being a bulky guy, he's grown up on a training yard wielding a sword. He lives in a very physical world so I wanted to bulk up for him. We did a lot of sword fighting training and horse riding training because they need to look like they know what they're doing. You can't look like an actor throwing about a sword, but like someone who's done it his whole life. So all of that was important, we did a lot of it.
Was it difficult to shoot in Iceland?
The way I've described it before was like guerrilla film making. It was kind of like we had to just deal with what we had at the time, we had very little sunlight and some of the locations were pretty inhospitable and sometimes it was -30 or more so it was pretty tough going but then again if you have never been to Iceland I urge you to go, it's stunning country, just alien landscape, beautiful.
Did you see the northern lights while you were there?
[Grins] I saw the northern lights yeah! I was really drunk one night, I ran around everyone’s hotel room banging the windows going "northern lights!" And everyone came out and we saw the northern lights. They're amazing, really incredible.
Nikolaj [Coster- Waldau] mentions in the DVD commentary that Jaime [Lannister] and Jon are quite similar in that they have chosen similar paths [the Kingsguard and the Night’s Watch respectively]. Would you agree with that?
Yeah I do. I think there's weird link-ups between loads of characters in this and I think that's part of George Martin's genius actually. When I read the books I really liked Jaime Lannister, I know he's horrible [in the first book] but he's got a weird sense of practicality and a way of looking at the world which goes, "you know what, this is bullshit, all of this. I'm gonna do what I want to do and if that's have sex with my sister then so what?" I kind of liked him, he had this honesty about him and so doing that scene with him, I think Jon's terrified of him. He's got this huge reputation of being the best swordsman that ever lived you know? So he meets him and it was a fun scene to do because it's Jon trying to be hard and failing against this man who's more famous and bigger and better. He's peacocking.
Some of those added scenes were some of my favourite scenes. There's huge bits of unfairness in this world, the reason why I like Jaime Lannister is that he's called Kingslayer and he's [considered] the worse kind of person, when the King he slayed was THE worse type of person and everyone was trying to kill him anyway. It's like the little bits like that in this story, in the world, are just not fair. Blatantly not fair, I think that's one of the interesting things.
Was there a moment when you were watching the series that you realised, "wow this is a great show I'm in?"
Yeah it was the opening credits! I just got the first six episodes. I was in Canada filming a film and I was on my own I had no one out there, I hadn't hardly met anyone and I got these six episodes of Game of Thrones I'd never seen. I put it on and all I'd seen was ADR and ADR is never the finished thing but I didn’t know that at the time so I was really worried about it. And the credits came up and it suddenly became real for me I was like, “oh my God.” I had a moment, when you do a play and you have that elation of the first night and you come off stage and it’s just your adrenaline is rushing and it’s the most incredible feeling and I hadn’t had that all through filming. I thought, “this isn’t like theatre.” And when I watched those opening credits I had the same thing. I was on my own in a condo in Canada just jumping around screaming, going, “yes it’s real!” That was when I got really excited.
How many seasons are you signed on for?
I think it's six. And I signed that right from word go. Some people have turned around and said, "God that's long." But my opinion is I'm in an HBO series where I do it six months of the year, I love it, it's a success. The other six months of the year I get to do other stuff. I'm an actor, I'm in work for a possible six years I really can't complain. I think it's a wonderful thing to have as an actor, to be developing a character for this long and get to do other stuff. And it allows you to do theatre, which pays nothing and you have money in the bank to do that.
Do you think they'll get to make six seasons?
It's so hard to tell. It's done well in its first season and that's as far as I can look forward. I'm still waiting to hear about the third, I mean God knows! This series costs a lot of money to make and so making it back is important but HBO have always done things for artistic reasons so if they still believe in it artistically, they still think it's working then it'll keep going. I think from what I've seen of the second season it's still working. I'm really looking forward to the third there's some really cool bits.
You'll start filming in July if you get a third, but you could, for instance get offered a job to work with Spielberg or Lars von Trier in August and would have to turn it down.
I love Lars von Trier but I think it would be a blessing not to work with him! [laughs] No that is a good point. I think the six months of the year where I'm contracted to Game of Thrones, I kind of don't want to know what I could be or not be getting. Because I don't want that to be altering how I feel about Thrones. The first six months of the year I want everything through the door. I want anything that's coming through, I want to do it so that I am not just attached with Game of Thrones. I think it's important that people can see me in different roles so that I'm not just Jon Snow. People have said that with TV you can get trapped, you become a TV actor. I think HBO is slightly different in that they make things in a very film like way, especially with this where it's very cinematic. I've had lots of meetings with film producers and directors and I've had offers for films because they can see in a cinematic way what you will look like as a film actor because that's how good the HBO quality is. I don’t know, if this series ends after the third I am free to do other stuff. I'd much prefer it to carry on.
British actors are so popular in the States, what's the attraction that a British/European cast has to an American audience?
We charge less! No, I'm joking. I think we've got theatre training. Essentially most the people in this cast will have had training from drama school, which is theatre training. It gives you a certain way of acting. I also think, this isn't right about all American actors, there's a certain professionalism that I pride myself on as a British actor, that I want to turn up on time and have my lines learnt and really get in depth with my character. I think that's important as an actor. A lot of what I hear when I go to America is, "oh you're very professional." I don't know if that's a part of it.
But what's the attraction for the audience? Is it the old world, old Europe, a slightly different accent?
I think you have to have that accent for a fantasy. A lot of people say, "no you don't, you can have it American or mid-Atlantic." And you can to an extent, this world that we're setting it in is mediaeval and we associate America with the new world, we associate Australia with the new world, we associate Europe and European accents with the old world and I think that goes really deep into our psyche about what we regard as new world and old world. I think it kind of rubs if you have an American accent in a mediaeval fantasy show. I could be wrong but I think that's why people go to a British or European accent.
What can you tell us about the second season?
The world in which we've set it in is breaking apart at the seams and there's many different factions who are claiming to be King. As that happens the fantastical element, the magical bits, which we haven't seen a huge amount of, start to kind of grow and rise. And kind of alongside each other this whole thing of, "winter is coming," is that everything's slowly breaking apart and things are getting scarier and bloodier and more brutal. It doesn't get easier to watch but there's certain elements of humour that come in that are interesting to watch in the second season.
What is your favorite, the first season or the second?
I've always looked forward to doing the second and I think the first suffers slightly sometimes because you've got a lot of exposition to go through, as good as the writing is it's a hugely convoluted, complicated story and you need to explain who's who, what House they’re from and there's only a certain amount you can do that without just giving people exposition. We've done that now, you know who everyone is in the story and now you can get on with the real meat of telling the story.
Jon is one of my favorites because he may be flawed, but he does try to do the right thing. Unless he does something completely irredeemable, I will always root for him :)