Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow opens up to Gavanndra Hodge
There was a time, not so long ago, when Kit Harington, the brooding, battle-weary hero of the global television phenomenon Game of Thrones, considered giving up acting. He had spent eight gruelling seasons and nearly all his 20s playing Jon Snow, who, in the final episode of the show, has to kill Daenerys Targaryen, the woman he loves, because she has become an unhinged tyrant who thinks it’s OK to incinerate thousands of innocents with her massive dragons.
Harington wept at this scene during one of the cast read-throughs. “I cried a lot in the last season, just out of sheer fatigue,” he says. “But I was feeling pretty emotional that day. I think it was more to do with Emilia [Clarke, the actor who played Daenerys], more about the people around me and the story coming to an end.”
We are speaking in a photographic studio in Hoxton, the roast chicken that Harington’s assistant has fetched for his lunch cooling on the coffee table between us (“I can’t eat and talk”). He looks box-fresh, just like the black T-shirt, grey jeans rolled up to mid-calf and grey plimsolls he’s wearing; his shaggy beard is trimmed, his shoulder-length warrior ringlets shorn away.
It’s a little strange to meet someone and be surprised that they look like they’ve recently showered, but we’re more used to seeing Harington smeared with the roiling mud and blood of Westeros, so this general vibe of buffed well-being feels new, as does the laid-back grace with which he approaches being interviewed (in past encounters he has seemed rather tense and reserved – channelling Jon Snow a little too hard, perhaps).
It turns out that Harington, 33, has had a good lockdown. He and his wife, the actor Rose Leslie, who, as the wildling Ygritte, claimed Harington’s on-screen virginity in a thermal spring in season three of Game of Thrones, decamped from their north London home to their 15th-century house in Suffolk in March.
“I did not set myself the task of writing the next big novel or learning an instrument, and failing,” he says. “I gave myself a break from the get-go. I took the opportunity to reflect, to sit with myself, and for the most part that was what I achieved.”
There was lots of gardening, he says, reading and exercise. Sometimes he and Leslie would get dressed up in their fancy red-carpet gear for dinner, just to add variety to existence, and she was the one who cut his hair.
They even found themselves performing impromptu comedy skits for each other. “We would be walking around the house playing scenes and doing accents. Two actors locked up together will end up performing for no one.”
He wasn’t able to act during lockdown, but he was able to process the ‘intensity’ of the past few years, during which seasons of Game of Thrones were interspersed with parts in films such as Pompeii, Spooks and Testament of Youth, and theatre roles including Doctor Faustus, his fame ratcheting ever upwards from drama school newbie to global six-pack pin-up.
“It has been interesting – going through lockdown, getting over this TV show, where by the end of it I didn’t know if I wanted to be an actor any more, coming out the other side, living with another actor. I realised that I actually miss my craft, I miss what I do. It’s a nice revelation.”
Harington was brought up in Acton in west London until he was 11, when his family moved to Worcestershire. His father, David, was a businessman; and his mother, Deborah, was a playwright, a teacher of creative writing and now an artist.
“I idolised my mum,” he says. “I followed her around the house. It was because of her that I wanted to be an actor. She used to take us to the theatre at least twice a week.” But Deborah Harington didn’t only teach her sons (Harington has an older brother, Jack, who lives in Dubai) about the transformative magic of the stage; she also introduced them to gender politics.
“I asked for a Mighty Max and she bought me a Polly Pocket. I asked for an Action Man and I got a doll – it was very gender fluid from the word go. And I went with it,” says Harington. To this day masculinity and ‘inherited male trauma’ are the themes that he is most interested in exploring with his work.
“I feel that emotionally men have a problem, a blockage, and that blockage has come from the Second World War, passed down from grandfather to father to son. We do not speak about how we feel because it shows weakness, because it is not masculine. Having portrayed a man who was silent, who was heroic, I feel going forward that is a role I don’t want to play any more. It is not a masculine role that the world needs to see much more of.”
He is, of course, talking about Jon Snow, the role he won soon after graduating from the Central School of Speech and Drama, where he was mostly cast as ‘a pre-pubescent boy’ and had to grow a beard before audiences would accept him as a man. Snow fitted the Jungian archetype of the hero – loyal, steadfast and honest, a man who fights for the underdog – and as such he became the moral core of a show where for the most part immorality reigned.
