Nikolaj Coster-Waldau interview: Game Of Thrones, acting and the fantasy genre

In the latest of our Game of Thrones interviews, we caught up with actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to chat about the dastardly Jaime Lannister.

A seasoned veteran of both the large and small screen, Danish actor, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has appeared in such films as Black Hawk Down, in which he played a Delta Force sniper alongside Orlando Bloom and Eric Bana, and Michael Apted’s 2001 WWII drama, Enigma.

Now starring as the villainous Jaime Lannister in the sprawling, sumptuous HBO fantasy series, Game Of Thrones, we caught up with Coster-Waldau for a round table chat about his character…

You’re a nasty piece of work!

Yeah! Well, Jaime, yeah. He certainly comes across that way in the beginning, intentionally so. I don’t think he is that nasty. I mean, clearly, at the end of episode one, he does something which is truly horrible, and you can’t excuse that.

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But then you find out later why he did it, and that he didn’t really have much of a choice. He had to do something, because of what happened. The specifics of that situation. It was a matter of life or death.

What interested me about the series is that it adds so many taboo subjects to the fantasy genre. You don’t see those full-blooded, adult topics in fantasy much. It’s not Harry Potter.

You couldn’t let your kids see this.

Is that what interested you in it?

I was interested in the way the characters- they’re all human, the way they deal with life. I like the theme of what power does to people. And that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Jaime comes across in the beginning as this villain, the bad guy, and that Sean Bean’s character’s the honourable hero. What’s interesting is that the perspective changes.

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It’s all about, who are you? At the beginning of the show, a kid’s captured. A deserter. All the kid did was run because he was scared. He told the truth and for that his head was chopped off. He broke an oath. You think, hang on. Was that fair?

So, it’s all about what perspective you have. Throughout the series, you have the idea of starting the show with three characters, and then they’re gone. Then you meet new characters.

One thing George R R Martin does is surprising things to main characters. But he says so himself. We’re not black and white. We’re all grey. It is a very intriguing world. It’s dramatic.

So, we’ll come to sympathise with your character later on, then?

Well, I think so. Much later on, if it goes to more seasons, you will. But I don’t think anyone can forget what happens at the beginning.

What was it like working with Sean Bean?

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Clearly, he’s very experienced, and very intense. It’s easy to work with a good actor, because you just react to what he does. So, it was great.

I noticed, as well, that of all the male characters, you had the best hair. Was that a stipulation in your contract?

It was. I said. Sorry, I need best hair. I’m not wearing a wig. It’s mine. It just flows naturally!

Did you like the costume period element of it?

It’s funny. I think what’s great is that, when HBO commit, they go in all guns blazing. They attract the very best set designers, the whole thing. They do create this world. So, when you do the scenes, you look around, and you’re just in there.

But between takes, suddenly you stand and look around in the Irish rain and you see Mark Addy with his roll-up cigarette and his coffee, standing in his costume, and it’s kind of ridiculous. But that’s what being an actor’s all about. You dress up and pretend, and in the moment, it’s normal.

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There are these moments, where the king’s walking along, and there are these assistants holding his robe away from all the mud. [laughs]

further reading: Game of Thrones Season 8 – Everything We Know

Did you have to learn any skills? Stunts, fighting, that kind of thing?

No. We did a little training, but that’s a question of learning a dance. All choreographed. It’s not you say, “Okay, Sean. Let’s go!” [mimes a frantic sword fight]

Have you watched all the episodes back yet?

No, just the first two. After I’ve done this, I have to go round the corner and do some dubbing on the last episode.

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Some actors have a problem watching themselves on screen. Is that a problem for you?

It depends on what it is. Intimate scenes and sex scenes are difficult to do, but watching them back is horrible. But this one’s such an ensemble piece. Half of it I hadn’t even seen until I’d watched it back. The whole world is so huge.

In this case, it was interesting to watch it back. But I don’t necessarily enjoy watching myself, really. Looking in the mirror, maybe, yes.

I asked the same question to the other cast members earlier, but do you feel that TV has overtaken film in terms of storytelling? With this kind of budget, you can tell far bigger, more lavish stories.

I don’t think it’s overtaken, but it does attract the very best filmmakers. It’s not scaled down, TV, but you do have the space to tell a ten hour story. You can really use a movie budget, more or less. That’s attractive to writers and directors, everyone involved.

further reading: Game of Thrones Season 8 – Predictions and Theories

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It’s a big commitment, though, surely, shooting such a lengthy story?

Yeah, it was six months. But if the show’s good, it’s definitely worth it. It’s like being in theatre, so you can do other stuff. If you do a network show, it’s nine, ten months a year, and that’s it. I think that’s why cable attracts a lot of film actors, as well.

Is it attractive to you that the budget’s so big?

Yeah. I did a network show in the US before, and I loved it, but you have eight days to shoot an episode, and it’s just a ridiculous pace. And here, you have the time to make it right.

It does make a difference, the budget. They pay less, but they do so because they do it right.

So, you’d be happy to do a second series? You’re prepared for that further commitment?

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Yes. We know there’s an ending, at least.

Unless George R R Martin writes more books.

But he’s so slow, so we’ll overtake him!

I know there’s a fifth book coming out, and I might die in that one, which would solve the problem.

How did you get on with the other cast members?

I hated them. I was the foreigner. They didn’t like me. [laughs] No, it was great. In most workplaces, you get along, don’t you?

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There are a lot of young actors here, too, which is a good thing. But then you’re suddenly known as the older guy. I’m not sure I like that! There are so many children involved, but it’s such an adult show. You wouldn’t want them to see it.

Were you a big fan of the fantasy genre before this?

I can’t really say that I was at all, actually. I hadn’t read the books. Sometimes, I have to say, I did feel that that genre was very black and white, and a little silly. I don’t know why that is. I think it’s because, when you go to the fantasy section in the bookstore and you look at the covers, you go, “Why the hell do they have to look so cheesy?”

But I read the Game Of Thrones books, and they’re great. A great world to enter. So, I guess I had some silly ideas. I didn’t really know much about the genre before.

But genre doesn’t really matter, does it? If the story’s good, it’s good. If it’s good writing, it’s good writing.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, thank you very much.

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Game Of Thrones makes its UK premiere on the 18th April on Sky Atlantic.

Read more of our Game Of Thrones coverage here.

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