W Magazine

Kit Harington is glad Jon Snow isn’t dead, too

The Emmy-nominated Game of Thrones actor did “thousands upon thousands of takes” to master the now famous scene where his character came back to life. And it was all worth it.

At the 2016 Emmy Awards, Game of Thrones’s Kit Harington and Mr Robot’s Rami Malek competed against each other in the category of best supporting actor. Although Malek ultimately took home the prize, in W’s Royals portfolio the two actors are side by side in the TV category. Harington is the classic royal, thanks to his portrayal of Jon Snow over the past six seasons. Before the fantasy series exploded and he became a sex symbol, he was just an unknown stage actor in London who got into fights in McDonald’s.

What was the first thing you auditioned for?
First ever thing I auditioned for? Would have been to get into drama school. I auditioned for those. But first professional job I ever auditioned for was a BBC comedy and I think when you’re coming out of drama school you like put so much effort and onus on that one audition. I can’t even remember what it was now, but I remember being so nervous for it.

Did you get it?
No. No, and then that felt like the biggest thing in the world as well. I didn’t get the job. “Oh, my god, I’m terrible.” And then I got, I got a job soon after that.
What was the first job that you got? First job I got was War Horse. It was the play War Horse. I know. Landed on my feet with that. [It] was my first job. They needed a young man who could look prepubescent, and back then I fitted that bill. So I looked like a prepubescent boy, and that was just the ticket for War Horse. So I played the lead boy in War Horse.

And War Horse led to Jon Snow, right?
Kind of indirectly, but yeah, I think the producers had seen me in War Horse. They were auditioning everyone for Jon Snow, every young man in the UK was going out for it. But yeah, I said, “No,” to carrying on with this. Amazing these little decisions that you make in life. Or things could have gone a completely different direction. I said, “No,” to carrying – I really thought about it, and I was gonna carry on with the play for another six months. It was good money. And then I said, “No, no. I’ve got to go off and do other things.” And that’s when the Jon Snow role came up.

Do you remember the audition for Jon Snow?
I had a black eye. I’d been in a fight the night before. I think it gave me like some kind of toughness, like false toughness. They thought I was a scrapper. I’d got in this fight with this guy in McDonalds. I went into the McDonald’s with this girl I was sort of dating at the time. And it was late at night, and there was no seats, and we went to sit down. We like asked this guy and this girl he was with if we could sit on the same table as them. And they said, “Yes.” They said, “That’s fine.” And we sat down, and quite quickly he started being really rude to the girl I was with, calling her names and we were like, I don’t know, “We’ll, you know, we’ll just finish off here. We don’t need trouble, and then, and then go.” And then he called her something like an ugly pig or something worse, and I got up said, “No, no, you can’t, can’t call her that. Get up.” So I called him up for a fight, which I’d never done before. And of course he’d been sat down the whole time, so he got up and he just kept going. And I realized that I had to at that point throw the first punch; otherwise, I looked like a complete wimp. And I got battered. So then I went to the Jon Snow audition with a black eye. I think that man who punched me in the face may have helped me get the job, so, thank you.

What happened when you heard you got the job? Were you excited or were you nervous? You were committing for a long time.
I remember I was about to go on stage to do one of my final performances of War Horse, and my agent called and said, “Yeah, you got the job for the pilot.” It was only a pilot then. And I was over the moon. It was my first TV job. My first ever anything on film, which I’d been really wanting. And I just remember whooping. And, and at that point, I remember the money they were offering was huge. Like nothing I’d ever experienced. It was a year’s worth of theater money essentially. But we didn’t know whether it was gonna go. We had no idea what it was gonna be like, whether it was gonna be any good. Whether people were gonna like it. It was just a pilot at that point. So I don’t know. I just jumped for joy. I whooped. ‘Cause I loved it. From word go, I loved that script. I thought, “It’s – this is so fucking weird. I’ve got to do this. This is so weird.”

Last season in Game of Thrones, you came back from the dead. I’m curious how many takes you did of waking up?
We did thousands upon thousands of takes. ‘Cause it’s such a key moment I think, of me going [gasp] like that. That they wanted that over and over again, and I had to kind of say, “I don’t know how else to do it.” We have shot the crap out of this. Um, but I did actually – I mean, I woke up – ’cause I was lying down for so many hours for two whole episodes. I remember I fell asleep in the middle of a scene, and woke up – you know when you wake up and you don’t know quite where you are.

Yes. There’s nothing scarier of waking up in the middle of Game of Thrones world. Do you know what I mean? Just saying – naked. Seeing Tom and Melisandre and everyone standing over you and thinking, “Oh, my god, I’ve died and I’ve actually ended up in Westeros.

But I love when they asked you what you saw when you died. There was something so heart breaking, because there was nothing. I love the way you said that.
That was one of my favorite pieces of writing in I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking in Thrones. Of course someone gets brought back from the dead and the first question anyone would ask, anyone, is, “What, what, what did you see? What was there?” Tell us, because this is the question on every human’s mind. Throughout time. We need to know what happens. And, of course, there was nothing. You know? Which is the scariest thing you can hear. And it’s just another example of Thrones’s relentless punishment to us as an audience. “You know what? You thought there was a heaven. There’s no heaven. Get over it.” Yeah.

But you came back. So that’s a present. I am very much happier to be back. If there’s anything better than being alive in reality, it’s being alive fictionally as well.

But you never thought you were going to die, right?
There were a couple of weeks when I thought I was going to die. There were a couple of weeks when, I got the scripts and I read them, and I thought maybe this is it. I didn’t feel it was right. I didn’t. I wouldn’t have wanted to go then. And then I was told. I was one of the first people to be told. And, then I had to keep this massive secret from everybody. Friends, family.

You couldn’t tell your parents? Oh, I told my parents. They were really good about it. I said, “All right, mom and dad, you’re in on this now. It’s like you, me, the producers of Thrones, and no one else.” And they then went about lying to friends, family, everyone for me. They relished it, I think. They liked it. They’re quite dramatic, my parents.

When you told your parents you wanted to be an actor, what did they say? My dad went, “[Long sigh] Okay.” [Laughter] And my, my mom I think was quite happy. They were really supportive. I’m a lucky man. I grew up with great, great folks. But I think it’s every parent’s nightmare, their child saying, “I want to be an actor.” It’s like, “Oh, god.” And it really panned out. It worked out. So I think dad’s eating his words now..

Interviewed by Lynn Hirschberg