Season 3 of Game Of Thrones will see Kit Harington’s character going undercover. Jimi Famurewa finds out how you prepare to be a medieval spy
In Game Of Thrones, Jon Snow has survived swordfights, snarling direwolves, brutal snowstorms and an encounter with a rampaging zombie. In real life, Kit Harington, the actor who plays him, was felled by nothing more than a drunken night out and a perilous second-storey windowsill.
“I broke my ankle last year and I wish I could say I’d done it in a cool, suave way,” says the 26-year-old over the phone, somewhat sheepishly. “I got back from doing a film in Canada and had a couple of months off, so went on a celebratory night out to blow off some steam. I forgot to take my keys out of the flat, and you know those stupid, inebriated decisions you make when you’re young and think you’re invincible? When you think a second-floor climb isn’t that high and a little leap isn’t that hard because you’re basically an action hero?”
You can see where this is going, can’t you? Harington stumbled, fell and earned himself a prolonged spell on crutches that caused him to miss a promotional trip to Comic-Con and “pretty much ended [his] summer”. Thankfully, his bosses at HBO saw the funny side.
“They were very lovely and far more supportive than I deserved them to be,” he chuckles. “But, I mean, they hired a really fun-loving group of actors and it was only a matter of time before one of us did damage to ourselves.”
That Harington had cause to raise a celebratory glass or three goes without saying.
Just under two years after it first hit screens, the TV adaptation of George RR Martin’s intoxicatingly expansive fantasy saga has grown from raved-about cult hit to fully-fledged fire-breathing phenomenon.
There are multiple tie-in cook books offering trenchers of roast hog. There are Twitter-storming online memes that determine which ancient family you would belong to and, last month in the US, the Series 2 box set became HBO’s biggest seller since, well, the Series 1 box set.
“It really was always a shock to me that it became this huge success,” admits Harington. “Personally, it was such a big thing to be part of an HBO pilot, that the idea of the show actually doing well was neither here nor there. That I got the role and it went on to become a series was big enough, but it just kept escalating.”
INTO THE WILD
And things have escalated in more ways than one. Year 2 ratcheted up the action with multiple claims to the throne in the Medieval England-like land of Westeros, grisly beheadings, cinematic battle scenes, an often baffling array of new characters and fresh locations, plus a climactic CGI vista of the marauding maggot-eyed undead.
And this year? More new characters (swelling the number to more than 100), pubescent dragons, shock deaths, preposterous sex scenes, more great lines for Peter Dinkladge and a meatier role for Harington’s character Jon Snow – the bastard child of the heroic Stark family who, until now, has been notable mainly for his membership of monastic black-clad enforcers the Night’s Watch, sullen attitude and Timotei-lustrous locks.
However, things are different this time. One of the most intriguing new plot threads in Series 3 (of the planned eight) is Snow’s deep-cover mission – think The Departed with frozen beards and patchwork tents – in the midst of a band of cudgel-wielding, libertarian savages known as the Wildlings. Needless to say, it wouldn’t have served to have him hobbling around on a knackered ankle.
“I was always looking forward to this part of the story because of that idea of being a spy and dealing with all the issues a spy has to deal with,” says Harington. “It’s that age-old question of where a spy’s loyalties lie. We’ll have to wait and see what he does.”
Born with the grand moniker Christopher Catesby Harington – he assumed Kit was his official name until one embarrassing day at school when he was 11 – to a former playwright mother and businessman father, Harington hails from London, which explains the fact that in real life he doesn’t speak with Jon Snow’s gravy-thick northern accent.
He actually auditioned in his own voice, but after Sean Bean was cast as his onscreen father, he was asked to ape his former co-star’s accent. So did he plunder Sharpe DVDs for inspiration? “I just listened to loads of O2 adverts,” he laughs. Apart from stints on-stage in War Horse and the Bullingdon-skewering satire Posh, plus an appearance in video game-inspired chiller Silent Hill: Revelation, Game Of Thrones is his most notable role. But he’s working hard to plug gaps in the HBO drama’s production schedule with more than inebriated injuries.
“I try to fill the six months away from Thrones with at least one other project, if I can,” he explains.
Having made upcoming bumper-budget fantasy adaptation The Seventh Son with Jeff Bridges last year, he’s about to star in Paul WS Anderson’s lava-flinging epic Pompeii. “I play a gladiator seeking vengeance for his family’s death, and it’s an action thriller so should be fun,” says Harington. “It does mean that my life at the moment is lifting weights, eating stupid amounts of food and drinking protein shakes. But when you’ve got to get your kit off, you naturally want to look as good as possible.”
Which neatly brings us back to the oiled-up, doublet-dropping world of Game Of Thrones. Harington is coy when we ask if Snow’s attempt to infiltrate the Wildling camp extends to, well, infiltrating the smallclothes of an intriguing character called Ygritte.
“She’s going to try to get Jon to break his vows [of celibacy], but you’ll have to wait and see whether he does. There are some great storyline additions and surprises this season.”
He’s more effusive and honest about returning to -35C temperatures in the frosty wilds of Iceland for filming (“We’ve discovered that putting handwarmers in your earmuffs is a brilliant trick,” he says excitedly) and, perhaps unsurprisingly, his love of Reykjavik nightlife.
“There’s a lot of fun to be had watching Icelanders having a drink-off with an Irish film crew,” he laughs.
“A lot of our cast bonding tends to happen in the bar after filming.”
Here’s hoping he had the foresight to remember his keys. Or at least prop a ladder up against the side his hotel.
Game Of Thrones returns to Sky Atlantic HD on 1 April at 9pm. Seasons 1 and 2 will also be available On Demand