Kit Harington is at Broadcasting House. And as a fan of the BBC’s own self-mocking comedy W1A he’s finding the experience pretty funny. A quarter of an hour earlier, the actor was appearing on The One Show. “A really thorough grilling, you can imagine,” he says, with a gently mocking raise of the eyebrow.
After a quick cigarette, hidden from adoring fans waiting patiently just yards away, we wander back through the now-deserted television studio; smaller, tattier and less homely with no lights or topical banter to warm the atmosphere. Upstairs we venture past Royston Vasey (a meeting room) towards The Queen Vic (another meeting room), before settling down on the bright sofas of Albert Square (a communal meeting space).
Next Monday he begins filming the eighth and final series of Game Of Thrones. The beard and long locks are all ready to resume his role of Jon Snow – only the intense scowl is missing.
I buy The Big Issue, regularly. I’ve never learnt the vendor’s name, and I should
“I buy The Big Issue, regularly. I have been buying it off a guy on Essex Road recently. I have never learnt his name, and I should,” he says, before sharing his worries about how our vendors will manage as more and more people become post-cash consumers. He seems reassured to hear that we have already been testing cashless payment gizmos.
Gunpowder, which ends on Saturday night, feels like the start of a new stage in Harington’s career. The 30-year-old is testing the water for life after the show he endearingly refers to as “Thrones”. The idea for the three-part series grew from Harington’s middle name, Catesby being a throwback to a relative on his mother’s side, Robert Catesby – the brains behind the infamous Gunpowder plot.
He now has the power within the industry to create a primetime BBC One drama from “this piece of family curiosity.” He knows where the credit for that lies.
“As with so many things in my life it is thanks to Thrones,” he says. “This notoriety or profile I have at the moment is because of Thrones. I had always thought I wanted to write, but I began to realise what a producer does when I got into this industry. I had thought they just put up the money but very often they spawn the idea, take it to the writer, and are involved with the whole creative process. That really struck a chord with me. I wanted to see if I could do it.
“Also, what do I want to do after Thrones? I want to act. But I don’t want to compete with being in the biggest TV show of all time. That would be madness.”
He has, he says, learned from the best, citing the way Dan [DB Weiss] and David [Benioff] built HBO’s blockbuster and continue to take charge of it all these years later. “They are on the ground every day. And that is the way I want to do things.”
The hope for Harington, if not the fans waiting outside as we speak, is that he won’t need to star in all the shows he produces. “It is more this industry I want to work in. If I can use me being in it as a way of getting something on TV, and it is good and does well, then maybe I can produce the next thing and not be in it. I would love to direct as well,” he adds.
Harington could not be entering the producing business at a more important time. The exposure of Harvey Weinstein abusing his position of extreme power in the film industry has put the movie business, and the way it treats people, in the spotlight.
Like many people in showbusiness, he knew at least some of the stories.
“You ask anyone in this industry before the Harvey Weinstein thing came out whether they knew about it, and they’d have said yes. I’d heard rumours. It is that widespread,” he says. “I’m sure he is not the last person we will hear about.”
I’d heard rumours. It is that widespread. I’m sure he is not the last person we will hear about
The actor is, he says, wary of adding to the noise around the issue, and the way this could distract from the stories of the women who have been abused by Weinstein. But he expresses his admiration for those who have spoken out, and the work it took to produce the critical momentum for the stories to emerge.
“It is an incredibly brave thing for these women to speak out. And there is a very good reason they didn’t before now – their career could be over, they could be facing a lawsuit from Harvey Weinstein with the best lawyers in the world. It took a piece of journalism which takes two years of putting together, and promises of anonymity and all sorts for it to come out like it has. Hopefully it will change things.”
Quickfire round: So, Kit, which do you prefer…
Tucker or Partridge?
Oh, that is so hard. Partridge. Oh God, but not because he is Brexit. I just love Partridge.
Drama or documentary?