Harington admits that he is “not all those things”, despite what fans may imagine, but he did bring something of himself to the part, “a certain self-reflective, introverted broodiness”.
‘Thrones’, as Harington calls it, was a vast ensemble piece, and despite the unsettling regularity with which well-loved members of the cast were bloodily culled, deep bonds were formed. “The first season was wonderful, the freedom of it, everyone just had a great old time, because no one knew what the hell we were doing. In the second season we suddenly knew that whatever we were doing worked, we knew that we were on to something good.”
But it was the third season, he has said, that was his favourite, filming in Iceland and working closely with Leslie. “She has this energy on camera, she really gives everything of herself,” he says. “I mean, look, I fancied the hell out of her and I was falling in love with her, so she could have been the worst actor in the world and I wouldn’t have seen it… But obviously she is a brilliant actor and very easy to work with.”
He describes the end of Thrones as a kind of grief, or like the end of a relationship. “You know that elated feeling you get when you are walking down the street and you realise that you haven’t thought about your ex-girlfriend in a while, and you go, I think I am getting over them. I am at that place now and I am really happy.”
He does not even have any Thrones memorabilia at his home in Suffolk, no filched bearskin rugs or pewter goblets. “F-k no, I don’t want to look round my home and see Thrones. The place is medieval enough.” He does have some paintings that fit with the thatch and the timbers, but these are real relatives rather than fictional ones.
“I’ve got a portrait of a Lady Harington from 1603,” he says. There are distinguished relatives on both branches of the family tree, Elizabethan nobles on his father’s side, and the Catesbys on his mother’s. Harington played his ancestor Robert Catesby, the recusant Catholic ringleader of the Gunpowder Plot in the 2017 BBC miniseries Gunpowder, created by his own production company.
“I don’t place a huge amount of importance on family lineage, but it is quite cool to look back and discover stories about these people.” He is disappointed that lockdown meant he was unable to make a planned episode of My Grandparents’ War, the Channel 4 documentary series in which celebrities learn more about their relatives’ wartime heroics, although it is hoped that this will be picked up again.
Projects that Harington did manage to complete include guest-starring in an episode of the David Tennant-led police drama Criminal for Netflix, and playing a character called Dane Whitman in the new Marvel film, The Eternals.
According to my investigations, Whitman is a descendant of an Arthurian knight called Sir Percy of Scandia. He rides a horse called Aragorn and wields a blade called Black Ebony. Sadly Harington can neither confirm nor deny any of this intel. He can’t even tell me if he gets to wear a cool superhero outfit. “I’ve lost count of how many NDAs I’ve had to sign,” he says.
He can tell me about his other cool outfits, though, many of which are by his favoured label, Saint Laurent: “I love the clothes they make. They are a natural fit for me, not loud in any way, very classic, fitted and sleek.”
Sleekness is maintained by a regime of running, yoga and workouts. “I need to keep fit, I’ve got an overactive brain, I need to do something in the morning to get the endorphins going.” He has tried meditating, but says he is not very good at it. “I am not a very relaxed person, in honesty, I am a bit ADD, I can’t sit still anywhere for very long. I move from place to place. My relaxation is movement.”
Another way he clears his brain is by writing poetry: “Bad poetry – it’s more like getting things out of my head.” These strategies are working, though, and he says that he feels “a lot more centred now, and that is a really satisfying feeling… it has taken years of work, but we all do that, it is a process of growing.”
The work continues. He says he recently returned from a week in Wales: “I went to this cabin on my own, just to get out, to be in a different place. I had no signal or Wi-Fi or anything, it was just me and the sheep.” While he was there, he read The Dispossessed, the science fiction masterpiece by one of his favourite authors Ursula Le Guin. “There is a brilliant passage about suffering, near the beginning: I have a photo of it on my phone.”
Harington spent much of the final season of Game of Thrones in tears, but he seems to be in a far better place now. I ask him when he last cried. “I cried last night. I was chatting to a friend and we were talking about the idea of things not staying still, of not being able to stop time. You know, when you are like, ‘This moment is perfect, why are we still moving on?'” [Source]