INTERVIEW: Kristian Nairn (Hodor from Game Of Thrones)

Published in The Music (WA, NSW, QLD, VIC) and, Aug 2014


Game Of Thrones star Kristian Nairn, aka Hodor, is stuck in a weird limbo, fighting to prove his worth among the acting and music industries. Avoiding one-word answers, Daniel Cribb finds out what everyone’s raving about.

Long before Northern Irish-born Kristian Nairn graced our screens as the good-hearted simpleton Hodor with a one-word vocabulary, he was a DJ. In fact, 13 years ago Nairn spent a few months in Melbourne where he did sets around town to small crowds in various clubs. “Ah yes, it was 2001 I was there,” Nairn recalls. “2001 doesn’t seem like 13 years ago to me, but that’s showing my age. One of my best friends lives in Melbourne and I went to visit her and I ended up DJing down there for a while, so that was fun.”

A lot’s changed since those low-key DJ sets around Melbourne, and the last time Nairn was in town was for Oz Comic-Con in July, meeting masses of Game Of Thrones fans. Back at home in Belfast for a few weeks before heading back to Australia for a run of DJ shows, you’d imagine he’d have at least a few days’ rest. “Hell no,” Nairn laughs. “I mean, I don’t really know what that word means. I’ve just come back from a music festival in Portsmouth, England, called Mutiny In The Park. I was DJing there last night, um no, the night before. Saturday night… I can’t even remember,” he laughs.

“To be honest, I just got out of bed. We have shit reception at my house so I’ve had to drive two miles up to the nearest park, so I’m sitting here watching people cycle and jogging. It’s a bit strange and surreal, really.”

That may be strange, but still easier for Nairn to comprehend than the rise to fame that Game Of Thrones provided – a role that he never imagine he’d score. It wasn’t until 2010 that a then 34-year-old Nairn was cast in the hit show and was thrown into cult status. “It’s amazing to me that the show has become so big that you can actually get on a plane for 27 hours and get off and still get recognised. That to me is mind-blowing.”

And while the character of Hodor only ever says his own name, it’s far from an easy role. “It can be challenging. In scenes where it’s really obvious what’s happening it’s kind of easy because you get lost in the moment but there’s a lot of quiet, subtle things and you don’t have the words to convey how you’re supposed to be feeling. You have to be in the moment, very much. You can’t really pre-plan – well obviously you can a little – but you have to react naturally. It’s all about being natural. It’d be very easy to overact so you have to be on point. You have to be natural and real.”

Although Nairn’s vocabulary is more comprehensive than that of his onscreen persona, certain elements between the two don’t ring too far away from the true. “I was quite a shy teenager,” he tells. “I think I liked to communicate through music. I think that’s why DJing came naturally because you sort of want people to feel what you feel. You’re sort of putting down what you feel. You’re choosing tracks and you create a mood. I think that’s why it came naturally to me.”

The connection between his music and acting crossed over almost seamlessly. “People don’t get that but you hit the nail on the head. It’s exactly the same thing; acting’s just a different vessel. You try and portray an emotion, you want people to feel something and it’s exactly the same thing.”

The acting-related fame also thrust his music career into the spotlight, which, for the most part, has been positive. But, when the show first took off, he stumbled into some sceptics who didn’t bridge that connection. “When I first got cast as Hodor, a lot of people looked into my background and were like, ‘He’s a DJ, he’s not going to be able to act,’ so I had to prove myself in that respect, and people who didn’t know I was a DJ, when this DJ tour was announced, they were like, ‘What the hell? I hate these actors who think they’re DJs, and I’m like, ‘Really?! I have to prove myself all over again?’ I was like, ‘Guys, I’ve been doing this most of my life,’ but I feel like I’m constantly have to prove myself to naysayers.”

Naysayer or supporter, fans of the show are aching for Season Five. Currently being filmed, Nairn is awaiting the call to fly to location to begin working on his scenes. He hasn’t read the script yet, but no doubt plenty of death will be on offer. “Melisandre, who’s with Stannis Baratheon, I want rid of her. I think she’s a bad influence on him,” he laughs. “But [she’s] also a great character. That’s a shame about the characters; the ones you hate are often – well Joffrey for instance – the ones you hate the most are often awesome characters… I’m sure there’s definitely a few shocks left in store.”