Of course Kristian Nairn has more to say than Hodor, the vocabulary-challenged character he plays on HBO’s Game of Thrones. The Irish actor/musician doesn’t mind being known as Winterfell’s lovable oaf, though he admits to getting peeved when fans assume that playing a simpleton is a simple role. “I often get questions like, ‘Do you even get a script?’” Nairn tells Soundonut over Skype while in Los Angeles to attend the premiere of the show’s upcoming run of episodes. “And I’m like, ‘No, I don’t get a script. I just have an dog collar on — and they f**kin’ give me an electric current,’” he jokes. “‘Hodor!’”
Fans have been waiting all year for Game of Thrones’ sixth season (kicking off Sunday, April 24 at 9 p.m. EST), but they’ve been waiting even longer for Nairn’s return to Westeros — his character spent season 5 off-camera. Luckily, Nairn has his music career to keep him busy: The 40-year-old is also a fairly prolific DJ, making rounds at clubs and universities across the U.K. and beyond. Just last month he launched a new series of show-length mixes called 7 Sessions, which he says are there to showcase his ever-changing music tastes. (But, Nairn notes, “I always go for a big bass line.”)
With his Game of Thrones duties wrapped up until season 7 starts shooting sometime this summer, Nairn’s got a world tour and new songs on the way, including a forthcoming remix of Australian electropop artist Brendan Maclean’s track “Tectonic.” Soundonut caught up with Nairn to talk about how he balances his music career with a starring role on the biggest show on TV, as well as Game of Thrones’ best musical moments, and what we can expect from the new season.
What was the first album you ever bought?
I remember the first single I ever bought. I think it was a terrible song called “D.I.S.C.O.” by a band called Ottawan. It’s a really fearless disco track from the ’70s or early ’80s. I can’t remember if I bought it or if I sent it to my mother to buy it for me, but I was very young and I remember playing it on a Sesame Street record player. I also used to be very obsessed with “Flash” by Queen. Also, actually — I’m going to give you three options, here — ABBA’s “Super Trouper.” That was a big track for me when I was young: I was sort of drawn to the vocal harmonies they used to do, which are very unique, as you know.
Yeah, and I’ll have “Dancing Queen” stuck in my head all day.
Ha, you’re welcome!
So from there, how did you get started with your DJ’ing career?
I was always into classical music and opera, because I played the piano as I went through school, and was very interested in Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and stuff like that. That changed into heavy metal at around the age of 14 or 13, and I dropped the piano and started to play the guitar. I got quite good at it — that was my first career aspiration: to be a guitar player. I played with local bands and ended up touring with Scissor Sisters, Mylo, Alphabeat, and Calvin Harris. That somehow changed into DJ’ing. [Laughs.] I worked at a club, and was doing musical theater on the stage, and, I think it was a DJ [who] rang in sick, and I sort of volunteered myself to fill in. And it just went down so well, it became a regular gig. I was just in the right place at the right time, and that sort of sums my entire career up.
Do you primarily think of yourself as a musician who acts, or actor-musician, or is it not really a distinction you make?
I don’t really make a distinction because, when I’m acting, I feel like an actor, and when I DJ, I feel like a DJ, and when I play the guitar, I feel like a guitar player. I don’t know which I prefer. I think I just like to perform, in some way or another. I definitely prefer live stuff, though. I like the instant gratification, where you can sort of see the response from the crowd. Sometimes, doing recorded stuff — TV and film — it’s very repetitive. You don’t get any sort of response: Directors are very straight-faced. You don’t really get a reaction from people, but obviously, live, it’s completely the opposite. I love that.
Was it nice to have a season off of Game of Thrones to focus on music, or did you miss Westeros?
Yeah, it was. I needed a physical rest as well, which has done me no good whatsoever, because I ended up doing far more work. [Laughs.] I managed to screw my back up, unfortunately, via a car accident, so I really needed to rest for a while. But I toured the world and made it worse. But it was very nice to be back for season 6.
How often do you get “Hodor” requests at shows?
