WOMAN WE LOVE
Mona Lisa Neuboeck lures us into the surf.
born-again hero is rising. “Thrones can be used as a metaphor way too much, but if there’s one truth, I think, it’s that people who really desire power are the people who shouldn’t have it,” he says. “Maybe Jon’s the one person who should have it, because he’s not looking for it.”
As Jon Snow’s
power on the show has grown, so too has the shadow the character casts over Harington’s future. “If I try and compete with Thrones,” he says, shaking his head, “if I’m like, ‘I need a Marvel movie, or the next big show on Amazon, or another one on HBO,’ then I’m just setting myself up for one hell of a fall.”
Precedent isn’t much of a guide. TV stars used to need Hollywood blockbusters to build a lasting career. Some made the move spectacularly (George Clooney after ER, Johnny Depp after 21 Jump Street); others, less so (Friday Night Lights fullback Taylor Kitsch hasn’t yet recovered from the onetwo flop combo of John Carter and Battleship).
The actor’s life has long been a capricious one, full of sleeper hits and box-office bombs, cancellations and comebacks. Today, they must also confront the tectonic shifts toward streaming and global audiences, which have shaken the very foundation of celebrity.
For a cautionary tale, Harington need look no further than his own IMDb page: In between filming seasons of Thrones, he starred in a handful of movies that played off his action-hero reputation but failed to burnish his career: 2012’s horror sequel Silent
Hill: Revelation; 2014’s sword-and-sandals epic Pompeii; 2015’s forgettable spy thriller
MI-5 and generic fantasy flick Seventh Son.
Only in the well-reviewed World War I period romance Testament of Youth (2015), opposite Alicia Vikander, did Harington surprise. (“He brings such sensitivity to his roles,” Vikander told me. “And his eyes! . . . Do you know he writes poetry?”) His nonfilm projects allowed him to flex a different set of actorly muscles. Opposite Andy Samberg in HBO’s 2015 slapstick tennis mockumentary 7 Days in Hell, Harington proved he’s “got the timing of a natural straight man, in the manner of a Hugh Grant,” as Benioff and Weiss describe his performance, “without being a douchebag, in the manner of a Hugh Grant.” Last year, he returned to the London stage, in a contemporized production of his namesake Christopher “Kit” Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.
But Harington, scratching at the scruff of his beard, admits that he has some regrets: “A few years back, I should have said, ‘I want to do stories that may not be as blockbustery but are interesting.’ ”
For his next film, Harington is putting his celebrity in the service of cinema’s brash 28-year-old Canadian enfant terrible, Xavier Dolan, as the titular character in The
Death and Life of John F. Donovan, opposite Jessica Chastain and Natalie Portman. Harington describes the role as “a famous television actor who plays a heartthrobbytype person.” Donovan, who is gay, is outed just as a journalist, played by Chastain, sensationalizes his innocent correspondence with an 11-year-old fan; as a result, the press wrongly paints him as a pedophile. Swordplay this is not.
By taking a career risk such as this—an indie movie about a controversial subject— Harington is capitalizing on his good fortune. He’s a spokesman for Infiniti; soon he’ll be the face of Dolce & Gabbana’s fragrance the One for Men. “At the moment, I don’t have too much pressure on my shoulders,” he says.
But generally, lucky streaks end. With Hollywood less predictable than ever, Harington is wise to leverage his success into passion projects. Like many stars—Clooney, Cruise, DiCaprio, Pitt—he launched his own production company, Thriker Films, largely to develop better roles for himself. He quickly sold his first pitch: He and his college pal Dan West partnered with veteran screenwriter Ronan Bennett on Gunpowder, a three-part BBC miniseries about the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a Catholic conspiracy to blow up Parliament and kill the king, which is now celebrated with fireworks on Guy Fawkes Day. The release date has not yet been announced; Harington will begin shooting after he wraps the final scenes for season seven of Thrones.
In addition to serving as an executive producer, Harington will play the plot’s mastermind, Robert Catesby, who, as it turns out, is a distant ancestor. But the project’s appeal isn’t so much the bloodline (“I have no real personal feeling about this man,” Harington says. “I can’t claim that I’m doing something for my family; that would be ridiculous”) as it is the potential for provocation. “It’s about a group of disenfranchised men who’ve been pushed out from society and persecuted, and who turn to extreme acts of terrorism. It’s a story told from the terrorists’ side, to see why people might end up doing something like this and what madness drives them.”
Whatever comes next, one thing’s for sure: He’s not chasing awards. “I don’t really aim to get into that next big Oscar film,” he says. “That’s not really my route.” He and West, who used to write “Dumb and Dumber, Laurel and Hardy”–style skits at drama school, “might do a comedy next,” Harington says.
Or he might not do much of anything. “I’ll enjoy the madness quieting a bit,” he says. “I’d like a few years of relative obscurity.” It’s hard to know if he’s tempering his expectations, hedging his bets, or speaking from the heart—or perhaps all three. fter years of sharing flats around London with West, his writing partner, it’s time for them both to move on. They’re going through what Harington cheekily calls a “conscious uncoupling”: “He’s going off with his girlfriend and I’m living with my girlfriend.”
That girlfriend is Rose Leslie, who costarred on Thrones as Ygritte, the flamehaired, feral Wildling who memorably took Jon Snow’s virginity in a cave in season three. As Snow performs foreplay, she moans, “You know nothing, Jon Snow. Oh. OHHH!” The phrase, sans moaning, was recited multiple times throughout the series, but this was the one that turned it into a meme that has been GIF-ed, used as the subject of a listicle (BuzzFeed’s “26 Things Jon Snow Knows Nothing About”), and adapted into a book titled The Comprehensive Collection of Things
That Jon Snow Knows. (The pages are blank.) The sex scene—the first for both actors— was shot in Belfast in 2012. Whether that was their de facto first date, he won’t say. He has become so protective of his privacy that he won’t even confirm how long they’ve been together. He politely cuts off talk about Leslie, “’cause it’s as much her relationship as it is mine and I can’t speak for both of us. But yeah, we are very, very happy. So that’s what I’ll say about that.”
His phone betrays him. It rests on the table, screen down, close to his fidgety right hand. Our conversation is peppered with vibrations— texts, calls—that demand attention, and Harington gives in. Finally, apologizing for the distraction, he explains: Now that he and Leslie have decided to move in together, part of this trip is to see if New York will be their home. They’re coordinating with a real estate agent to look at apartments in Manhattan this afternoon. He vows he won’t touch his phone, but he keeps glancing at it, swearing that he needs to take just this one call or send just one more text, his goofy grin belying his attempts at stoicism. After one final call, he throws on his black wool coat, adjusts his baseball cap, and pushes open the door into the cold winds of New York’s waning winter.
When I call him shortly before this story goes to press, he’s in England, beginning the
Gunpowder shoot. I ask about the house hunt; he tells me they didn’t pull the trigger on a New York apartment. “I’m the most fickle person,” he says. “Now I’m looking for a house in the English countryside; next week it will be Florida. Never take my word on what the fuck I’m doing!”
“MAYBE I CAN REINVENT MYSELF. BUT MAYBE THIS WAS THE ROLE I WAS ALWAYS MEANT
TO PLAY AND THAT WAS IT.”