Kristian Nairn may not be the world’s most unlikely celebrity. But considering he’s 6’11” tall, built more like Andre the Giant than Brad Pitt, and didn’t have an IMDB credit to his name before he was cast as Hodor at the age of 36, few people could’ve predicted he would become one of Game Of Thrones’ biggest breakout stars.
Yet if you sit down for a chat with the gentle giant, you immediately understand why Hodor has become such a fan favorite. Nairn’s friendly eyes and good-natured personality are matched with a wry Irish humor honed in his native Belfast.
There’s a depth of character that allows him to speak volumes about the warmth of the mentally challenged Hodor’s heart using one single word– HODOR. There’s also a palpable positive energy that provides striking contrast to the mud-stained shitstorm that defines the sociopolitical turmoil of Westeros. As Hodor, Nairn is not just the protector for Bran Stark, but a symbol of hope and innocence in a world gone wrong.
Back in Ireland, he’s better known as a DJ than an actor: He’s been spinning records at Belfast’s Kremlin nightclub for more than a decade now. And, until Game of Thrones show runners work Hodor back into the mix (more on that in a minute), Kristian Nairn’s DJ career is his primary focus.
He’s just released his debut single, and he’ll be performing the “Rave of Thrones” at NYC’s Irving Plaza on August 13th. Guests are asked to wear fantasy-themed fancy dress, with those who ignore the dictum risking the wrath of “the Hand of the King.”
We recently spoke to Nairn about his DJ career, Hodor’s internal life, returning to Game of Thrones and more in this exclusive interview:
I have to start out asking about Game of Thrones, since that is how most fans know you. Can you talk about what it was like watching the latest season from the sidelines while Hodor and Bran are out of the picture? Is it emotional for you to see beloved characters like Jon Snow killed off, knowing you might not see the actors who play them as often?
It’s definitely emotional. Having been a part of something since the beginning, and with the VAST change it’s made to my life as a whole, I definitely have some deep-rooted connections there. Right from the beginning, watching cast members be killed off was a bittersweet experience… It’s an excellent storyline, but it’s horrible losing a friend from the set.
You’ve been DJing in Ireland for many years now, but GoT appears to be your first big acting gig. How did you get the part?
Honestly, I’ve been on the periphery of acting for years, via music and theatre, so I feel it was a natural segue into acting. I had an agent through the musical and theatre part of my life, and I got put forward for occasional auditions for suitable parts. After being seen by Nina Gold for Hot Fuzz, I got a call back 5-6 years later, and I was offered the role of Hodor.
Despite the fact that he only says one word, Hodor seems to be a massive fan favorite. Do you have any insight on why that may be? How has all that attention impacted you on a personal level?
I’ve heard him described a few times recently as “The Heart of Game of Thrones,” and I guess that’s true. He adds a little warmth to the bleakness, and a little silver lining to the darkness of what’s happening in Bran’s storyline. He is genuinely a nice guy and a bit of an enigma. I mean, I love to meet fans, and it’s definitely got more and more intense over the years. But it’s part of the job, I feel. Fans sometimes seem to confuse us with the character we play, although that has happened with many shows over the years. I find that a bit strange.
Any favorite fan encounters?
The one that really made me think was going to Perth in Australia. It’s one of the most remote cities on earth. I couldn’t be further away from home, and I had a group of fans waiting for me at the airport. That really made me think about how big the show had become.
How do you as an actor bring such a seemingly simple character to life in a way that resonates strongly on an emotional level?
The same way I try to live my life, and also with my music. Just find your inner truth and, in turn, the truth of the character you’re playing. Don’t act. Be real. There’s no need to act, whether onscreen or in life.
With the Entertainment Weekly revelation this week that Bran Stark will definitely be back in Season 6, it seems likely we’ll see Hodor as well. I know you can’t reveal specific plot details, but can you talk about your emotions re: returning to the set?
Bran has been confirmed, but I’m afraid I can’t confirm whether I’ll be back or not just yet. Sorry.
Dammit! We were hoping for some sort of exclusive scoop… Well, the show’s success obviously brings a lot more attention to your music career. When and how did you originally get into DJing?
Yes, and I’m so grateful for that! I’ve been playing music since I was 3 or 4 years old, and it’s always been a HUGE part of my life. I learned to DJ at music college. One night, I covered for a DJ who was sick. That was 20 years ago, and I haven’t stopped DJing since.
Were there any particular artists that influenced your early interest in music, outside of the techno realm?
Definitely. Kate Bush, Bjork, Gary Numan, Danzig and many heavy metal bands, to name a few. I could literally go on all day on this subject!
What can fans expect from your Rave of Thrones Tour?
The show really depends on the venue it’s booked in. Some go all out and theme the venue to incredible levels. Sometimes a LOT of people dress up, and sometimes you just see the odd T Shirt here and there. Really, it’s a very fun night to DJ. The crowd just gets along brilliantly with each other, and they are a pleasure to DJ for!
You came out publicly in an interview with a Game of Thrones fan site last year. You said then that, “I’ve been waiting for someone to ask about it in an interview.” So how did it feel to finally get that out into the universe, and what has the reaction from your fans been?
I don’t know if it really was a “coming out publicly,” because every single person in my life who knew me already was aware I was gay. But yeah, I understand that saying it to the press is another matter altogether. I honestly thought the press had researched it, and that it just wasn’t an issue. It’s been an overwhelmingly positive response from the fans, although getting a response wasn’t the reason I did it. It’s about that thing I said earlier about finding your own truth. Also, I’m too long in the tooth to give a flying fuck about what anyone else thinks about me! (Laughs heartily)
Let’s talk about your new single, “Up/Beacon.” How did you connect with Leanne Robinson?
I was looking for a special vocalist– a female, primarily– who sounded great singing in lower registers. A friend let me hear Leanne’s voice, and I loved it immediately! She is a very talented artist.
What was the feeling of finally releasing your own music for the first time? Is this a first step towards a full album?
I don’t know if an album is in the cards just yet. But I do have a lot of material waiting in the wings, so it’s just a case of figuring out what is the best way to share it with the world.
Where do you hope to see your music career go in the future?
I hope to see myself continuing to travel and produce music, really. It’s a great way to earn a living and see the world, and getting to connect with so many people all over the world is a powerful and joyous thing.
How do you foresee yourself balancing music and acting priorities in the future? Does each one fulfill a different aspect of your creative needs?
Both avenues fulfill me immensely, and it’s not really a case of juggling them. For me, it’s just a case of keep pushing! The more you do, the more you do… I love that old saying! There’s always time to do more work on something that you love.
Finally, if you could write your dream storyline for Hodor, where would your character go from here?
He would go to the store ASAP and buy Bran a mobility scooter, then take a vacation in Aruba! (Laughs) –Bret Love
If you enjoyed our interview with Kristian Nairn, please follow Culturated on Facebook and Twitter for more pop culture awesome sauce!
If you enjoyed our Interview With Kristian Nairn, you might also like: