SPOILER ALERT: This story kind of contains details of tonight’s Gunpowder finale.
While he won’t unveil anything from the David Benioff and D.B. Weiss-run GoT, thick in the filming of the eighth and final season of the HBO blockbuster in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the man known to millions as Jon Snow is engaging in a different sort of sword play today. As the three-part Harington starring and executive produced Gunpowder concludes its run on the premium cabler at 10 PM tonight, the actor has made his initial steps into a post-Thrones career and life with the tale of the unsuccessful uprising.
A solid thriller, Gunpowder chronicles the 1605 plot to blow up the House of Lords, kill Protestant King James 1 and install a Catholic on the English throne.
Playing his own real life 17th century ancestor Robert Catesby in Gunpowder, Harington was able to film the historical thriller this past spring during a break in GoT’s production. Having already aired on BBC One earlier this year, the Kudos and Harington’s Thriker Films-produced tale of besieged Catholics and Guy Fawkes’ exposed explosive desires was written by Ronan Bennett and directed by J Blakeson after being developed by the GoT star, Bennett and EP Daniel West.
Coming off a long day on GoT, Harington chatted with me about the conclusion of the series based on George R.R. Martin’s novels and how the finale of Gunpowder is like Titanic. He also discussed what the feeling is like on the set of Thrones in its final epic episodes. As Christmas approaches, the How To Train Your Dragon alum additionally revealed what drew him putting together the Liv Tyler, Mark Gatiss, Tom Cullen and Shaun Dooley co-starring Gunpowder and what role producing will have in his future.
DEADLINE: You know we got to start here, you are a few weeks in so how are things going on filming the last season of Game of Thrones?
HARINGTON: They’re going really well, mate. These days are long and a grind but we’ve got the first section out of the way, and all is well. All is good.
DEADLINE: Is the anticipation of putting the final episodes into the can changing what Thrones is like now?
HARINGTON: Well, I think there’s a certain pressure I’ve not felt before. Whereas before, every year there’s always been a bit of pressure, this season is one where we could easily let people down. Obviously, we don’t want to do that so we’re very much stepping up everyone’s game which is very apparent, at least to me. We’re all growing a bit and I think everyone’s attention is very focused on what we’re doing in a way that it’s always been, but it may be more apparent.
I love it, you know. It’s also I think that thing of just trying to get everything you can out of it while we’re still doing it. Really kind of explore every inch of it.
DEADLINE: And what’s it like for you, seeing this huge part of your career and your life heading towards its conclusion?
HARINGTON: Honestly, it’s weird. So, to me, that question is a weird one and a valid one too. The “how are you” feeling thing is a strange one because I’m not sure that you’re feeling one particular thing at any one time when you’re present in it. Really you’re kind of overwhelmed to pay much attention. So, it’s all after the fact, you know. So I look back at the ‘Battle of the Bastards’ episode now and I understand what it meant and what it was to do it, but at the time you’re just getting on with the job. So Dominic, I don’t know what I’m feeling, is what I’m trying to say. I will say I think I’m understandably more affected by it than I thought I would be.
You know I wasn’t quite cynical about things, I’m quite straightforward and English. But, really, eight years of your life is a long time to connect with anything. I didn’t know at the beginning if this would be a show that no one would watch or if it would be a show that a lot of people would watch. And I’ve never been in a situation, a show, that’s lasted this long. In my life it’s pretty significant thing that’s happened to me, and coming to the end of it is understandably quite emotional.
DEADLINE: On another emotional level, Gunpowder wraps up tonight on HBO with what may be an explosive ending on one level or another. While a lot of Americans know of Guy Fawkes and the failed plot to blow up Parliament, the context is far less understood. How concerned were you, as star and producer, of what the reaction on this side of the pond would be?
HARINGTON: I think the interesting thing about Guy Fawkes is the international appeal, which is a more recent thing because of those V For Vendetta masks people wear at protests and the idea of Guy Fawkes being a rebel against an institute, or society, or the norm – that’s where Guy Fawkes takes on a new life.
When we wrote this, a lot of British people didn’t really know that much about the story at all, other than the name Guy Fawkes. And Gunpowder apparently bonded with them when it was shown on UK TV. So, I realize that it doesn’t really need to be such an English story or to explain it to an American audience, I don’t think that matters so much because not many people knew about it full stop.
