Kit Harington: from Game of Thrones warrior to sensitive poet
The actor’s role as Roland Leighton in Testament of Youth is a stark contrast to Jon Snow - but they do share some similarities
Thursday 8 January 2015 18.38 GMT
Game of Thrones, Kit Harington has forsaken shampoo for six weeks to make his hair look authentically greasy and medieval. And this time after the shoot, he has let it grow some more.or the past five years, during his annual stint on
Today, he confirms, shaking his luxuriant locks, it’s looking more Jim Morrison than Jon Snow. The narrative of Harington’s hair is a tangled one. In new movie Testament of Youth, an adaptation of Vera Brittain’s wartime memoir, in which he plays first world war poet Roland Leighton, it is muted and Edwardian. As he moved from playing the doomed fiance of a real-life proto-feminist icon to the hirsute yet desirably fey, faux-medieval crumpet Jon Snow, he let his tresses run wild. During the mid-length phase, he shot a high-octane spy thriller [Spooks, the movie] and a tennis comedy. Those of you who are imagining Kit Harington panting in tennis whites, hair in a Björn Borg headband, may now dab yourselves with damp flannels.
He omits to mention his performance in the 2014 disaster flick Pompeii, in which he played sword-wielding hottie Milo. I remember being mystified by the film’s poster in which he stood oiled, ripped and scantily clad in a leather skirt while Vesuvius erupted crypto-orgasmically behind. Wouldn’t his sword be functionally useless against onrushing lava? I asked buses bearing that poster. Probably, they replied. No matter: forget logistics, bask in Harington’s gorgeousness.
He declines to tell me anything about what viewers can expect from season five of Game of Thrones, but I manage to coax out of him one revelation: if there are nude scenes, they won’t feature a butt double. As his many fan sites disclosed, just before season three’s shoot, Harington fell out of a second-floor window and broke his ankle. The result? When Snow jumped naked into a rock pool after being seduced by sourpuss wildling Ygritte, it was not his but a stand-in’s bottom that we saw. No accidents this year? “No. This year, weirdly, I had more bumps and bruises than normal. I got a bad knee and a bad ankle, various different twinges.”
I look deep into Harington’s sad eyes, eyes that seem eternally poised to cry decorously, and tell him: I wrote a poem about you. “Yeah?” he says with the wariness proper to a hunkypants who gets all kinds of weird from fans all the time. Yeah, I reply. It happened like this. Fleetwood Mac siren Stevie Nicks announced she so loved Game of Thrones that she’d written some, as yet unpublished, verses about her favourite characters, and some bright spark at the Guardian suggested I imagine what they’d be like. Hence my poem Jon Snow, the last stanza of which goes: “It’s easy to confuse / Me with news / Presenter / Jon Snow. Some have made that mistake / But I’m, like, 700 years younger / And built. I’m just saying.”
“I think I may have read that,” he says. I can email it to your people if you’d like. Harington doesn’t welcome that suggestion, but instead tells me how secrecy has been ramped up on set this year.
Some of the fans of George RR Martin, I say to Harington, are concerned that the author of Game of Thrones will die before he completes the books. “I actually get very angry when I hear things like that.”
Really? “Yeah! It’s sort of indicative of what’s wrong with the world today - so many anonymous voices getting to say what they want. He’s given them this wonderful thing. He’s like: ‘I hand it to all my fans and and then they start sending me messages about how I might die before I finish them.’ I’m very glad that he hasn’t just given up as a result. He has a lot of very supportive fans, too.”
Harington says it was a pleasure to play a sensitive poet. “I’m playing someone who intellectualises things, a million miles from Jon Snow, who doesn’t intellectualise anything, someone who’s – I hate using that word – on the autistic spectrum. It was quite fun playing both in one year.”
Harington, 28, plays 20-year-old Leighton as testament to his own youth. “There’s definitely a bit of Roland Leighton in me. I don’t want to use the word ‘charming’ for myself, but I was quite confident at school. I’m playing basically the most popular boy in school. I can definitely relate to him. I was quite arrogant in cracking on to women, thinking ‘Of course’, you know?” I laugh involuntarily as Harington says ‘Of course’, since it encodes the gorgeous man’s certitude that he’s going to pull – whenever, whoever. “I was as cocky as him. So it was kind of like transporting myself back to a younger self.”
Is he less arrogant now? “I’m still an arrogant sod because I’m an actor, for God’s sake!” he replies disarmingly. Given that arrogance, it’s lovely that, at the outset of Testament of Youth, Leighton’s alpha male gets his comeuppance from spirited Vera. “He assumes that he’s going to woo this girl who has taken his fancy and she kind of goes: ‘Fuck off, mate’ and I kind of like that.”
Naturally, though, she can’t resist his loveliness indefinitely. Soon Brittain, played by Swedish actor Alicia Vikander, falls for the poet, not least because he’s keen that she go to Oxford (confounding the initial wishes of her father, played by Dominic West) and fulfil her dream of becoming a writer.
Then, this being 1914, war intrudes on their nascent romance and Leighton volunteers. “If you read his letters and read Testament of Youth,” says Harington. “you see he’s driven by this very Robert Graves sense of heroism and it’s what so many of that generation of upper-class young men from private schools were indoctrinated in and believed in, which was this sense of duty and honour and heroism and finding a purpose bigger than oneself for God and king and country.”
Does he share that? “I’ve said a few naive things in interviews about how we’re not as patriotic as we were, but that’s from my very cynical, north London side, you know? I grew up in a part of the country where people are very patriotic about joining the forces and fighting for country. So I don’t think we’ve entirely changed.”
He is talking about his upbringing in Worcestershire. “A lot of my peers went into the army and did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. I’ve seen a lot of them come back with a change … requesting to go back and back and back.”
That is what happens to Leighton. In a pivotal scene, Roland and Vera are strolling on a beach during his leave from the front. She tries to embrace him, but he becomes furious and shoves her to the ground. He fears that such tenderness will undermine the toughness he needs when he returns to the trenches. “It is pivotal,” Harington agrees. “When he comes back from war, there’s an itch to get back, there’s a desire not be in normality any more.” Leighton recalls, I suggest, those characters in Pat Barker novels for whom living away from the front line is a betrayal of comrades and self. “That’s right. In real life, he was an incredibly brave, courageous young man, like so many others – and, like many others, he developed something of a death wish.”
Did working on the film make him become, as Vera Brittain did, a pacifist? “No more than I was already. I got taken to the war graves by my father. It was one of those rite-of-passage trips that he thought was very important. It wasn’t to do with any sort of patriotism, I don’t think. He’d got taken there when he was young and it had moved him profoundly. That’s what initiated my interest in the first world war – and also made me a bit of a pacifist.”
Harington, who graduated from the Central School of Speech and Drama in 2008, got his big break in another world war one drama, War Horse, the Olivier-award-winning stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel. Are there any parallels? “I didn’t equate the two. They were different characters with different backgrounds,” he says.
His career has moved rapidly since then. He is particularly excited that next year he will start work as the eponymous lead in The Death and Life of John F Donovan, a film by Québécois director Xavier Dolan, in which he will play a celebrity undone by Jessica Chastain’s venal magazine editor.
Time to go. He’s off to give a charity poetry reading with Bill Nighy and Helena Bonham Carter. “I’m reading London Snow by Robert Bridges. Do you know it?” I don’t but when I get home I realise how appropriate it is, especially for devotees of his role in Game of Thrones. It’s a love letter to enchantment by snow, not Jon Snow to be sure, but you could read it that way.Testament of Youth is released in the UK on 16 January