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Interview: Kit Harington

16th January 2015

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When we meet him, Kit Harington is all in black and lounging on a hotel room sofa in his socks (“all Vuitton shoes,” he says later, “are uncomfortable, apparently”) after enjoying the premiere of Testament of Youth, which took place the previous evening, “maybe a little too much.”

He won’t be pushed on why he enjoyed the premiere too much, unfortunately – maybe because, after the huge success of Game of Thrones, he’s very aware of giving journalists too much to jump on.

Suffice to say, when we suggest that he might be longing for the end of the day so that he can have a drink, his denials are swift.

Rather than Game of Thrones (although we will get to that later) or his possibly hungover state, though, we’re here to discuss the big screen adaptation of Vera Brittain’s generation-defining memoir, in which Harington is bringing to life the writer’s lost fiancé, Roland Leighton.

Kit’s character is dreamlike and often distant from protagonist Vera – both physically, on the Front Line, and in his words, which were recounted in her memoir 15 years after the war had ended.

This eerie, dreamlike nature is deliberately drawn by James Kent’s direction, which brings an idyllic quality to the pre war years and an apocalyptic sense to the years of fighting, reflecting the fact that the entire source text was a memory. Opposed to her slain brother and fiancé Vera appears solid and whole, with a much more defined voice. How did Kit go about creating a character who, really, was nothing more than a memory?

“The boys are in a dream of hers, and that was intentional in that it was written from a memoir,” he says. “The director James wanted it to feel like a memoir, even though she doesn’t really do any voiceover, she doesn’t really speak from the book. But to try and play a character as dreamlike is going to be a mistake from the get-go, you’ve got to take a character and play it as that character, and then trust that the director will do the rest with focus, lighting and moments, fleeting images."

He adds: “We had a book called Letters from a Lost Generations... every day they wrote to each other, for however long, and it’s just an amazing tome; an insight into the inner workings of his mind, and him.

“To have a research tool to call on, to be able to read a person’s inner thoughts and feelings, is great. So that’s how I worked my way into him.”

The balance of being Roland for three weeks – a “bright, airy 19-year-old and then this haunted figure who had come back from war” – he says, was exhausting. As a result of this character, or in general, what are his thoughts on the nature of fighting for one’s country? He’s been quoted in the past as claiming that “patriotism breeds small-mindedness...”

“It wasn’t a misquote;” he says. “I probably did say that.” Pause. And then he’s shielding himself from saying too much again, although he gives off the impression that there is a lot he wants to say, actually.

“I don’t want to delve into this,” he says, “because I get into trouble for saying things like this, that I can’t quite back up with my intelligence.

“I shy away from English flags and maybe it’s unique to us, because there’s a real pride – in America, for example – in flying the flag. It’s a certain type of patriotism.

He’s quick to add, though: “I do love this country and I want to live here. It’s that “my country’s better than your country” that I don’t like; I think there’s an underlying animosity; a certain undertone to that in certain types of patriotism.”

“We’ve got a very guilty history,” Kit believes - although he wouldn’t say that this film demonstrates that guilt, really: “The First World War is a difficult subject that was brought up with the centenary, as to why we went to war.

“There’s that wonderful line in Blackadder where he says “It was just too hard not to have one.” And I think that’s what happened.”

He adds: “I didn’t enter this film trying to think about the morality of the war, I entered this film trying to play a character who was going to be killed in it and was going to have to play a character who thought completely differently from me about that war. The mindset of someone who was incredibly patriotic, and believed in heroism, and God, king and one’s country; to put my mind in that place in a very different time period.

The war and its consequences, it’s clear, he has given a great deal of thought: “I’m sure we’d be in a very, very different place right now if the First World War hadn’t happened. It was a world war, it wasn’t just in Europe, and that’s what I find so fascinating – it was a European war but it broke out all over the world; it was an excuse for everyone’s quarrels and quibbles to be settled.

“Millions and millions of men across the globe... what those men might have gone on and done is one thing, but also another thing, is that because they went off and did those things women’s rights moved forward, faster. So would we be in a place now where that wouldn’t have happened?”