Not very often. I can tell if a crowd is a real Game of Thrones crowd, or they’re more of a dance-music crowd. If it’s full of Game of Thrones fans, I’ll always say a “Hodor” right at the end, because I think I’d probably get lynched if I didn’t. [Laughs.] But, you know, it is what it is. People sort of assume that it pisses me off in some way, but it doesn’t. It’s given me this wonderful vehicle to sort of push myself and music into the world, which I didn’t have before. So how can I resent that?
So you don’t really try to keep the two things separate, aside from, like, not making a “Hodor” remix playlist?
I would never do that — there’s enough of those around, anyway. I don’t do anything different than I normally do in my DJ set, ever. I’m not into gimmicks, really. I actually have to admit, when I first heard the notion Game of Thrones, I balked. I was like, “What the hell? I’m not doing this!” Because it kind of goes against everything I stood for. But it has been a strangely affecting experience. It hasn’t felt false to me. It hasn’t felt crass in any way. Because the people who come are wonderful. It actually reminds me of clubbing, years ago: People dress up, like club kids — people from all different walks of life, and interests, sexualities, all coming together under one big banger. That to me is what clubbing’s about. So, any doubts about the legitimacy or “crass” aspect of doing Thrones has been well washed out of my mind.
Do you have a favorite song or musical moment from Game of Thrones? Like “The Rains of Castamere”?
Yeah, that’s definitely the obvious one, but I think the music in Game of Thrones is fantastic. They really use it in a very intelligent, atmospheric way. Sometimes it can be very subtle — it can just be a single violin. “The Rains of Castamere” just has to be the moment. It just says so much: It was such an important part of that scene. Anyone who read the books definitely knew what was coming when they heard that! [Laughs.] I think that that song was burned into people’s memories.
A bunch of musicians have made cameos on Game of Thrones over the years. Do you have a favorite?
Well, I’m a big fan of Snow Patrol. And I’m lucky enough to be quite friendly with the guys as well. I like to see them on the show. They’re huge Game of Thrones fans. In fact, I ended up sitting beside lead singer Gary Lightbody at the premiere a few days ago. I’m so proud of them! That’s some Belfast pride. What other musicians have been in the show? I can’t remember.
Coldplay’s Will Champion, Sigur Rós, and Mastodon.
I’m such a huge fan of Sigur Rós. When I meet people like that, I feel inferior. I met them on the red carpet a few years ago. I had so much to say… and it translated into nothing. You know how that happens sometimes? I made a fool out of myself. I just basically turned into Hodor — I couldn’t say a word. I just wanted to cry. [Laughs.] Hopefully, in years to come, if I bump into Jónsi, I will redeem myself somewhat.
What type of music do you think Hodor would listen to? Is he into instrumentals, or does he like complex lyrics?
[Laughs.] Oh, dear. Really? It’ll be something… Let’s see… I don’t know, man. Probably something frat boys would listen to, because he’s a bit of an idiot. So let’s go with dubstep.
I’m sure you’re not allowed to give much away, but I have to ask: What can we expect from Hodor this season?
You might hear a lot of “Hodors.”
What else do you have coming up, now that you’re done with the premiere? I guess you’re done shooting for a bit? When do you start gearing up for next season?
Yeah, we finished filming just before Christmas. I’m not sure when we’ll start this year. It’s usually around June, July, but we don’t really find out until nearer to the time. But I have a tour of Asia coming up. I’m going to head to the Philippines in June. Then I’ll probably do the Comic Cons, and — it’s a really busy summer. The U.K. has a very thriving university-music scene. So I’m doing a lot of those. I don’t pander to the crowd too much. I just play the music I play, and usually it’s done fairly well, so I’m very excited about that.
Finally: Fans have noticed how much the Isaac Hempstead Wright, who plays Bran Stark on the show, has grown since season 1 —
Not as much as I have! [Laughs.] He has tripled in size, at least. He’s very lanky, hasn’t filled in yet. His legs are still full of air, thank God! But, he’s getting really big. It’s just ridiculous at this point. Yeah, my back has noticed, and all my body parts have been aware of his growth spurt.