Two things you may not know about the actor who plays Hodor on Game of Thrones: Kristian Nairn has tattoos on his face and is a house DJ fresh off a tour called “Rave of Thrones.” Welcome to Nairnia.
Words by Charlie Connell Photographs by Kareem Black
Irving Plaza is pulsating with house music. Every half-second the strobing lights induce the experience of being in a vacuum. There’s amazing sound and then the room is illuminated to reveal a wave of revellers being controlled by an enormous man on the decks. The New York City party set take the chant of local hero Jay-Z, “Ho-va! Ho-va!” and flip it for today’s host: “Ho-dor! Ho-dor!”
Yes, the man who plays Hodor on Game of Thrones is a house DJ and, yes, he is tattooed. While Hodor is known as a man of few words (well, just one word to be exact), Kristian Nairn is verbose and animated, especially when the conversation turns to music. His eyes light up and a massive grin comes across his face as he explains how he came to be a DJ.
“I came in because I had a massive music collection and I wanted to share it with people,” Nairn says. “I wanted to share what I felt about music with other people. DJing is a great way to do it, and the fact that you get paid to do it is simply wonderful to me.”
While seemingly every celebrity with a laptop fancies themselves as a DJ, Nairn has actually been behind the turntables for decades. Long before he even tried his hand at acting, Nairn had a residency in his hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Over a period of more than 14 years he got to know the crowd that came out to Kremlin nightclub. “They get used to you, you get used to them, and they start to know what sort of songs they’re going to get each week. It’s quite comfortable,” he says.
That comfort was thrown out the window when Nairn gave up his residency to take his Rave of Thrones show on the road. And we mean it literally – the seven-footer doesn’t have a big tour bus to relax in, he flies commercial. During just one week of the tour he hit Atlanta, Scotland and Texas, in that order.
Back in Belfast, the crowds knew what to expect when they came out to see him and, more importantly, Nairn knew what the crowd wanted to hear. There aren’t a whole lot of similarities between crowds in New York and Singapore but it is vital that the DJ finds a way to connect with them both.
“You need to be able to visualise how you think the crowd will react,” Nairn explains. “It’s like a conversation between the crowd and the DJ – I’ll give them some then I mix it up to keep our energies at a similar level. If I was just playing all the big tracks, all the hits, anyone can do that. They want to hear something that says something about me, hopefully.”
Judging by the throngs of fans showing up at his shows, Nairn’s hopes have been fulfilled. Looking out on the fans as he does his thing, Nairn has noticed that his crowds look a little bit different than those of his peers. “Well, club kids don’t often wear armour,” he laughs. “Game of Thrones is sacks, armour and dragon heads. You’re not going to see a lot of UV or Sesame Street characters.”
Some DJs might be flummoxed looking out on a crowd and witnessing kids holding a (stuffed) severed wolf’s head in the air as they dance, but Nairn sees kindred spirits. His affinity with nerd culture is written on his body in his tattoos. It’s the portrait on his left arm – a black-and-grey depiction of Sylvanas Windrunner from World of Warcraft – that earns him the most nerd-cred. “She has a very interesting back story. I don’t want to say I related to it because I’m not an undead banshee, but there is something about her story that speaks to me,” he explains.
In stark contrast to the stars that adorn the right side of his face, most of the tattoos on Nairn’s left side are dark in subject matter. Opposite the undead banshee on his arm is a tattoo inspired by Watership Down – a black rabbit representing death and a line about not fearing the end when it comes. Nairn has the word “dead” tattooed on the back of his neck.
“I’m a bit morose, I’ve always been into the darker stuff,” Nairn explains. “I was the guy listening to Obituary and Sepultura. I was the guy with the long black hair and a crucifix on my head, upside down. I was that guy and seven feet tall – it was kind of scary.”
Back to those stars on his face that seem to radiate cheer when Nairn grins, a counterweight to the darkness of his other tattoos. While his other ink is filled with symbolism and meaning, the stars were just the random choices of a 19 year old. “The funny thing is, well, I was drunk,” Nairn explains. “But I swear on my grandmother’s grave I’ve never regretted them. It’s just part of who I am now. It’s not Mike Tyson; it’s not like a big fucking claw. It’s actually quite subtle, I love them.”
In fact, Nairn is considering adding to the constellation, but only for an important life event. “Maybe the birth of a child, obviously not mine [laughs]. Or maybe making it to level 110 in Warcraft…”
A tattoo would be the perfect way to celebrate the end of Hodor’s journey when Game of Thrones comes to a close. While Nairn didn’t appear on the last season of the show, his character has not faded from fans’ memories. Having a catchphrase can be a bitch for an actor, and while most people don’t often yell it to him, he says they tend to do so only at the most inopportune times. “At traffic lights, when I can’t go anywhere, and I’m just like, ‘Oh my God’, praying for the light thinking, ‘Fuck off’.” Nairn advises that you’ll get a better response if you come up and start a conversation. Just don’t ask for a piggyback ride, that privilege is reserved for Bran Stark.
Being part of a cultural phenomenon like Game of Thrones can be a bit much for some actors, especially the constant attention they receive. Nairn has had it a little easier than many, as he has often been the subject of attention anyway thanks to his size. It was this attention that led indirectly to his first ink – a nuclear symbol on his wrist.
“All my life I have had to deal with people saying, ‘How’d you get so big?’ and all sorts of that shit,” Nairn says. “I used to tell people that I lived too close to the power plant. It was a deflection story.
“I’ve had to own a lot of things about myself, that’s the only way,” Nairn continues. “There’s no point in not owning it, it’s not going to go away. It’s everyone else’s problem, it’s not mine.”
Photographs: ©Kareem Black/CPi Syndication/Headpress