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Interview with Kit Harington

Continuing our series of interviews from the international press junket—see here for those, and all of our season 1 interviews as well!—we had the chance to meet with and talk to actor Kit Harington about his role as Jon Snow.

The young actor is definitely a favorite with some fans, and he discusses a bit of the fun fans have with the series, while sharing anecdotes from Iceland about the cold, fight scenes, and newcomer to the series Rose Leslie. Plus some intriguing thoughts about what Jon Snow thinks about his mother, these days, as well as the benefits (and pitfalls!) of working in scenes that feature significant digital elements (i.e. direwolves).

Interview

Q: How was it filming in Iceland?

“It was incredible. It’s an amazing place. The people are wonderful and it’s a beautifully alien landscape. It was perfect for the lands beyond the Wall, it’s very much the landscape he’s supposed to be going into—this barren wasteland, similar to Daenerys’s journey in the red waste, though it’s a different kind of wasteland, cold rather than hot.”

Q: How cold was it?

“It was a -35C wind chill. It was so cold, that the Icelandic guys had their beards freezing into blocks of ice; you could tap them. I asked them why they didn’t shave them off, and they said no, it insulates you and keeps you warmer. I thought it surely doesn’t! It was very, very cold.”

Q: For you, is “Winter is Coming” a metaphor for the story?

“Yeah, I think so. We have this hugely long summer that everyone talks about, and “Winter is Coming”—as a metaphor—means that the world that we’re in is breaking down in a lot of ways. It’s just not about the weather!”

Q: Are you a “Winter is Coming” type of guy, or are you more glass half full?

“That’s a very good question! I can be both, actually… but I’m probably more of a “Winter is Coming” type of guy. I was brought up very much a pessimist by my father, who always said, “An optimist is a pessimist without all the facts.” So I’m probably a “Winter is Coming” kind of guy, though I try not to be.”

Q: Have you seen the memes about Jon on the web, and do you look at the fan websites?

“Yeah, yeah! I have seen some. I do follow various things on the web about the series, like Westeros, but I always try to avoid some of it so I don’t get confused about what my job is. But I have seen some of those images—they’re funny.”

Q: Do you try and think not too far ahead about the character’s story, or do you try and stay in the moment with the character?

“When I first got the part, I devoured the books and ended up far, far ahead of myself. They’re page turners. But I had to reel it back in because I was just too far ahead. I really like having the source material there—some actors don’t, some actors just want to know it’s in the script, but if I have the character there on paper and it has more than what’s in the TV script, I want to know.”

Q: How was the fight choreography this season? Did you find it easier after the first season?

“Honestly, it was harder.”

Q: Really?

“Yeah, harder. It was harder because our outfits were bigger, that was the main difference. Last year we were in the training yard with minimal stuff on, but here we’re trekking north of the Wall and you’ve got your big cloak on, and then layers and layers of stuff—they just keep layering you up—and under that you have your thermals and so on. So when we were in Iceland, we choreographed a fight that we practiced it every day to where it got to a really stick point.

“And then we put on the costumes and we couldn’t move. It was just like, this is useless, what are we going to do? But actually what it did is it informed the fight. Because in the real world, fights are dirty, vicious things—they’re not eloquent and beautifully photographed. That’s what we learned. It wasn’t going to be beautiful to watch, it’s not a flowing fight scene, it’s going to be what it is: we’re in a lot of gear, we’re in that much snow—doing a fight in snow is something else—and it turned into a hard slog.”

Q: We saw the first episode last night and we saw Robb’s direwolf, Grey Wind. Does Ghost look similar?

“He’s similar. I’ve never seen him before, since it’s done with digital effects, and he’s just… It’s what’s in my head, now, they look just as I imagined. It’s annoying actually, because you want that to actually exist. Why can’t I have that next to me, as an actor?”

Q: Is it hard to work with CG elements?

“You know, you don’t really notice it. Whatever they can do for real—if they can do a castle, they’ll build it—so the CGI is really minimal. The only part that was really difficult was in the first season when I was supposed to be on top of the Wall and looking out into the distance. And I’m staring at a green screen. It was my first experience of green screen—it’s not fun—but it’s a good way to do things like having a huge vista in front of your character.”

Q: Was there a stand-in for the wolves in the scenes?

“They had this ridiculous big, stuffed dog that I couldn’t take seriously. I told them to just take it away, it was awful. And at one point we had an Icelandic woman running in a big furry coat running across a hill. They didn’t tell me she was going to be there, so I just cracked up—I told them that if she’s going to be there, they have to tell me.”

Q: I know last year, everyone liked the dogs, but they weren’t working out so well—they weren’t hitting their marks. Did you find it was faster with the CGed wolves, or was it about the same?

