In just four years, Kit Harington has gone from fledgling actor to one of the leading men in the HBO hit "Game of Thrones."
Harington plays Jon Snow, the bastard son of Ned Stark and a mother he's never known who now serves as a Brother of the Night's Watch sworn to protect the 700-foot ancient Wall and the realm against threats from the north, with a mix of melancholy, pride and quiet power. Jon is one of the most pivotal characters in the series based upon George R.R. Martin's best-selling "A Song of Ice and Fire" books.
The role has given the 25-year-old Brit, who before the show starred in the original West End production of "War Horse," opportunities such as the upcoming film "The Seventh Son," in which he stars with Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore, worldwide fame and the chance to travel from Ireland to Iceland to film the series.
Jon's Season 2 story arc also has allowed Harington to do something he hasn't done since early in Season 1: act opposite a woman.
"It's really enjoyable," he said, laughing. "It was nice to work with someone who's not a bloke. As much as I love working with the guys."
Beginning with Sunday's episode, "The Ghost of Harrenhal," Jon and the Brothers continue their journey beyond the Wall fortress to stop the advance of a wildling army. Jon eventually meets a wilding woman named Ygritte (played by Rose Leslie, who Harington says is "absolutely brilliant.") Harington said Ygritte confounds Jon.
"He's always got a very masculine presence around him. So, when he meets a woman he just doesn't know how to deal with her," he said. "He never really interacted with women before, other than his younger sisters, which isn't really the same thing."
Sounds to me like romantic sparks might warm things up for Jon, but Harington wouldn't reveal any more about the relationship.
The upcoming episode is also the first that was filmed on locations in Iceland, including on the country's largest glacier, Vatnajokull. Harington said the frozen landscapes of Iceland were "perfect" for the wilderness beyond the Wall.
"It looks incredible on screen," he said. "It is very, very cold, but beautiful. It was a -35C wind chill. But it's very much the landscape he's supposed to be going into."
Harington talked about how his life has changed since he began working on "GOT," Jon's motivations and the "huge mistake" Jon makes later this season that will change him forever.
I was listening to the Season 1 commentary and I heard you say that you have a phobia about things being around your neck. Would you care to elaborate on that?
[Laughs] I do. I don’t like constriction around the neck, [laughs] I don’t know why. My brother used to be torture me as a kid and poke at my neck, so I flinch whenever anything comes near.
With all the heavy cloaks you have to wear, is it kind of hard to be acting in this?
No [laughs], you know, I get through it.
Tell me how Jon has changed from Season 1 to Season 2 so far.
I think he grows up. I think he sort of inevitably has to. He realizes he’s going into a whole new territory so he kind of stops, I don’t know, I think he stops moaning as much about wanting to go down South and avenge his father. He realizes there are bigger things at stake in Season 2 than the wars and the politics that happened down South. So he has to grow up. I think that’s the main thing. He matures a bit. I think he matures every season that we’re going to go into like everyone does, but especially with Jon. He realizes he’s got responsibility.
Do you think he’s happy to sort of happy to be beyond the wall and moving into the thick of things with the wildlings?
I don’t know if happy is the right word. [Laughs.] I don’t know if anyone in this show has a very happy situation going on. I think it’s not about sort of proving himself now. It’s not about trying to show the world that he’s a great and good leader. It’s more that he realizes that it’s a practical sort of thing he has to deal with. But yeah, I don’t know if he’s happy here.
What would it be? Eager to fight, I guess, to do what he’s trained to do?
Yeah, I think so. I think the reality of these guys that we meet is that they’ve been trained from Day 1, probably from about the age of five, that the first and foremost is not learning the world, it’s learning how to fight. And so he’s going into a world where he’s going to put his sword skills and swordsmanship to use. But I think he’s eager to do that. I think it’s like those soldiers who go into battle—he’s been trained to kill. I have no idea of the reality of things, but it’s not the same really when he faces the real world, the actual fight sort of, it kind of hits him in the face. But yeah, he gets to go and see real combat.
And he’s running afoul of Commander Mormont a little bit more maybe. I was wondering if he has issues with authority? Or is it more that he’s just curious about things?
I think he does have issues with authority. I don’t think he likes being told what to do. I think he prematurely wants to be a leader actually. He keeps having to be reminded that he’s not there yet. And I think he speaks before he thinks, and that’s what happens with Mormont. He’s got huge respect for his commander but he doesn’t quite grasp the idea that he has to rein it in a bit as far as when he can and can’t talk. He’s reminded of that in the first episode. And he continues to be reminded of it.
