Kit Harington tells why he loves Mencap, football, shoes and Game of Thrones
Through tax incentives and great filming facilities, Vancouver and Toronto have long been the third and fourth most popular locations for filming in North America, after Los Angeles and New York, but this year Montreal joined the pack, with a considerable number of projects under way in Quebec’s largest city. That’s where we headed to meet Kit Harington, otherwise known as “Jon Snow” on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Filming the upcoming movie The Death and Life of John F Donovan, the 29-year-old British actor was on a extremely tight, 16-hours-a-day shooting schedule, under the direction of Xavier Dolan. It was a miracle to be able to squeeze out a half-day with him.
A clever compromise between New York and Paris, Old Town Montreal in the summer is a lovely place to walk around, as many tourists visit the cobblestone-paved streets in this neighbourhood overlooking the Saint-Laurent river. Without a doubt, it was a glorious location for the Augustman crew to settle in, in the newly opened Epik boutique hotel. With wooden beams and a giant vintage wheel hanging from the roof, the top floor had an obvious Game of Thrones feel, making Harington feel right at home. Or so we thought. Because it wasn’t Jon Snow walking into our set right around noontime, but rather John Donovan, the character Harington playing in his new movie. A bit time from endless rehearsals following the orders of a demanding director, he still cut an extremely fashionable figure, dressed in skinny jeans and a leather jacket. “Can I have a minute?” he asked photographer Nigel Parry while entering the room.
Following which, we found Harington sprawled on the couch having a rest, before getting himself ready for the shoot. He clearly isn’t one to relish talking to the press, joking that “It would be fantastic” when I suggested that our whole conversation could be about his love for Manchester United.
I am trying to get an idea of his childhood, growing up in a large middle class household in London in the 90’s. Was he a huge “fantasy” literature enthusiast as a kid, which in turn led him to GoT? “I wouldn’t say it was a huge thing before Game of Thrones,” he recounted. “There were two fantasy books I was very, very keen on. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Leguin, and the Harry Potter books. I remember reading the first one before it became big. My mom was very good at knowing what good children’s books were out there, and she was very keen that we read. She bought me the hardback copy of the first one, which I’ve now lost.”
Harington wasn’t always destined to be a movie star. Born in London, the son of a playwright and businessman, he initially pursued acting as a hobby. “I don’t remember having the idea of being an actor,” he told us, “but then I looked at some old school reports from when I was 13, where you have to write what you want to be an it was clearly written that I wanted to be an actor. I’ve always enjoyed performing, I just didn’t realise I could make a living out of it.”
As is the cast with many British actors, it started with him attending drama school, the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. “It’s a pretty typical British drama school as it really prepared you to go onstage. I enjoyed it, it’s one of my first loves. Actually I’ve just come out of a play in London, right before starting to shoot this movie in Montreal. Most actors in the UK come from a stage background. I’ve done three plays now.”
But how does acting on a stage compare to performing in front of a camera? Harington has done both extensively, and considers them distinctly separate fields. “TV and theatre are two completely different jobs. It struck me how different they are, coming from this play in London to do this film here. TV and film are about the details and the tiny moments, whereas stage is like acting like you’re a giant and expressing yourself through physicality.” He makes big hand gestures. “No one is going to do a close-up on your eyes.” he explained. “I don’t know which is more rewarding. The stage might be for an actor. But I love them both for different reasons.”
When he auditioned for the role of Jon Snow, the show’s executives had doubts about Harington being too “clean cut” for the part. They made his “rough around the edges” beard and long hair part of his contract. Never in his life had he tried to grow a beard. “I’ve got a baby face underneath all of this fuzz.” He tried and it worked – he fit right in the universe. He now needs to always have it on, so it is full by the time he arrives on set in September. “It does keep you restricted,” he points out. “I can’t go off and play a US Marine.”
As we found out, Harington is quite particular about his hair. So what’s the secret to those luscious locks? He once boasted that he “just doesn’t wash it,” only to then add a bit later that he meant he didn’t use shampoo.
Jon Snow and Kit. Kit and Jon Snow. Are they one and the same? On this warm Montreal day, it didn’t seem so. Harington can look downright vulnerable, more so than Snow. He acknowledges the difference. “I think we’re actually very different people. I probably love the sound of my own voice more than he does.” he revealed in a fit of modesty. “Snow doesn’t like talking at all – if he can avoid, he would. He’s in many ways someone I would to be. He had a keen sense of right and wrong – his moral compass is very clear,” Harington paused for a few seconds. “In that way, I admire him. I don’t think we have the same outlook on life. Or maybe what we have in common is a certain dour quality.”
When pondering about Harington’s trajectory, I couldn’t help but think of another fellow Brit who started on US cable TV (The Tudors) and then went on to play Superman in several worldwide blockbusters. Henry Cavill. I asked Harington if that’s something he’d ever be interested in doing. It didn’t seem to be the case, though. He is really content with having Game of Thrones as his main vehicle, so much so that he said that when the show will end, his goal would be to find “another Thrones” to be a part of on TV. It’s really a testament to how big and powerful multi-episode TV shows have become, with actors now being very comfortable with sticking with television long term, versus it being a Plan B for a failed movie career like it was before.
