Game Of Thrones has created an amazing world over the last two years, but every world need a fantastic villain and in the shape of Jaime Lannister, we have one of the best.
With season two of the epic show hitting DVD shelves this coming Monday, the 'King Slayer' himself Nikolaj Coster-Waldau talked about his time on what might be currently the biggest show on TV.
When they first came to you with Game of Thrones did you know anything about the books?
No, I had no idea what Game of Thrones was and then I met Dan and David and they told me about it. And then I read the script for the pilot and I thought, ‘this is interesting…’ And especially that character, Jamie Lannister, who is such a great character and I loved the way that they tell the stories and how they describe these incredible characters.
They don’t give away too much – it’s slowly revealed. You are given one fact, one side of the story, and usually in movies you go with that and that’s what you get. So for Jamie, it would be, ‘well, he’s the bad guy, he’s a horrible person..’ Which is true when you first meet him in season one but slowly as the story progresses, you find out that it’s a little more complicated than that and I love that about it.
And that’s the same with all of the characters. And with Season Two there’s the whole story with Theon Greyjoy when he goes back to his family and you find out that he lost all of his brothers to the Starks. So there is this whole side to him that you had no idea about. And basically anybody who wants the throne will end up with blood on their hands.
OK, so give us a taste of what we can expect with Jamie in Season 2?
In Season 2 he’s being held captive by Rob Stark and he will get out – he has an amazing escape from prison. And there’s a scene that Dan and David wrote, which wasn’t in the book, which was probably the most fun I’ve ever had shooting. It was so well written and it’s just great.
It’s in episode seven and it’s wonderful because it shows both sides of Jamie where you have a man who is very articulate, a guy capable of having empathy, who understands human nature, but also is a man of action and if he has to go through you to get to where he wants to go, he will, without any seconds thoughts.
And that’s different from the book?
Yes, he escapes in a very extreme way but he’s re-captured and he thinks he’s going to die for sure. But Catelyn Stark believes that she has two children, Ayra and Sansa, at King’s Landing and she knows that Jamie is the best hope she has of getting her daughters back so she sends Brienne with him on this amazing journey.
And Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne, is just amazing and we had a lot fun together because I like to tease and she is such a good victim (laughs). She is just great. And you know, in episode eight we have our first scenes together and when you read them, you think, ‘I can’t say that..’ because he’s horrible to her. He’s trying to provoke her and he doesn’t want to be a prisoner, he wants to escape and he will do anything to provoke a reaction.
So he drives her crazy. But it’s funny, because you think he’s been imprisoned and maybe he has changed but suddenly his old bite is back, which is a lot of fun to play.
You two are like a double act within the story as they embark on that journey together…
Yes we are. And it was very important that we got along and we really did. Gwendoline is fantastic. I think she’s an amazing find because she has to be strong and tall and I’m pretty tall myself but she is taller than I am. So she has the physical requirements but even more importantly she has the acting down. I think the way that they have cast this has been brilliant. It’s just amazing. And it’s a testament to how many amazing actors there are in the UK.
Is it a very physically demanding role?
Yes, it’s physical but not when you compare it to jobs like, say, being a miner, that’s really physically demanding. Being an actor between takes you have a chair so you can sit down if you want to (laughs).
So I would never call my work hard. But there are times when it’s harder than others. There’s the scene when I’m tied up to a post in a cage and we shot that over two days and it was pouring down with rain when we shot that in Belfast. So that was uncomfortable but at the end of the day I go back to a nice hotel room so I’m not complaining.
But do you like the physical aspects of the role? The horse riding and sword fighting?
Oh I love it. I love it all actually. It’s all part of the job and it’s a great job. And what’s so cool about this is that once HBO commit to something – even something as crazy as this show – they go in all guns blazing and they really create this world. And then it’s so much fun as an actor because you walk out on these incredible locations and you have 30 guys all dressed up on horseback. I mean, it’s just so much fun.
You feel sometimes that it’s like the way that they shot those classic old movies – it has that feel to it. And when you work on this show it really is big. They go to these beautiful locations. For season two they shot a lot in Iceland and I’ve seen that footage and it’s fantastic. The set designers are just brilliant.
Have you met George R.R. Martin?
Yes. And he’s a very nice guy. And clearly Game of Thrones is his baby and it’s defined his career. He’s also very gracious about the fact that this is an adaptation and there are things that he misses from the books. But all I’ve heard from him is that he is very supportive and very happy with the show.
Have you read all of the books?
No, I haven’t. I read the books after the scripts and I want the books to inform the scripts rather than read them and say, ‘why don’t we have that scene?’ I know what happens to Jamie and I know what happens to some of the other major characters so I can plan ahead a little bit.
