It was the buzz of the year. After the shocking finale of the fifth season of Game of Thrones with the murder of Jon Snow by a group of traitorous Brothers of the Night and no indication from George R.R. Martin (author of the saga, who hasn’t yet published the sixth book and is thus on a lag with respect to the HBO series) as to the fate of the most popular of his heroes, the speculative frenzy of the fans has become a viral phenomenon ready to pounce on any tidbit of news. The hypothesis that he died, case closed, was first undermined by the fact that Kit continued to sport the trademark look demanded by the series, then by some photos stolen from the shooting location in Ireland, despite official statements by the network and the actor. Now we know: Jon Snow is alive. “Having to maintain absolute secrecy for so long has been a formidable test for understanding the psychology of other people on the basis of assumptions made. What I realized is that many people feel they have a much stronger connection with Jon Snow than I do”.
It was difficult to abruptly start our interview with the ‘forbidden question’. After all, Mr. Harrington is busy with other things, and pigeonholing him always and exclusively to the role of the Bastard of Winterfell would be disrespectful. Kit is exhausted, warns his agent. “I’m exhausted”, he confirms in a room at the Duke of York’s Theatre, a couple of hours before going on stage in the adaptation directed by Jamie Lloyd of Christopher Marlow’s Doctor Faustus. “In the theater, you prepare for months and then you debut, and the tension rises and continues to rise, night after night. I don’t think that I’ll ever reach a plateau, that’s why I’m exhausted”. Indeed, he seems rather debilitated by a serious cold, but fortunately it doesn’t affect the resonance and gravitas of his voice. With the famous mane of Jon Snow (one that, according to legend, never comes into contact with shampoo during the entire GoT shooting schedule) pulled into a ponytail high on his head (“it actually helps me to blend in, to not be recognized on the street”) and round eyeglasses for a bit of extra anonymity, in person Kit Harington looks more like a disheveled student that the heartthrob of every girl’s dreams. After graduating the Royal London Central School of Speech and Drama, in 2008 Harington went straight to the stage of War Horse at the National Theatre, but the theatrical career he had in mind (“the National, the Royal Court, the Donmar”, a veritable ladder of the most prestigious theaters in London) was immediately interrupted by the worldwide success of Game of Thrones. But even at the height of the collective hysteria over the HBO series, there has never been an interview in which the actor has not reiterated his intention to return to the stage. And now here he is, in a room with ultra-cozy emerald green velvet armchairs and red Kartell lamps, eating healthy food and widening his eyes when I ask if Faustus is somehow a strategic move to reposition his career.
“I made some so-called opportunistic choices for my career in the past. They turned out to be mistakes, I really regretted them, and I will not do it again”. It’s hard to say whether he’s referring only to Pompeii, a disaster movie in every sense by Paul W.S. Anderson, or his rather colorless Roland Leighton in Testament of Youth from the novel by Vera Brittain, or the thriller MI-5.
“Faustus was the best choice I could have made between the various options that have been presented to me. An instinctive choice, like all the ones I plan to make in the future”. A choice that leaves him “terrified” every night, “because anything can go wrong at any time”, to the point where, in order to conquer the panic, he has developed a whole series of rituals: “I kiss a crucifix three times, I blow kisses at the photos of my parents hanging in my dressing room, and I kiss the stage floor three times”. It’s impossible to tell if he’s joking. “The diagnosis is clear, I can see it myself: I’m an obsessive-compulsive”, he laughs. “I spent all of January and February preparing for the role in my head, then I met the director and I had to make a clean sweep of my ideas. Although I’m nominally the protagonist, the play is absolutely an ensemble work that involves the entire cast. Very demanding, both physically and vocally, and very disturbing with respect to traditional expectations”, thanks in part to the replacement of Marlowe’s original language in the middle of the play by Colin Teevan’s contemporary text. On stage there’s vomiting and blood, and several nude scenes, including several full frontal moments, though not involving our hero, who is limited to reciting shirtless (which he can afford to do – Harington is in impeccable condition) and for an instant lowering his pants, revealing a derriere that lives up to that of his stand-in in the epic sex scene with Ygritte in the cave (at the time he had broken his ankle and couldn’t walk).