He’s always got a father figure over him. First it’s Commander Mormont (James Cosmo). Later, it’s a guy called Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong). And previous to that it was his uncle and previous to that it was his father. So he’s always got an older figure trying to tell him what to do. And he kind of gets frustrated of being told what to do, but he needs to listen and he doesn’t, obviously.
What do you think the most valuable lesson he’s learned so far in the series?
He learns that he can’t take things lightly, like the oath he’s taken. He has to stick with it, you know? It’s not an easy thing, an easy challenge that he’s been given. I think he sort of sees everything slightly as a fairy tale. So he’s reminded that what you’re doing is serious and you have a task here. So I think the lesson that he learns is to sort of really be more serious with the task at hand.
For this season what do you think one of the big lessons we’ll see him learn is?
I don’t know. I don’t know how to say that without spoiling it. [Laughs.]
In the recent episode Mormont pulled him aside and said he needs to learn how to follow.
He’s told that and then he disregards it. Like a lot of young men, he pretends to hear something and he doesn’t really act upon it. And he makes a big mistake, a huge mistake this season, which really, really changes him in a very sort of fundamental way going into Season 3. But I think, yeah, he sees blood in this season and that really will change a man.
What do you think his Achilles heel is, so to speak?
His temper. I think he reacts before he thinks, like I said, and I think his temper gets in the way of his natural sort of intelligence. He speaks out before he thinks and I think that really is his Achilles heel. But also, like a lot of men, women could be [his Achille’s heel] and we’ll see that this season as well.
Do you see any similarities between you and him?
A lot. More than I like, really. [Laughs.] I think initially when I read the part I saw myself in him from the get-go. There are big differences between us and I find it hard to picture myself like him in some ways. But essentially, I think the writers and creators saw that I was quite similar to the character and I think that’s true a lot.
Do you have a temper? Do you have issues with authority?
Yeah, I always did growing up. I think in a way that’s why I became an actor. I wanted to be freelance; I always wanted to be my own boss. I think I used to; I don’t think I have so much of a temper now. That was maybe my adolescent age.
Yeah, we haven’t heard anything from the set about Kit Harington getting in a fight with the directors or anything.
[Laughs.] No, I told them to bar that stuff.
I think was interesting that Jon was preoccupied with what happens to Craster’s sons. Why do you think that is?
Yeah. Well, I think the minute he gets there he smells something’s up and he smells that this man is not really kosher, that there’s something wrong in the place he’s come to. And he doesn’t understand really why we in the Night’s Watch are aligning ourselves with this horrible man who marries his daughters, and who knows where the sons go. He finds that fundamentally wrong and he doesn’t feel as if that should be looked over, like Commander Mormont does. I think that’s why he’s so obsessed with it and he’s so noisy about it. He always wants to stand up for the weak. And he sees all of these women being horribly abused and God knows where the sons go, and so he wants to step in and do the right thing. He doesn’t really see the bigger picture, which is that to do the right thing you might have to overlook the small problems. That’s one of his good qualities, I think. I think that’s why he gets so involved.
So speaking of standing up for the weak, how’s his relationship with Sam changing?
Yeah, yeah. Him and Sam, that’s interesting this season. Me and John [Bradley], who plays Sam, get on very well off set. We have a very good relationship. Something happens in the second episode of this season which changes the dynamic a bit, and I think Samwell loses a bit of his respect for Jon because of something that Jon has to do or say no to. I think it was kind of sad looking at that because we get on so well and suddenly we have to separate. Maybe there relationship is not so cotton candy.
What was that, their relationship is not so what?
Cotton candy, I don't know why I thought that.
It paints a vivid picture. One of the themes, I think, with this show is the father-son relationships and I guess family relationships in general. Do you see that, too, and how do you feel that plays out in Jon’s case?
Yeah, Jon, I think, in the whole show has more of those kind of paternal figures than anyone else. Like you said, he goes to his father, then Uncle Benjen, then Commander Mormont and later we get to Qhorin Halfhand. Then, beyond that, we get to even more people. So he constantly has an overpowering father figure above him, which is going to do weird things to him since he doesn't have a mother.
So, yeah, that's an interesting one to play. … Yeah, I love working with the male actors I get to work with. All the men, obviously, have more experience film-wise than I have anyway, so it works on two levels or on and off screen.
Do you think that we’ll ever find out who Jon’s mother is?
