It was two and half years ago that I got the pilot. It’s weird now thinking about reading it because I know what happens in the story and I know Jon’s story - but when I originally read it, it was quite a bizarre script to get and it took some getting your head around. Initially the character was all there and I was just attracted to it from the word go. It was just one of those scripts where you go ‘I can do this and I want to do this’.
Did knowing Jon’s character arc help to play him?
Yeah. I love how we have source materials to work from and the fact there’s these books behind the series. Some people don’t want to know where there character goes or anything about the original source material but I loved it. I had it all there in front of me so I poured over the book for a long time trying to figure him out - but you’re right, there’s a point when you can rely on the original material too much and you have to look at the script more and just try to focus on where he is in the first series at the start of the story. It had its issues but at the same time I think it was useful to refer back to George’s books and try to get an interpretation that’s good for TV and an interpretation that’s for the book and they can be slightly different at times - but if you put the two together you come up with your own take on him.
How much of yourself is in Jon?
When David (Benioff) and Dan (Weiss) auditioned me the reports I got back were ‘He’s our Jon, he seems like the kind of guy we want playing him’ but I think there’s quite a lot of me that’s him. I share a certain outlook on the world that’s similar to Jon’s. I think we’re similar but you have to find differences and similarities so you’re totally separated too. I think they thought I was Jon and I kind of feel like Jon to an extent.
You get the impression Jon is destined for big things. No pressure, then?
I think it’s more exciting than anything else. Again, when I read that first pilot, even having not read the books, you could see he has that mystery about him. There’s the question of his Mother and he was singled out from his family as the Bastard child and he finds this white wolf as opposed to all these other wolves so there’s that thing about him that sets him apart. Of course, as the series goes on he goes off and has his own story arc and it does feel like there’s bigger things to come from him and I think there is. He has a great story but as far as the pressure goes, I dunno - I just like it - I like that there’s a lot riding on him but there is pressure in that there are fans out there who know who he is and have a big idea about what he is and what he should be so it’s about trying to live up to those expectations and also maintain a mystery and an excitement about him at the start but not get too far ahead of yourself. Not a whole load of pressure - I just enjoy it.
It’s quite a physical role. Did you have to brush up on your archery/sword skills?
Yeah it is but I love the physical aspect involved with the show and the character. I always really enjoyed sword fighting at drama school and I love stage fighting and if I can do a stunt in the show I want to do it myself. I’d never ridden a horse before, so that was a new thing for me but I love it because when you’re in a dialogue scene, like most of the scenes, you have to immerse yourself in what’s happening and what your aim is but with sword fighting it’s just there already. You know what you have to pull off during this fight sequence. I find with the physical work you lose yourself far easier because you’re not thinking as much. You just go with it. I love that side of it and there’s a whole load of that in season two, probably more so.
Everyone’s fighting on-screen - any off-screen bust ups?
Everyone got on - I didn't hear of many on set bust-ups. There were times when people actually got bruised and hurt. I remember John Bradley who plays Samwell - when he gets beaten at the start when I have to step in and defend him; poor guy had loads of padding on and he’s just getting smacked with the sword again and again. He didn't complain at all but afterwards he had some serious bruises, he really took it. I got my finger sliced open - there were times when it got painful but everyone got on so well there wasn’t any bad feeling or any proper fighting that went on.
How loyal is season two to George’s second book?
The original idea was: the first book is the first series, the second book is the second series and so on. That’s still the case but it’s always going to be an adaptation, so the writers are making clear that, whereas the first book is the first series, it does drift. There are blurred lines between the books and the TV series and that will continue to happen, so bits of the third book will bleed into the second and so on and it may get more adaptive as it goes on but that’s how you have to do it if you want to make a thrilling TV series as well as staying true to the books. You really have to make sure people know it’s an adaptation rather than a strict re-telling. There’s more added scenes that weren’t in the books and there’s more scenes and characters that have been taken away. It goes through George and everything gets thumbs up or thumbs down from him and we hopefully come out with a nice middle ground.
What does Jon get up to in season 2?
At the end of season one we see that he’s definitely not going to join the fray down with his brother and down South where all the political turmoil is going on and the war is happening - initially anyway. He’s heading out North beyond The Wall so his story gets more and more isolated from the rest of the story. Whereas in the first season we saw him interact with his family, now he’s further away from that. It was stranger this season because it was almost like we were doing this separate TV series. It’s a bit like Viserys storyline across the Narrow Sea, where two very separate stories go on.
Season one was packed with violence & sex scenes. Does season two up the ante?
Yeah, it does. It gets really dark. Of course it was dark before but now we’re going into war and what war and battle means in this world and that’s a whole new thing. Before you had battles and incest and some really graphic sex scenes - anyone who was offended by the first season really isn’t going to enjoy the second. I’m not sure if it gets worse, it just carries on very much in the same vein. It’s a very graphic world. It’s a graphic novel that George has written and we wanted to be true to that and make this world as vivid and as shocking as we could. It carries on. There’s more sex, more violence, more blood.
Anything we should keep an eye out for in season 2?
Without spoiling any particular scene, because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read the books, essentially all of my stuff was filmed in Iceland and we were filming in such stunning locations. Whereas before things were shot in Belfast and any snowy area we had was CGI, this is all real and that’s why I’m really excited about my part of the storyline. We were on location the whole time - there was no studio stuff. The things you can look forward to are: Jon finally gets to meet a girl and she’s an actress called Rose Leslie and she’s fantastic. There’s a whole host of new actors - while you lost Sean Bean you’ve now got Stephen Dillane. It’s a new story from the start, it asks you to invest in a whole host of new characters but from what I’ve heard and what I know, they do a terrific job. It’s going to be very exciting.
Read more of my work for FRONT Magazine here.