“It was faster, much, much faster. I loved the dogs, but they always say that you never want to work with children or animals—the first part of that, from my experience, is entirely wrong; the children were fantastic, easy to work with, professional, great. The animals… it’s not their fault, the trainers are good, they did their best. But the dogs we had weren’t necessarily suited to it. They did well in the end, but it was a long process. And I was learning the ropes as far as film works myself, and so I’d do fifteen takes because the dog kept messing up, and then the one take where the dog did as it should and I screwed up, they’d take. So I prefer the CGed wolves, personally.”

Q: Can you tell us about Ygritte?

“I can’t say too much. Jon meets Ygritte, this wildling… And that’s about all I can say!”

Q: Well, is the story similar to what’s in the books?

“I can’t say!”

Q: Are you excited about having a love interest?

“Yes! Well, I’m excited about working with a female. Pretty much from episode two onwards in the first season, I haven’t been able to do that. It’s really enjoyable. Rose Leslie, who plays Ygritte, is just astonishingly good. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. She’s going to be a new fan favorite. She’s really amazing to watch. So, yeah, it was nice to work with someone who’s not a bloke. As much as I love working with the guys—”

Q: What’s the difference?

“That’s a good question. I don’t know… It’s nice… I mean ...

“Wow, I don’t really know how to answer that one without—”

Q: She’s nicer to look at?

“Yes! As much as John Bradley and Mark Stanley and all the other guys of the Night’s Watch are brilliant, she is nicer to look at. Much nicer to look at. You can put that down.”

Q: When she came on set, is it like Sam’s line, “Oh, I haven’t seen a girl in months”?

“Yeah, it was like that. I know the story of what happens in the books, I’d looked forward to it for a long time getting to do those scenes. I can’t reiterate how good Rose is, what it’s like to work with an actress of that caliber. It’s a really interesting story, actually, and it was really enjoyable. And in Iceland—she has very red hair, and when we’re in this completely white landscape, it was even more beautiful.”

Q: Jon Snow is a very conflicted character regarding where his loyalty lies—to the Night’s Watch, or to his family, and he seems more conflicted than a lot of characters. How was it for you to play that conflict?

“I’ve really started to understand Jon more as we’ve gone on, and I think having a break between the first season and the second season—weirdly, though I wasn’t thinking about him every day, he matured in my head a bit. The first season, I loved doing, but I was always looking forward to the second. The first season about his conflict, about whether he wants to be with his family or at the Wall, and he gets very inward. At the end of the first season, he finally makes the decision that he has his own war to fight. So the second season, it’s very clear: he’s determined, he’s got a mission, he’s going to do it. I thought that was an interesting shift for him.”

Q: Speaking about conflicts, do you think he still wants to learn about his mother?

“I think he’s given up on it. It’s not a question that goes away, obviously he wants to know and we want to know who his mother is, but that’s the hard thing about his father’s death. Not only has he lost his father, he’s lost his mother, because so far as he knew her identity died with Ned. So unless Catelyn knows—and she’s never going to tell him, and is he ever going to see her again—so the question of his mother’s identity is forsaken, he can’t learn anymore.”

Q: So you don’t think Jon and Catelyn might get along?

“Never going to happen, that they’ll reconcile. I think from the word go, it was hatred—well, he didn’t hate her, but she hated him.”

Q: So Jon’s stuck being the bastard forever?

“If you think about it in real terms, about what that would mean to someone, never knowing who his mother is—and she could still be alive, and he has no way of contacting her. And as he says, it could be a whore or a fishwife, he could meet her and never know. It’s too insane for him to obsess over, so he has to try and keep it out of his head. Whether her can do that is another question.”

Q: So what do you think makes Jon tick?

“His ambition. He did want to know who his mother is, but it isn’t what makes him tick—it’s that he wants to prove that he’s more than a bastard. He’s a good man, like his father, and he wants to prove it. He knows he may see his brothers and sisters again, he may see the south again, he may avenge his father’s death—but right now he’s with the Night’s Watch and there he can rise and be the best.

“He’s always making mistakes, Jon, because he’s trying too hard to impress. He’s very good at what he does and he’s a natural born leader, but like any young man he makes mistakes. He makes mistakes this second season, for sure.”

Q: Do you prefer standing in front of a camera or standing on a stage?

“They’re so different. I get asked that a bit, and it’s interesting, because I want to do both. Acting in front of the camera is about finding those beautiful, detailed moments, and going to these incredible locations as well, and immersing yourself in the world. Theater is about a marathon, about being in front of a live audience, about telling a story in two and a half hours and holding the audience in the palm of your hand, if you’re lucky enough. I want to do film, I want to do TV, I want to do theater.”

Q: Are you getting a hair cut now that the season’s done?

“I’ve grown used to it now. I like it—I never had long hair until Jon Snow. And I actually do go around with a beard most of the time.”
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