I think we have to. I think it’s been so set up that we have to find out who that it. We’d feel cheated if we didn’t. Then again, it’s all in George the writer’s head and the creator’s head. Who knows whether we’ll ever know and if it will even be significant? So I desperately want to know who his mother is. I think it’s one of those big questions. Yeah, it shouldn't be interesting. Why do you really care whose someone’s mother is? But, for some reason, we do. I want to know, so hopefully, we’ll find out.
Do you think Lady Stark will ever acknowledge him? Or do you think he even cares?
No, he doesn’t he really care. I think she’s truly gone for him. As much as backstory is relevant, they grew up and he was treated really badly by her. He kept trying to make amends and then, eventually, when we reach the second episode of the first season, he completely gives in. He doesn't care for her anymore.
How has your life changed since the first season? Both professionally and personally, I’d say.
In both ways, it has changed. I’d lie if I were to say it hasn't. When I’m in London, when I’m at home, I live very much the same sort of life that I did a year ago. But I travel a lot more now. Yeah, it’s very exciting. I get offered, or do exciting projects, which I get to look at, which maybe a year ago I wouldn't have had the opportunity to. Yeah, it’s been a crazy year. It’s been a lot of fun.
Do you get recognized a lot more?
Yeah, moreso now, in North America more than in England.
They’re much politer in England. Would they even say anything?
In England they kind of don’t approach you as much. But it’s lovely to be approached. They’re always very enthusiastic.
Are you a more “Winter is Coming” type of guy or more of an optimistic person?
I’d probably say I was more “Winter is Coming.” I always grew up a bit of a pessimist. I was brought up very much a pessimist by my father, who always said, “An optimist is a pessimist without all the facts.” I have to always kick myself and try to make myself more optimistic.
The way that the show is filmed across the world, you don't get to see a lot of the other stories. When you do see them, do you have a favorite character or a favorite storyline outside of your own?
I love a lot of them. I think that that's why the show is good. But I really like Tyrion’s storyline; I think he’s a big player in this season and it’s really interesting seeing what Peter Dinklage does with the character and how it gets developed. I love his part of the story in King’s Landing.
We all see this as a really epic story when we watch it, and I was wondering if it feels that epic while you’re filming it.
Yeah, it does. I think they stretched the budget on this very, very well, in that it’s got a huge budget for a TV show. But even so, making the series look like it does with the budget they have is a miracle. So it does feel very epic when you walk on these sets and you see the amount of extra background artists that they have. Yeah, I’m always amazed by this TV show. I think where they go with it means that people enjoy it. They spend a lot of money on it and people enjoy what they’re seeing because of that.
Have you sat on the Iron Throne?
I have, yeah. [Laughs.] It was fun. It was kind of weird. I’ve got a picture of myself on it; I’ve got a few pictures of myself on it. Yeah, it’s weird. Every time any of the actors see that throne, they go and sit on it instantly. It’s like a weird sort of draw for all of us.
We don't see you in the fourth episode, so can you give me a teaser, a non-spoilery teaser for your return after that episode?
Yeah. Well, I mean, after the third episode, all the first two were filmed in Belfast. From the fifth on, you see a very different landscape and it’s all of them going further into the wilderness. So I think that's sort of teaser enough, really. It looks incredible on screen.
And now let’s get back to the girl Jon meets. What can you say about Ygritte?
I can’t say much. Jon meets a wildling named Ygritte. How’s that?
I won’t ask where that story goes, but was it a nice change working with a woman?
I hadn’t done it really since Season 1. It’s really enjoyable. Rose Leslie is just brilliant, absolutely brilliant. She’s really amazing. So, yeah, it was nice to work with someone who’s not a bloke. As much as I love working with the guys.
If the show follows the books, I know that we will see more of Ghost later in this season and he’ll be in action. And I was wondering if filming with the wolves or the stand-ins for the wolves, what that’s like.
Easier than with the real wolves, with the real dogs. I think it’s easier for everyone shooting with CGI pets. And they look incredible. I’ve seen some of them and on screen they look amazing. So they look as they're meant to look in the books, as it were. Yeah.
So are you looking at tennis balls?
Well, we’re looking at tennis balls sometimes. We did have a runner in a big, fluffy coat. They didn’t tell me about that, so I just cracked up. And we had this ridiculous stuffed dog that I couldn’t take seriously either. I told them to just take it away, it was awful. So, yeah, a mixture of the lot.
After I watch an episode, I can't get the music out of my head. Does that happen to you, too?
[Laughs.] Yeah, I think the most exciting bit for me was seeing those opening credits and that made it very real for me.