It’s a good question, and one that isn’t often asked. Is there any particular message that he hopes people take from Testament of Youth?

“Yes, I think there is. It’s a unique film; it’s the story of war from a woman’s eyes, it’s the story of war from back home. And the analogy I think to think of it with is the story of how you could hear the bombs of the Somme from Dover, and I like to think of Vera like that, that it’s all over there, and Vera is here. Hearing those bombs must have affected people. It’s not about the affect of war on men; it’s about the affect of war on everyone that they left behind. And that’s an important story which isn’t told enough, and I think it should be.”

Kit Harington seems mildly uncomfortable, and gives the impression that he very much isn’t used to being asked questions that require him to divulge his beliefs – no matter how strongly he might hold them. I feel slightly like asking him these questions is akin to throwing him to the wolves at the end of a long day of interviews, especially when, after sharing his genuinely insightful musings, he trails off with the needlessly apologetic, “My brain is frazzled and I’m not very clever anyway.”

Moving into a lightly (and possibly for him for more comfortable) area, let’s talk Game of Thrones. Considering the frankly insane level of fandom that the show has unleashed across the world, has he any particularly bizarre – or better, scary – fan experiences?

The answer is yes, he says. Just the other day, in fact, “I got a voodoo doll of myself in the post... that really scared me.”

What did he do with it, this voodoo doll gift in full Jon Snow attire?

“I put it in the bin. I wondered if I should burn it...”

I suggest that it’s not the wisest choice, to burn a voodoo doll of yourself...

“Ooh yeah, good point,” he says. “I was really freaked out by it. No letter either, just a voodoo doll, dressed as my character. No pins in it.”

That, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the most bizarre - usually it’s just requests for signed photographs and memorabilia, or “people coming up and asking for a photo or a selfie. Which I’m always happy to do, unless I’ve just got off a plane.”

We decide that we’ll try our luck, despite his post-premiere tiredness. Does he want to take one now, or...?

Unfortunately (but probably understandably) the answer is no: “Don’t ask me!”

Point taken. Did he notice a change, as Game of Thrones got renewed and became bigger?

Yes, is the short answer: “When you’re in something like this it feels like the whole world is watching it,” he says, “whereas it might not be that big. It feels global. And it’s entered the zeitgeist; it gets mentioned on TV shows. That’s the weirdest thing; getting Simpson-ised or it being on South Park. That’s really bizarre for me.”

He believes, though, that the show has reached a peak and is “as popular as it’s going to get.” His life, he says, “won’t change any more than it has already changed.”

This might sound slightly ominous to fans – so, will there still be a Jon Snow on Game of Thrones in five year’s time?

He can’t tell us, he says, because then he’ll be giving the game away.

We’ll try, anyway. The internet has picked up, since yesterday, on the fact that he’s cut his trademark hair...

“The internet always goes crazy about shit you can Google,” he admonishes. “That’s not a spoiler of any sort... I asked my hairdresser to cut it as short as you can without cutting it too short.” Although he’s not contracted to keep his hair at John Snow length, he is “contracted to return to the show looking the same.”

One gets the impression that, rather than being an enormous spoiler, he just got his hair cut so that it would look presentable for the world’s press at last night’s premiere.

The interview draws to a close, and as he stretches and prepares to collect his belongings he yawns, and then drops a bombshell:

“And that’s Testament of Youth done. I’m done with Thrones!”

Wait, what...?

He’s quick to rectify: “No, no!” He’s had a Freudian slip – he’s not done with Game of Thrones, he’s done with Testament of Youth.

This, we’re sure, will be a huge relief for Kit Harington’s many, many fans.

And then he’s gone, picking up his expensive shoes and bemoaning how uncomfortable they are (which on reflection may have been a pre-emptive strike – days later he’s named as the face of Jimmy Choo) - and wanders off for a much-needed sleep.  

Testament of Youth is out in UK cinemas today. Read our review here.

Read our interview with Kit’s co-star, Alicia Vikander, who plays his fiancée Vera Brittain.

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