But presumably you don’t know what ultimately happens to Jamie?
No, I don’t. He’s still alive, as far as I know (laughs). But it’s a brutal world and no one is safe. The Lannisters are still there but I wouldn’t put money on them surviving – not all of them anyway (laughs).
George Martin has said that his favourite character is Tyrion so you think, ‘well, he’s not going to kill Tyrion..’ but at the same time you think, ‘well maybe he would…’ No one is safe. He killed off Ned Stark and he was the guy. And if he can do that all bets are off.
Do you have a bit of a bond with the other Lannisters?
Oh yes, there’s Charles (Dance), Peter (Dinklage), Lena (Headey) and I don’t know how the others feel but I do get very attached to my family. I kind of ignore the bad things that the Lannisters do and say to myself, ‘no, we are the honest ones – you can trust us, a Lannister always pays his debts..’ And with season one I got sick and tired of the Starks – not the actors playing them - but having to justify and make excuses for the Lannisters while the Starks are always seen as the good guys (laughs).
But the Lannisters are the hated ones – they are the Manchester United of Game of Thrones (laughs). Unless you are on their team, everybody else hates them. That’s the way it is. Even when HBO comes out with posters, I’m like ‘what? Another Stark poster! Bastards!’ (laughs). And you know, the great thing about Game of Thrones is that none of the characters are black or white, they are all capable of doing very bad things and sometimes, even Jamie, they are capable of doing better things.
How much of your working life does Game of Thrones take up?
It’s not bad. I once did a network TV show in the States called New Amsterdam and it was constant, that was very hard, and it took up a lot of time. But with Game of Thrones we shot for five months and because of the nature of the show you have these different worlds and with season two they would shoot out locations. So I was able to go to Toronto and shoot a movie.
I was very lucky because with season two all of my work was on the same location and so it didn’t take long. So it’s brilliant because I love doing Game of Thrones but I also get the chance to do other things. And I think that’s why you get these great actors doing these cable shows – they do attract amazing actors.
It seems to be where cutting edge drama is right now…
Yes, it does. As I said with season two there’s that scene that I think is one of the greatest scenes ever. It’s like six pages (of script) and it’s just brilliant. And with HBO they will actually allow characters to have conversations and to explore the kind of themes that you don’t really see in movies any more.
Maybe you do in low budget movies but big movies don’t have character driven stories in that way, it’s more effects and plot driven. And for actors, of course, it’s just more fun to act in something like Game of Thrones because it is so rich. And if I were a writer I would be trying to work in this kind of television because you get so much freedom. And with especially with HBO they really trust their writers and they give them the freedom to create.
And they aren’t frightened of dealing with adult themes with sex and violence...
Exactly. And I understand that if you are a movie executive and you are spending $100 million on a movie you have to make sure that you open big. But with HBO they have the subscribers and they have established such a brilliant brand and their audience trusts them.
Do you bring your family with you to Belfast when you are shooting Game of Thrones?
No, but one of the good things about this is that I’m only two hours or so away from home. I live in Copenhagen so they will come and visit but home is in Denmark.
Tell me about the films you have been making recently…
I did Headhunters, which is based on Jo Nesbo’s book. And then I did Mama, which was with an Argentinean director called Andres Muschietti and the American actress Jessica Chastain and it was great. Hopefully we’ll see that at the end of the year (2012).
Game of Thrones has a lot of fans. What sort of reaction do you get from them?
It’s very sweet and people are very respectful. It’s all positive. I haven’t had any Lannister hate directed at me (laughs). People really love the show and I guess it means if people recognise me they have been watching the show. So it’s a win-win situation for me. We went to comic-con and there was so much passion there and I think that’s when I realised that the show really was connecting with the audience.
Do you think that season two delivers in the same way that season one did?
Well, I’ve seen the first two episodes so far and I’ve read the scripts and I think, yes, it maintains the standards that were set in season one. Also, now the audience knows the world we inhabit so we hit the ground running. It’s very well made.
How did you get into acting?
I started at drama school at 18. I grew up in a tiny village of 45 people and the idea of becoming an actor seemed like an impossible dream. I left home when I was 17 and moved to Copenhagen and I went on a theatre course and a teacher there suggested I audition for drama school, which I did, and then I was accepted, which was amazing. And that was it.
You’ve directed before…
I’ve produced and I’ve directed a little television thing.
I just wondered whether you’d like to direct an episode of Game of Thrones if the opportunity came up?
Oh no (laughs)... acting in Game of Thrones is all consuming. The directors that come in and are successful are the ones that come in and know how to move the cameras around. I’ll concentrate on the acting – that’s enough and I love it.
Game Of Thrones is out on DVD and Blu-ray from Monday March 4th.