Kit Harington on Playing Jon Snow: “You take every scene as it comes”

Actor Kit Harrington

“You just look like an actor wanting to change the character if you then go back and betray what your first instincts were.” – Kit Harington

Among the dozens of characters on Game of Thrones, one of the more central characters is Jon Snow, played by English actor Kit Harington. In an interview with Time about his role on the long-running series, including how to play subtle on a massive production and why he thinks his initial approach to Snow was wrong — and how he learned to improve.

When asked how he keeps himself grounded when surrounded by hundreds of extras and stand-ins for digital effects, Harington says:

The challenge with Thrones is that unlike some of the smaller, maybe independent movies, where it’s a single camera and it’s in a room, and it’s very domestic — it’s far more actor- and performance-focused. With this, in the nicest and best possible way, you are one part of the scenery in various shots. You have to sometimes go into a zone with Thrones where you just shut off everything around you, because everything has to be so detailed. The background has to be in exactly the right place, the smoke has to be the right level, the light has to be right — there’s a hundred things that have to be right. At any one moment, the take could not work, because of any of those elements. It’s exactly like shooting Lord of the Rings. Any big, epic movie would be like that. And it’s a different way of acting where it can get very frustrating, but you have to zone out the background noise a bit. And there are times when you don’t, when it’s a less intense scene or something. It’s a certain skill, and one that I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to try and craft, because some actors come into this and it’s way too much going on and they can’t zone out.

Harington believes that the creators of the show cast him as Jon Snow because they saw something of the character in him. He explains, “I think I was picked to be Jon Snow because there’s quite a lot of me in Jon Snow. When I read it on the paper, I knew there was something in it like me. I’ve spoken to David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss, Game of Thrones creators] and they said that when I came in and read, the feeling in the room was that I was that part and that part was me…. How I’ve shaped him over the years, I always felt it was going to be a long journey, it was always going to be eight years in my mind. So you want that character to learn and learn and learn, and then develop.”

However, though Harington knew he would have a long journey with Snow, he didn’t try to foretell the character’s future. He continues, “I didn’t think about it really, really long-term — you take every scene as it comes. But there were times early on where I felt what I was doing with the character was wrong. I made mistakes and felt that he wasn’t interesting enough. That sounds weird, but I’ve never been quite content with him. Maybe that’s what makes him him. That angst. He could be a bit too morose, he didn’t quite go there emotionally. But once you’ve made those choices, that character is that character. You just look like an actor wanting to change the character if you then go back and betray what your first instincts were.”

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