DEADLINE: Coming off the UK airing and the debut over here on December 18, there is a perspective that Fawkes, Catesby and gang are really the 17th century equivalent of terrorists, do you think that impacts your audience?
HARINGTON: I think that was the eventual question and that was one of the reasons to do it. I actually don’t think they weren’t terrorists in the natural sense of the word. These guys were more revolutionary. They saw themselves in a different way. They thought they were going to literally take down a government and reinstate a different government.
So they weren’t technically terrorists, as we understand it, but were they young men who wanted to do something violent for their fate? Yes. Were they disenfranchised men who didn’t really know their purpose in life anymore and therefore turned to something more violent? Yes.
DEADLINE: But that’s your take on the tale…
HARINGTON: Did it worry me that we were going to be depicting stories from essentially the terrorist’s side, if that’s what you want to call them? Yeah, you know it did. We had to do it very delicately and we tried very, very hard not to make these men seem too much like heroes. They had to be real, because I don’t think Catesby is a hero and I don’t think they end in that way.
DEADLINE: A delicate balancing act, no?
HARINGTON: (laughs) Well, without giving a spoiler away, the story ends with no success for him, you know. It ends with death and destruction and him getting his rewards for his violent acts. So, I don’t think we’re putting him or the others on a pedestal and celebrating them.
DEADLINE: No spoilers but with Gunpowder revolving around the real life 1605 failed attempt to put a young Princess on the British throne as a Catholic ruler, you fall prey to the fact that most people know the way this story ends. Bit of a hard sell, no?
HARINGTON: Well, there is that mate, but it was a bit like Titanic, that’s the way we thought of it. You know how this ends so how can you make a satisfying end for the audience given that some of them will know how it ends. So, in the research we did, the story we did with Ronan Bennett’s incredible writing, we detail the true story of how they all died, which even though it is well documented, to me, its just as fascinating.
The aftermath of the gunpowder not going off is just as interesting on a personal level, as it would be if we just blew everyone up. And I think more interesting if you look at where we followed the characters from.
DEADLINE: How about where we are following you from? This is your first producing gig, being the boss as well as the actor. Is this where you see your career pointing post-Thrones?
HARINGTON: I think I do though it’s still slightly unclear to me. I definitely want to produce again, but I also recently thought of the idea of directing. I think there’s something in that that Game of Thrones has given me, which may be nothing else but great years with so many different directors, and doing such intensive amounts of work with different directors. But I feel like I’ve gotten an understanding of directing and producing from working on Thrones and working on various other projects that makes it appealing to me.
You know, the best piece of advice that was ever given to me was when my Mum said that you don’t have to be one thing for your whole life. I got the idea in my head that I’m in the field of work that I want to work in and why not, if I’ve got the ability to explore as many different strands of that, why not try and do that?
DEADLINE: Was that advice from your Mum partly why you guys decided to keep Gunpowder a concise three-parter as opposed to say the sprawl of Thrones?
HARINGTON: Kind of, actually. We initially pitched it as a 4-part drama. If we had gone for it as four one-hour episodes, we could’ve developed other stories within there. We could’ve had a greater female presence. You know we had a story that involved Queen Anne that we had to cut, unfortunately.
In the end it, you know, the decision was made that we need to make this a more streamlined story. At three hours, that’s going to have more impact, and I think in the end it was right.
You know, it’s like a quick fast-paced thriller and I think that we would have lost our audience if we tried to string out another hour of it, when again like you say, they know what happens. They know that the gunpowder under Parliament doesn’t go off. If they’re waiting for the final episode for that boom not to happen we may have stretched their patience a bit far. And I think, actually, that the three-hour format was the better one in the end.
DEADLINE: So, in the end, after Game of Thrones, you have How To Train Your Dragon 3 on deck but what’s next? No more dragons?
HARINGTON: (laughs) Yeah. You know, I don’t feel like I should jump into anything straightaway. I think next that I have to find the right thing. I’m going to pick and choose my roles carefully, and spend some more time with Rose (Leslie), who will then be my wife. For God’s sake I think the world has seen quite enough of us going back over the last 10 years. You don’t want to saturate them with more of it, do you?