“With Jamie and the troupe the relationship is very intense, he’s a director who loves to experiment, give input and see how things develop through the creative contribution of everyone”. The show closes on June 25th, “and on the 26th I’ll be flying to Montreal to start filming The Death and Life of John F. Donovan by Xavier Dolan, a director I admire deeply, a real genius. It’s impossible not to get involved emotionally in his films. Laurence Anyways is a masterpiece, which I personally love even more than Tom at the Farm”. An avid admirer of the Coen brothers, Harington says he finds in Dolan’s work the same distinguishing feature: the ability to make films totally different film each other while maintaining their own defined and unmistakable style. In the film he plays an actor in a television series at the height of his fame (“Compared to the initial idea, Xavier is increasingly reshaping the role to be about me, or rather, about the perception that the public has of me”) whose life is destroyed (not just in the media) by a journalist, Jessica Chastain, who deliberately distorts his correspondence with an eleven-year-old child and makes it public.
“I love cinema, obviously, but I’m not one who sees a lot of films. I don’t like entering the imagination of someone else when I’m working on my own imagination. I experience it as an intrusion, as an overload of work. I dedicate so much time already to work in this period that I have to feel like few free hours I have are exclusively mine. What I do outside of the Duke of York’s? I go to the gym, take photos, mostly portraits, very black and white. Nothing exceptional”. He prefers documentaries to films, although he hastens to clarify that he would never think of directing one, “produce one maybe, that I’d like to do”.
For a while he’s been working with his best friend Dan West on two screenplays, “for one of which we’ve already secured the production. It will focus on the Gunpowder Plot, the famous conspiracy of 1605 when a group of English Catholics planned to blow up King James I along with his entire government at the official ceremony of the opening of Parliament in order to stop the persecution of their fellow Catholics. It’s an event that is commemorated every year in England, yet which surprisingly has never been adequately translated into a film. A decade ago there was a television production, which was pretty good, but the potential of the story, its relevance to contemporary reality is enormous – after all, this was the first terrorist attack with bombs in history, at the hands of young idealists. We’re thinking of a 4-episode miniseries; in addition to producing it I’ll be playing the mastermind of the plot, Robert Catesby. I have no choice, he’s an ancestor of mine. The other script is taken from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. The story is set between Paris and London during the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, but the relevance is, again, absolutely contemporary. A world where the richest 1% owns the equivalent of what the remaining 99% owns is a world on the brink of the precipice, where conflict is bound to explode dramatically”.
In addition to co-writing screenplays, Harington and Dan West share a house in Islington, “A real house, with 5 bedrooms, bought with my earnings from Game of Thrones. I am fully aware of what a privilege it is to own a house like this at age 29, when virtually all of my peers in London would feel lucky to own a studio flat”.
In closing, we return to the cult series: Jon Snow, as we said, is alive. Harington won’t reveal any more. He doesn’t know if he’ll be in the 7th season (officially the last), and hasn’t the vaguest idea of who his mother might be (to give an idea of the crucial nature of the matter: it was the answer to this question given to George R.R. Martin by the then aspiring producers DB Weiss and David Benioff that convinced the author of the saga to grant them the television rights). I ask Kit if he believes that his interpretation of Jon Snow has in some way influenced, or may influence in the future, George R.R. Martin’s vision of the character. “I honestly don’t think so. The idea that he has of Snow is entirely his own, and doesn’t necessarily coincide with mine”. Working with different directors in different episodes has not been problematic, given the stylistic unity imposed by the producers, but Harington admits that he found a particularly affinity with Miguel Sapochnik, who directed the episode of the battle of Hardome. His best memory? “The three weeks in Iceland when we were shooting the second season. Because the country is beautiful, because the Northern Lights are magical, and because it was there that I fell in love (for those who don’t know, he refers to Rose Leslie, who plays Ygritte, Jon Snow’s Wildling mistress, ed.). If you’re already attracted to someone, and then they play your love interest in the show, it’s becomes very easy to fall in love…”.
Source: L’Uomo Vogue by Fabia di Drusco