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‘Eternals’ Star Kit Harington on Trading ‘Game of Thrones’ for Marvel — and Reuniting With Richard Madden

Eternals Kit Harington Gemma Chan
Screen grab courtesy of Marvel Studios

SPOILER WARNING: This story vaguely discusses a single scene in Marvel Studios’ “Eternals” that has been released by Disney, as well as a hypothetical future for Dane Whitman, Kit Harington’s character in the MCU.

After spending eight seasons as one of the leads on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Kit Harington decided to trade one massively popular cultural juggernaut for another, joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe in director Chloé Zhao’s “Eternals.”

Moving on from Jon Snow — the taciturn medieval warrior and erstwhile king of the North — Harington’s role in “Eternals” is Dane Whitman, a modern London bloke who happens to be dating Sersi (Gemma Chan), one of the titular Eternals, at the start of the film.

In the Marvel comics, however, Dane has more in common with Jon Snow — or, at least, a world of swords and sorcery — than Harington’s performance in “Eternals” would suggest. Dane’s family lineage stretches back to the medieval legend of King Arthur and the persona of the Black Knight, a warrior connected to the cursed Ebony Blade that bestows whoever wields it with terrific power — but at the cost of their sanity.

In the comics, Dane fights alongside the Avengers, and wrestles between heroism and villainy thanks to the cursed Ebony Blade. It’s no spoiler to note that none of that happens in “Eternals,” which casts Harington’s Dane as, in the actor’s words, “a good guy” — one of the only normal humans in a film otherwise concerned with ageless superheroes who first arrived on Earth roughly 7,000 years ago.

Future appearances by Dane in the MCU are a different matter entirely. While it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to surmise Marvel has bigger plans for Harington, the actor, no stranger to spoiler culture, professes to, ahem, know nothing about what could happen with his character. He was happy to talk about why he decided to join the MCU, what it was like reuniting with his “Game of Thrones” costar Richard Madden (who plays Ikaris, an Eternal — and Sersi’s ex), and why the legacy of “Thrones” has left the 34-year-old with a profound feeling of “freedom.”

This is your first big project post-“Game of Thrones,” and you’re jumping from one giant production to another giant franchise. What was the decision making process for you?

I don’t think you get to choose when these things come along. Like, if Marvel calls up, and they say, we’ve got this interesting character for you, would you be interested in being in this movie…? I mean, my process was it’d been about a year and a half since I’d filmed “Thrones.” It seemed like an interesting character and an amazing universe, and that seemed like a no brainer to me. I’ve got nothing against possibly long-running franchises and being in them. They’ve done very well for me! I’ve really enjoyed it. So it wasn’t a very difficult decision to make. Once I saw what they were planning with this — the director, it’s Marvel, the character’s cool — it was pretty easy decision.

So they came to you and said, “We’d like you to play Dane Whitman?” There wasn’t any kind of testing or audition process?

No. I spoke to [producer] Nate Moore. I’d had a meeting with Kevin [Feige] a year or so prior. I went into meet them at Marvel. It was a kind of general meeting. But it was Nate who rang me up and spoke to me about the possibilities for the character and what they wanted to do with the Eternals. And then I met with Chloe. And, you know, they’d said, “Look, it’s not a major part size-wise in this movie, but it’s a really interesting character that could go somewhere cool.” I did some reading up on it. And then I said, “Yes.”

So you were not familiar with Black Knight or the Ebony Blade or any of the accoutrements that come with Dane?

No. If I’m totally honest, I hadn’t heard of the character. I had to sort of read up on him and try not to fall down too many black holes on the internet and just see what the basics were. But the the essence of the character and his powers seem to me very interesting. God knows where it’s gonna go. So I don’t know, I can’t predict whether, where, if anywhere, they’ll take the character. But the basics of him having something that seems to be cursed, I thought, had a lot of meat to get into.

You had to at least have known that there was a very good possibility, if not certainty, that you would be doing this role beyond “Eternals”?

Nothing is certain. That’s the first thing you learn in this industry. There is no certainty. To go in with any kind of feeling that something’s certain is setting yourself up for failure. I genuinely do go by the rule that this is the project, this is what I’m doing. I take it with the information that there’s a there’s a path and a future that could happen. But I don’t assume that that future is going to happen, because I think that’s foolish.

The scene where Dane and Ikaris meet in “Eternals,” was that the first scene that you and Richard Madden had shared together since, I think, Episode 2 of “Game of Thrones”?

Yeah, if you add up all the scenes that me and Richard have shot in anything, “Thrones” and this, I think it comes in at about four scenes. Isn’t that weird? But there’s so much focus, from my part anyway, on me and Richard’s interaction in this. And it just goes to show that people create longer stories and histories for these characters than is actually there. I find that fascinating.

It must have been nice to actually be able to work together again in this way. What was it like to share that moment?

We had a big hug. We’ve been close friends for a long time. We had a shared experience of “Thrones” in the first three seasons — the three seasons that Richard was in — where it sort of blew up and became this Goliath of a show. And, you know, we were both 23. We’d kind of came up together and that creates quite a special bond. So actually, we have a very close friendship, but screen time doesn’t reflect that.

Your character, however, stays out of the action in “Eternals.” He’s very much a civilian. Was that nice for you to have everybody else do the heavy lifting of the action scenes and you could just enjoy watching it all unfold?

Yeah. (Smiles.) I filmed in the last few weeks of filming. I turn up at the read through at the start, saw them all fresh faced. Then I came in at the end, saw them all haggard and knackered, and did my bit. So it was a pleasurable experience for me. It shot in London, on location about half an hour drive from my house, if that. I could literally go from home. It was a wonderful experience all around. And I really loved my role, just being the person who reflects the humans in the movie. Genuinely, my job [was] to come across as a good guy, a stand-up guy, a nice guy. It seemed a pretty pleasurable experience for this job.

“Game of Thrones,” I don’t know if there’s ever been anything bigger on TV in terms of production than that show. How did that compare to being in the MCU, the biggest ever movie franchise?

Nothing really, majorly surprises me after going through those eight seasons of “Thrones.” It was as big as anything gets by the end, as far as scale goes. But moving into Marvel, it is a different beast, in more subtle ways than you’d imagine. What I like about the differences for me about these two things is I get to have lightness of touch in this, which I think is really important. It’s what I really loved about the Marvel movies — those little moments of kind of lightness, comedy, in amongst everything. And I saw a few opportunities for that with this character. Having played a majorly central part of a different show who was not comedic or light in any way whatsoever, not being the center of attention in this show and playing something that’s a little lighter was kind of fun.

So other than working with Marvel, do you have a sense of where you’d like to take your career? It feels like you could go anywhere you’d want.

I saw [“Game of Thrones” co-showrunner] Dan Weiss the other day. We had coffee, and I was saying to him, and he said to me — well, I won’t say what he said to me, but he felt similarly. But what “Thrones” enables you to feel is a sort of freedom. I did the thing, you know? It’s cool, I’ve got that. I have freedom now that I’m going to enjoy whatever it is I do. It’s not that I don’t have ambition, but I have a kind of happiness that if things go well, great. If they don’t, I did that thing. So that’s where I’m at. And I feel that what something like being part of the Marvel Universe enables you to do, like “Thrones” did for me, is that you have this thing that you hopefully return to and can develop. And on the side, you can do all sorts of things that are the polar opposite. A little movie with no budget. Or the next thing I’m doing: I’m going off and playing “Henry V” in London in one of my favorite theaters. And this allows me to do that.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.