The “Game of Thrones” star has a key role in “Brimstone,” the bleak, violent and uncompromising Western from Dutch filmmaker Martin Koolhoven (now in select theaters and available On Demand/Digital HD). The film slowly, over the course of four in-film “chapters,” unveils the grim circumstances in which a young, mute frontier midwife and mother (Dakota Fanning) finds herself the target of an obsessed and unrelenting fire-and-brimstone preacher (Guy Pearce). Harington plays Samuel, a wounded cowboy running from trouble, who receives shelter from the 14-year-old Liz (Emilia Jones) and leaves a lasting mark on the girl as her life descends into horror.
Once again, Harington treads into territory that unflinchingly explores violence, brutality, and their aftereffects, much like the HBO fantasy series he’s best known for. After wrapping filming on the upcoming seventh season, he admits that he’s still marveling on how the show has moved forward so strongly, without a new volume in the epic A Song of Ice and Fire” series to shape it.
Moviefone: “Brimstone” is quite an amazing piece of filmmaking, and I imagine it was a very easy “yes” for you to get involved. But what were the specific motivators for you? What were the things you saw in the character and in the story that really got you excited creatively?
Kit Harington: I’ll be honest: I read the script a while before I joined it. Then, as sometimes happens, the role went to someone else. It went to Robert Pattinson. I kind of put it to bed in my head. Then whatever happened happened, and I came aboard very late.
I think first and foremost, I really wanted this role from the get-go because the script was so strong. It was so interesting. It was so surreal. It wasn’t really specific to any kind of genre.
It takes a pretty unflinching look at violence and its consequences, and also very dark elements of sexuality, and both are things that you’re also familiar with from “Game of Thrones.” Why are these things, do you feel, important to explore artistically for you right now?
I think I’ve always been an advocate of going to really disturbing places in the dramas that we see, and to places of real violence. It could be a very controversial and very difficult subject to tackle on film, especially violence against women, and making sure that we’re not trying to use it as just a plot device.
And I think this piece was really about a young woman’s fortitude, and her journey through very tough and difficult and brutal things happen that in her life, and I feel that was a story that was worth telling.
Once you showed up to play the part, what was the interesting twists and turns for you as an actor in portraying this character?
It was strange because it was offered to me and I had, like, a day to prepare. I had very little time. I had to, like, get on a flight the next day and just do this part -– which, usually, you’ve got a couple of months maybe — at least — to kind of get your head into a role. So, I had to make some very quick choices on the character, and that was challenging.
But I like the antihero-ness of this man. You’re not quite sure where he is. Obviously, he’s a thief and he’s in with a bad crowd, and yet he finds his own redemption through helping this young woman. I think it’s a very short journey that my character takes in the film. It’s in one chapter. I was quite drawn into trying to tell that story quickly.
Despite that small arc, he’s very pivotal to the overall story, so that must have been an extra bit of fun trying to keep that in mind, how large he looms in her life.
We go through life, and some people are in our lives for a very short space of time, but they can have great impact. This movie is about different periods of this woman’s life, which have taken on great importance. He’s one of those memories. He’s one of those chapters as someone who tried to help her see there could be goodness in this world. There could be people who would help her, who could help her. I think that was interesting playing a memory in some ways, like coming in to play a memory of the lead character.
This marks a major arrival of a filmmaker in Martin Koolhoven, working for the first time in an English language film. Tell me about your experiences working with him.
I really got on with Martin. He’s one of those directors who knows his piece fully. He’s written it, and he knows it so well, and he knows very much what he wants to do. There was no guessing involved with Martin, and there was no shirking what his vision was.
He’s very direct, and also very kind and very loving, and he kept a set that loved him deeply. You could see the people he works with really, really have a lot of care for this man, and they like him.
You have obviously a limited amount of time to shoot movies in between working on “Game of Thrones.” Are there certain things that you kind of look for? Obviously, the schedule realities are important, but are there kinds of roles, or types of genres, that you’re especially looking for?
I’m so greedy in that way! I’m lucky in that I get options and offers. I always want to try and do something different from “Thrones,” if I can; a character that’s not a sword-wielding hero, because I do that for half the year. So I would look at something away from that, but other than that, it’s always on the scripts and the filmmaker. It’s always on when you read a script — is there something that grabs you?
I read so many scripts that I love and I think are brilliant, but I just know I can’t do the character. I know the character -– even if it’s not for me, they think it is. Sometimes you’re turning things down that are really great. You just know you won’t do it justice.
As you left last season at “Thrones,” the bar was higher than ever -– and congratulations on what a phenomenal season that was. Tell me what it was like for you all coming back together, again sort of in that uncharted territory without an existing George R.R. Martin book already laying down a road map, and knowing where you left it.
It’s just amazing, in some ways, having no book to go on, because the scripts come through and you’re completely in the dark about what they’re going to do. Believe me, I just finished Season Seven, and I am already counting down the days until I get the Season Eight scripts.
Everyone’s been wondering how it’s going to end, and what’s going to happen right from the get-go, and theorizing about it. It’s really exciting to me not knowing, genuinely having no idea where it’s going to end, what they’ve got in their heads, and being the first to find out.
At this point, having evolved him over all these seasons, what do you still love about Jon Snow? Do you feel protective about him at this point and keeping his nobility intact, or are you looking for more evolution?
I sort of know where he is now. Next season will be next season, he might go through a big change, I don’t know. He’s dear to me. I’ve lived with him for so long. I think I’ve come into a place of felling quite emotional about him, actually, knowing that I’m not going to get to go back to him after next year.
I’m really trying to just take stock of having lived this sort of dual life with this character, and being through so much with this character. It’s been a strange journey, but I’ll always be fond of it.