Kit Harington will be to the fore as Jon Snow in the new series of Game of Thrones, writes Shilpa Ganatra
TRY as he might, hair is an issue Kit Harington just can’t ignore. “I get slightly annoyed, being asked about my hair and the beard,” groans the hairy, bearded one from Game of Thrones. “I like to think of myself as more than a head of hair. Maybe I’m not. Maybe I am just a hair cut.”
Sat opposite him in an executive room in London, the Irish Examiner says nothing. We can’t pretend that Kit Harington isn’t the poster boy for the show thanks to his striking look: those curly black locks, manly beard and layers upon layers of medieval-looking fur, leather and armoury.
And we can’t insist it’s coincidental that he’s one of the lucky few who managed to avoid the grisly death many of the characters have met.
In fact, in the upcoming season of Game of Thrones — arguably the most watched show this decade — Harington, as the illegitimate son, Jon Snow, becomes a central figure in the ensemble cast.
As a key member of the Night’s Watch military order, this season he shape events rather than follows them — as he does in the first episode, which is heart-breaking for many reasons.
“What’s interesting about Jon this season, is that he has yet another older male figure come in his life — Stannis Baratheon [Stephen Dillane],” says Harington. “I thought it would tell me I was special and he could see something in me, because that’s what he’s had the whole time.
“But what’s interesting is this season is that he refuses to listen to him, becomes his own person and makes his own decisions.”
But the Wall fortification was also the setting of real-life tragedy — Belfast actor JJ Murphy died after just a couple of days shooting as one of the Night’s Watch’s elders. “It was sad,” Harington says.
“He was in a scene in episode three, so I met him then. He was an old gent, but he was very excited being on set. We had a good chat. It was a day that Peter Vaughan [Maester Aemon Targaryen] was also on set — two legends of the acting world — and they sat and traded stories.
“We had a whole four generations of people there — we had Brenock [O’Connor], who was younger than us, then us young bucks, and then Owen [Teale] and Dominic [Carter] who are an older generation than us, and then we had JJ and Peter — it was a cross-section of the acting society there, which was wonderful to see. May he rest in peace. He was a lovely fellow.”
Interest in the show — which has brought to life a fantasy world of brutal power-play between different ruling families — is at an all-time high. That’s partly because of the cumulative effect of its first four series; last season, it passed the 7m viewers mark in America alone.
But that number may be unreliably low, because Games of Thrones was the most illegally-downloaded show last year.
The increased interest is also because it’s the first time that the show’s masterminds, Dan Weiss and David Benihoff, have deviated from the blueprint set out in George RR Martin’s revered book series, A Song of Fire and Ice. Rumours of surprise deaths have sent some fans into a tizzy.
“I have no doubt that George RR Martin has a very clear plan of how this thing ends, and I have no doubt that David and Dan know that plan, and they’ve worked it out together,” says Harington.
“I’ve always felt in safe hands with this series, and I’ve never doubted the genius of those three men and their ability with narrative to conclude it in a way which is going to be satisfying. I genuinely believe that. I think it’s going to be a really interesting ending and I can’t wait to see it.”
With all this talk of endings rather than continuations, and especially given Game of Thrones’ reputation for slaying major characters with as little remorse as their murderers, it’s no wonder the cast’s eyes are beginning to stray away from the series.
Some, such as Irish actors Liam Cunningham and Aidan Gillen, are already established industry heavyweights, while other European favourites, like Carice Van Houten (Melisandre) and Nikolaj Costa- Waldau (Jaime Lannister) have now gained an international reputation.
For Harington and his ilk, it’s a chance to become Hollywood’s next-big-thing.
TESTAMENT OF SUCCESS
Born in London to a playwright and a book-store owner, he attended the respected Central School of Speech and Drama and won a part in War Horse before he’d even finished his course. His first Hollywood lead role, in Pompeii, was greeted with mixed reviews, but this year, in British war drama, Testament of Youth, he took the role of Vera Brittain’s fiancé, opposite Alicia Vikander, with whom he also stars in the upcoming The Seventh Son.
Both have raised Harington’s profile, and we suspect his future projects, such as the silver screen adaptation of Spooks, and the title role in The Life and Death of John F Donovan, could well be his breakthroughs. Yet he sees movies as just a part of what he wants to achieve.
Speaking with his own middle-class London accent, rather than the northern twang of Game of Thrones, he says: “The film thing has been exciting. I see myself doing lots of things in life, not just acting. I want to have lots of careers, different outlets, to keep acting fresh. I’m moving into my 30s and I have other ambitions that I want to achieve.
“I’d like to produce something, but I can’t talk about the project I’m doing. I don’t want to be arrogant, to say, ‘I’m going to produce a big movie’, so, at the moment, they’re just ideas I’d like to try.”
He’s also keen to balance his personal life and career, not least because his only publicised relationship was with on-screen flame Rose Leslie, and that ended once they were separated by schedules.
This year, he’s turning down the chance to capitalise on his success and is throwing his worldly goods into a backpack and seeing more of the world. He must really need a break.
“I used to travel a lot when I was younger. When I was 18 to 19, I travelled around America, India and Cuba on my own,” he says. “I travel with work, but I’m either in New York, LA or wherever I’m doing the film, and I think I’m acting and travelling at the same time, but I’m not really.
“So, this year, I have nothing lined up — I’ve said ‘no’ to lots. I need that time and space in my head for my own creativity, for my own sanity, and I’m going to go travelling again.”
Yet Game of Thrones is a world phenomenon — is he expecting to blend in? “I can if I shave this off,” he says, rubbing his beard again. “Honestly, if I got rid of this, I’m quite unrecognisable.”
For the moment, however, he’ll have to bear the burden of his defining feature.
Series five of Game of Thrones begins on Sky Atlantic on Monday, April 13. Seasons 1-4 are available now on Sky Box Sets
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