Kit Harington is no stranger to dramatic HBO epics, but his latest project has a personal connection to the actor that might make it just a bit more special. Harington is actually related to Robert Catesby, whom he portrays the new miniseries, Gunpowder, which premieres Dec. 18. According to an interview with The Telegraph, Harington said it was important to him to do justice to the character. "My middle name is Catesby and it’s something I was proud of," he told the outlet. "It’s a part of my family history."
Though the outlet says Catesby and his band of co-conspirators — together with whom he plotted to blow up the British House of Lords in protest of the country's persecution of Catholics, according to HBO — aren't exactly remembered as heroes, according to The Telegraph, Harington still thought it was a story worth telling. "We were sat in a pub having a drink and I said to [housemate] Dan [West], 'I don’t know why no one has done the story of Catesby,'" the actor said in the same interview.
According to another Telegraph article, the story of another of Catesby's co-conspirators — Guy Fawkes — is already well known. In Britain, people frequently celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, in which they light bonfires and set off fireworks, burning straw dolls meant to represent Fawkes, the article states — not exactly a fond recollection of the group, whom the Telegraph states are remembered by some as "the al-Qaeda" of the 1600s.
While it's easy to look back on this group as just a bunch of disgruntled Catholics who plotted an extremely violent act, Harington and his other showrunners wanted to illustrate the reasons behind their actions. He thought it was essential to show the anti-Catholic sentiment they were experiencing in order to explain the background of why the plotters did what they did. "It was important for the story because right from the start we need to know why Robert Catesby embarks upon this very, very violent act,” he told the Telegraph in another interview. "At the time, Catholics were being persecuted and there is nothing in this which is not historically accurate. So we needed to see something quite violent from the start which makes us understand why this man might do what he does."
It seems fitting that Harington would want to provide more context and humanize his ancestor. "There hasn’t been a drama that really seeks to understand what drove those men to try and carry out that act," executive producer Ollie Madden told The Telegraph in the same article. "Catesby has lost a wife and a child by the time we meet him. He’s got a very fractured and difficult relationship with his surviving son and he’s a man who feels like he’s got nowhere left to turn," West, who plays Thomas Percy in the show and who helped write the script, said in the same article.
It was a welcome departure from Thrones for Harington, who said the moral nuances of Catesby made him interesting to play. "I love my character in Game of Thrones," he told the Telegraph. "But he’s a pretty solid person and I wanted to do something a bit different from that. Catesby is someone who is doing something really, really bad, but he thinks it’s right and there’s a fanaticism to that, which I enjoy."
It's something years in the making for the Game of Thrones star, and the show has already aired on some British networks. "Three years ago, Daniel West and I conceived and began developing Gunpowder with Kudos and Ronan Bennett," Harington said in a statement, according to Variety. "We are now thrilled to share this unique story with the U.S. audience. I can’t think of a better place to do that than my home at HBO."
The three-part series won't boast a surprising ending to those who know the legendary tale. It seems certainly a more well-known story in Britain than it does in the States, though, which could allow it to entice American audiences even a little bit more to see Harington portray his infamous ancestor.