DON’T MEN­TION THE NORTH

He can’t talk about Game of Thrones, and Belfast ban­ter got him in trou­ble – so can Kit Har­ing­ton keep a Spooks spin-off se­cret?

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

Let’s get this out of the way first. Kit Har­ing­ton doesn’t hate Belfast. A few weeks ago the man who plays Jon Snow, sad-eyed bas­tard son of Ned Stark in

Game of Thrones man­aged to annoy cer­tain North­ern Ir­ish peo­ple by mak­ing the sort of joke cer­tain North­ern Ir­ish peo­ple make all the bleed­ing time.

You re­mem­ber. Har­ing­ton sug­gested that Belfast, where much of the se­ries is shot, was a nice place to visit for a day or two (but only that). He quipped that the tourist board was overly ob­sessed with mis­er­able at­trac­tions such as the Ti­tanic and the much-bombed Europa Ho­tel. What’s the prob­lem? He was only sleg­gin’.

Well, this is the Age of Of­fense. A few days later the poor fel­low is­sued a sin­cere apol­ogy to all the recre­ation­ally out­raged nin­nies (my words, not his).

“I thought that it was all fine be­cause I know peo­ple in North­ern Ire­land have a great sense of hu­mour,” Har­ing­ton says with less weari­ness than might be ex­pected. “I had joked a lot with my North­ern Ir­ish friends on set about that. But I didn’t think how it might af­fect the tourist board, which was short-sighted of me. So I ac­tu­ally wanted to apol­o­gise for that. I think North­ern Ire­land is an amaz­ing place. I go there ev­ery year and it’s a sec­ond home for me.”

I mean, it’s not as if he’s from Rio de Janeiro. Now 28, Kit Har­ring­ton was born in Lon­don but spend much of his child­hood in his­toric Worces­ter. What’s so ex­cit­ing about Worces­ter? Huh? Huh?

“Well, I can tell you right now that North­ern Ire­land is a lot more in­ter­est­ing than Worces­ter,” he laughs. “I think the places you re­ally love are the places you joke about. I can joke about Lon­don. I can joke about Worces­ter. I can joke about North­ern Ire­land. I con­sider them all as home.” (The Worces­ter tourist board will, if of­fended, know whom to con­tact.)

Bourne of the Mid­lands

The HBO adap­ta­tion of Ge­orge RR Martin’s ro­man-fleuve has had such res­o­nance that it’s dis­con­cert­ing to en­counter Kit Har­ing­ton in con­tem­po­rary dress. Yet there he is in the big-screen spin-off of a popular (2002-2011) BBC spy se­ries.

Spooks: The Greater Good casts him as a for­mer agent who re­turns to the fold when his men­tor (played by fur­rowed Peter Firth) dis­ap­pears in mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances. Har­ing­ton gets to kick bot­tom, leap roofs and dis­en­tan­gle dou­ble-crosses like a west Mid­lands Ja­son Bourne.

“It was a lot of fun to shoot some­thing like this,” he says. “I re­ally wanted to do some­thing con­tem­po­rary, some­thing quite mod­ern. This fit­ted the bill quite nicely.”

It looks like a pretty phys­i­cal job. Ob­vi­ously, stunt men are on hand at all times, but there must be ac­ci­dents. I had read that Har­ing­ton ban­jaxed his an­kle on

Game of Thrones. How did that come about?

“Oh, I did it on my own time,” he cack­les. “I am ab­so­lutely safe on film sets. That was all my own fault. I did my an­kle in climb­ing through a bed­room win­dow try­ing to res­cue my keys. In Spooks, I climb a bal­cony. I sent a photo to the Game of Thrones pro­ducer say­ing: ‘Look, I am try­ing it again.’ I didn’t get the an­swer I de­sired. Ha ha.”

One can un­der­stand why a sense-of-hu­mour by­pass might set in. Game of Thrones is a phe­nom­e­non, and Jon Snow is one of the few gen­uinely nice char­ac­ters in a se­ries packed with psy­chopaths. Sad­dled (or blessed)

I think the places you re­ally love are the places you joke about. I can joke about Lon­don. I can joke about Worces­ter. I can joke about North­ern Ire­land. I con­sider them all as home

with the sort of eyes that al­ways seem on the point of tear­ing up, Har­ing­ton brings real poignancy to the role of the mis­used il­le­git­i­mate son.

If this were an­other se­ries, we’d sug­gest that the pro­duc­ers wouldn’t want to lose him. But in

Game of Thrones no char­ac­ter is safe from an­ni­hi­la­tion.

“We have seen them come and go,” he says. “And I have been there since the pi­lot. It is odd that there’s this de­clin­ing group of ac­tors. I re­alised that when film­ing this year.”

If Har­ing­ton were a sim­i­larly well-liked char­ac­ter in, say, The

Good Wife, he could count on be­ing there for years to come. But, even in this in­ter­view, we are con­stantly at­tended by loom­ing death. Dis­cus­sion of his plans for next year hit a wall.

“I can’t even tell you if I am in the next se­ries,” he says. “I am com­pletely in the dark – like ev­ery ac­tor in the show. That’s a good thing. I don’t like know­ing too much. And this year it gets re­ally cre­ative. There are some big shocks for peo­ple that they won’t ex­pect. And I have to keep sch­tum about that.”

That must be tricky at times. When drink­ing pints with friends, he must have to bite his tongue if con­ver­sa­tion moves to the se­ries.

“It’s the same with any­thing you do,” Har­ing­ton says. “You don’t want to give away things with Spooks ei­ther. I don’t want to frus­trate an avid fan base. We have to be care­ful. I am used to that now.”

War Horse vet­eran

Har­ing­ton wasn’t plucked from to­tal ob­scu­rity when Games of

Thrones started. A grad­u­ate of the Cen­tral School of Speech and Drama, he had al­ready had a sig­nif­i­cant part in the RSC’s ver­sion of War Horse. He could also bran­dish a flam­boy­ant the­atri­cal fore­name. Did his mother re­ally call him “Kit” in trib­ute to the 16th-cen­tury play­wright Christo­pher “Kit” Mar­lowe?

“That is par­tially true,” he says. “My mum liked the name ‘Kit’ and she needed a name. But mum and dad were mar­ried by a priest called Kit. So it’s a mix­ture of those two things.”

Har­ing­ton ad­mits that, like so many ac­tors, he was “a bit of a show-off” as a kid. He liked to pre­tend, but couldn’t quite be­lieve peo­ple would pay him to do that for a living.

Do the sums and you will con­clude that he re­ally hasn’t had much time to be un­em­ployed. He left drama school in 2008. He played in War Horse. Game

of Thrones be­gan shoot­ing in 2010. Still, no­body can have guessed that the se­ries would take off as it has.

“No, no­body was pre­pared for that,” he says. “And it was a slower start than peo­ple re­mem­ber. The first se­ries did well. The sec­ond se­ries did bet­ter and the third se­ries be­came a global phe­nom­e­non. That’s an in­ter­est­ing place to find your­self.”

It is in­deed. He’s be­come a hairy sex sym­bol. He ap­pears as memes. He even got to be in­ter­viewed by the less vi­o­lent Jon Snow who presents the Chan­nel 4 news. How has he coped?

“I don’t look at any­thing on­line about my­self if I can help it.” Is that pos­si­ble? “Yes, I pretty much can,” he says. “You could go to­tally mad if you looked at it too much. Like most ac­tors, I like a bit of at­ten­tion. But this has given me as much at­ten­tion as I could want. I have achieved what I was look­ing for.”

A nice way to be.

Spooks: The Greater Good is out now and re­viewed on page 10

Kit Har­ing­ton

“I don’t want to frus­trate an avid fan base. We have to be care­ful”

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