Harington has an analytical view of the industry. “It seems like the ideal thing for an actor to have nowadays is a franchise, a role that you return to, that you love, where you feel that you have a family, that takes up half the year, and that you’ve become known for,” he said. “And that allows you to do other jobs, that may or may not pay so well, more like passion projects. That seems to be the idea. And I have that with Game of Thrones. It is my franchise, it’s the thing I’m known for, it’s my superhero movie. I don’t need another one. It lets me do other stuff the rest of the year. I get to return to a character that I love playing. I think TV is one of the most interesting mediums there is, at the moment – to write for, to act in. I’d be quite happy to carry on in TV.”
Harington has branched out with various projects outside of TV. Apart from theatre, which he returned to playing Doctor Faustus earlier this year in London’s West End, he’s also been involved with video games. Now that’s something far, far away from Westeros. Although, maybe not that much, since the video game in question was perennial favourite Call of Duty, a first-person shooter game. “I play a villain in that, which is quite fun. I’ve never played a villain before. It was really interesting. It was directed by Guy Ritchie. The production people have shown me little bits of it. It’s all set in space it looks amazing.” Harington said, lamenting that he isn’t offered more evil roles. “I’m not sure it’s quite my casting bracket to play a villain. I think people who get offered villainous roles have something quite interesting about their faces. I tend to get more straight-up roles. But I’d love to play more villains. It’s fascinating.”
Gaming is not something that Harington does on a regular basis. “I am not a huge gamer myself,” he confessed, “I do like Call of Duty, but I don’t play it a lot.”
Everyone wants to know more about Harington’s personal life – someone blessed with his looks must have amazing success seducing romantic partners. But Harington is not yet ready to make his personal life an open book. He’s notably guarded on opening up about his romantic life, letting rumours of onset romances come and go. “I don’t want people to know who I am,” he told me frankly. To make sure he can keep his private life. well, private, he avoids all social media. “I’m bad with social media. I’m not on any platform. I feel attached to my phone enough without this. Emails, news. I have to balance things. I think social media is a great thing, and brings a lot of happiness to a lot of people. But for me, it would end up taking over things.”
It has been mentioned in the press that Harington is a direct descendant of Charles II of England. But Harington resents the press making a big deal out of it. “Oh God!” he laughed when I bought it up. “I think that anyone can trace their roots back to King Charles II if they wanted to. I find family history interesting but if you think about it nothing that came before matter beyond your grandparents.”
In a way mirroring his personality, Harington’s fashion style could be described as complex. He doesn’t appear to be extremely trendy, but on the other hand, he’s not dressing casually either. He describes it as “plain lazy” with a characteristic Kit laugh in tow. “I like clothes,” he said, before making a revelation. “I’m a shoe addict. If you gave me a day off, I’d probably go buy some shoes,” which is reflected in the beautiful leather pumps he had on.
With the big 30 in sight, Kit is starting to become more conscious of his age. “I’m moving into that territory. I’m 29,” he said as if it were a considerable number. “I’m starting to notice that people in their early 20s are dressing differently from me. That starts to make me think that maybe I’m moving into a place where I’m not that fashionable any more. Skinny jeans and comfortable shirts, that’s my thing. Although I do love getting dressed up for an event, putting on a nice suit.
He doesn’t have any known hobbies, except from supporting Manchester United FC. “That’s my team. I’ve supported them since I was a kid. I’m a big fan.” he smiles. “We signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and then we signed Pogba, he’s amazing.. we should’ve never let him go the first time. We’ve got some really good players. It’s really weird having Mourinho as the coach, though. He was with Chelsea for so long.” He love of football explains why it is possibly his only hobby. “I play FIFA 16 a lot,” he owned up.
A little known side of Kit is his involvement with organisations helping kids who suffer from Down Syndrome. He has been involved with Mencap for several years now. “Mencap is an amazing organisation, he said. “It helps people understand those with learning disabilities. I got involved with it because my cousin was growing up with Downs Syndrome. It funded his schooling, and a lot of his recreational activities. I had to think, is it something, with the success of Game of Thrones, I could bring a bit of attention to? When I spoke to my Aunt, she told me Mencap had done so much good by allowing my cousin to do these things. It really is amazing. There’s a huge amount of misunderstanding that surrounds people with learning disabilities. And it can lead to neglect and abuse. The more we can learn to understand, the more we can learn how to interact with them, the better.”
The year 2017 might be when Kit Harington moves past only being recognised as a pretty face to a serious, trained theatre actor who is aware of what he can bring to any scene. The Death and Life of John F Donovan might just be that right vehicle to accomplish this. “It’s about a young TV start about to book a big movie,” he revealed. “But he’s secretly gay. He’s also having a secret pen pa relationship with a 12-year-old boy in London. And all of this is exposed. He’s unfairly descended upon by the media and his life descends in ruin. It’s an important movie because it’s about a lot of things. It’s about people and family. It’s also about our industry and what it forces people to hide sometimes.” Kit’s reserved, sometimes-wary look made what he was saying perfectly convincing.
It was John Donovan I had first met, before finally seeing a bit of Jon Snow come though. He’s clearly still excited about the show, though. Actually make that very excited about the upcoming season of Game of Thrones.
“Next season, you’ll see a very different pictures,” he teased. “We’re starting later because everything has to be cold and dark. The colour palette next year will tell you a lot about where the show is going.”