I should be watching a lot of drama, but I live it every day. My kickback at the moment is listening to the Harry Potters again. I am on Goblet of Fire – I have listened to the first three. It is so relaxing, going back to the world of wizards and sorcery.
Halloween or Bonfire Night?
Halloween is all about dress up, and I feel I play dress up every day. I’m a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to buying a costume. But this year I’ll be at a huge bonfire with loads of mates – and it will have extra significance because of Gunpowder.
Game of Thrones – tits and dragons or…
NO, the epic story for the modern age!
Harington’s first production has already made headlines. Gunpowder’s scenes of torture have been hard for some to stomach. The gory, bloody depiction of 17th-century life has shocked others, who were expecting Harington and co to soften up the story for a mainstream audience. The reaction would only delight Harington. He wanted it to go out with a bang.
“Whatever people think of it, I hope they don’t just go ‘meh’. I hope it causes some conversations and controversy, that people care enough to talk about it.”
He was also keen that people would pick up on the modern resonances within the story – especially with relation to political and pseudo-religious extremism.
“That is absolutely where the idea first came from,” he says. “It was that these young people – and it is important to note that they saw themselves as revolutionaries and the term ‘terrorism’ had yet to be coined – had been pushed out of society. They have been rejected. And they have gone and turned to a very violent, despicable act for a religion they believe in.
“I felt it was a way to tell the story from the point of view of a young man who decides to do something terrible and look into why he acts the way he does. It is easier to look at his actions because they are in the past.
“So often in our dramas we see some faceless terrorist. The baddie. And they are the baddie. But it doesn’t mean we should not explore why they are doing what they are doing. It was the opportunity to look at the motivations of a young man who decides to kill hundreds of people.”
It is easy to see the way entrenched positions can lead to hostilities that can escalate out of control. Should our modern-day political leaders sit down and watch Gunpowder as a way to avoid nuclear apocalypse in North Korea, or a cliff-edge Brexit?
If we can reach Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump and Theresa May, I will be on to a hit here!
“Look, if we can reach Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump and Theresa May, I will be on to a hit here! I am not sure they will watch it. But throughout this we see Catesby ignoring the priest telling him to talk to people and try diplomacy. And the result is that he absolutely did not help his people. It made things a lot worse. All that happened from him attempting to blow up Parliament and kill the king was the persecution of Catholics got way worse – spoiler alert! – but at the end we see a man who, in his dying moments, realises he fucked up.”
There are, according to Harington, few links we can draw between Catesby’s ignoble and doomed quest, and the mission of his Thrones alter-ego. “I am very much attracted to and drawn to dark, quiet, brooding souls. God knows why,” he says, smiling. “But the real core of Catesby and Jon Snow is very, very different – Jon Snow is all about diplomacy and patience and mercy. Catesby is all about hatred.”
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Winter is coming. And this winter, Harington will be filming his final scenes as Jon Snow. Game of Thrones is the biggest show in TV history, and Harington has spent most of his professional life on the series that made his name, where he met his new fiancée actor Rose Leslie, and which won him modelling work on the latest D&G campaign.
He’s ready to say goodbye. But he’s already steeling himself for the emotional upheaval. “I’m a survivor,” he grins. “And there are only a few of us left who have made it all the way through. It is emotional. This has been an incredible part of my life.”
He can already imagine the final scenes he’ll have to film.
“My final scene will probably just be a close-up of my hand reaching out in front of a green screen,” he grins. “But out of shot I’ll by crying my eyes out.”
We head out into the night. As Jon Snow he has a date with destiny. As Kit Harington? A few autograph hunters, a few selfies. And then, after his first week on Game of Thrones, he’s off to the north to celebrate a very special bonfire night…
Gunpowder concludes on BBC One at 9.10pm on November 4. The series is also available as a boxset on iPlayer
Kit Harington’s interview appeared in Big Issue 1280, now available from The Big Issue Shop