Kingslayer – Heartbreaker
“I’d be very naive if I thought Jaime would survive to the end.”
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau laughs. “It would be terrible not to see the whole thing through. It’s such a wonderful series, but I know that lots of people die in it all the time. If I had my way, though, Jaime would die of old age.”
We are in Stockholm, where the traveling exhibition about TV show Game of Thrones is making a guest appearance. Coster-Waldau has been flown in to talk about his role as Jaime Lannister on the popular TV series. To sum up briefly for the uninitiated, the show is a fantasy tale about the fictional land of Westeros and the seven families vying for power there, symbolized by the mighty iron throne. It is a story filled with power struggles and betrayal, and bloody violence is ever present. Lead characters can suddenly be killed – no one is safe.
When asked what has made Game of Thrones so popular, he looks a little perplexed.
“It’s a kind of parallel universe. Other than that, I find it hard to come up with any particular reasons for its popularity. If only I knew... maybe it has something to do with the fact that the characters change, and with them the viewers’ sympathies.”
The first time I met Coster-Waldau was over 20 years ago. He was visiting Stockholm along with his director, Ole Bornedal, to talk about the thriller Nattevagten (which was so successful that Bornedal later did a remake in the US – Nightwatch). Coster-Waldau was 24-years-old then, it was his second film, and he says that his subsequent fame came far too early.
“I was an asshole. It was the first big job I had after drama school, it was a huge success, and I thought everything would just carry on like that. All my films would be successful. But of course, it didn’t go that way.”
Instead, he spent the next fifteen years in roles that earned him critical acclaim but did not provide any real breakthrough. As he packed his bags to return home to Copenhagen for good, his agent called to see if he might consider auditioning for a new television series that HBO was producing.
“I read the script and thought it was an amazing role. But dragons and fantasy? I never thought anything would come of it.”
Neither did his colleagues. When he told them that he had been cast in an HBO series, at first they were jealous, thinking it would be something like The Sopranos.
“When I said it was all about fantasy and dragons, I could see their reaction. There was no need to be jealous.”
‘What makes humans tick? Sometimes we do the opposite of what our morals dictate and what we believe in’
Coster-Waldau is now hot property, but it is obvious from the films he makes that he wants to showcase his versatility: from romantic comedies like The Other Woman to heavy socio-critical dramas like A Thousand Times Goodnight.
“Yes, I get a lot of offers for roles similar to Jaime, but I’m not interested. I want to take on the most diverse range of stories I can, although ultimately it is the quality of the script that counts.”
I email Peter Aalbaek Jensen, Lars von Trier’s business partner and one of the most powerful men in the Danish film industry. What does he have to say about Coster-Waldau? I get an answer straightaway.
“When you look at Nikolaj off camera, you see a man who has achieved his highest aspirations without trampling all over other people. I think his body language suggests a man who has fought – and fought hard – and who has now achieved most of the things he wanted. That gives you a different demeanor. He is confident without being overbearing.”
Is that true? Has he achieved what he wanted? Coster-Waldau hesitates slightly.
“I have never set myself any real goals. First of all it was important to become an actor, then it was important to be able to make a living. Sure, things are going well now, but the goalposts are constantly moving.”
He has appeared on lists of the “world’s sexiest men” many times, but he says that he could never imagine cheating on his wife Nukaaka. She is a former Miss Greenland, and they met when they were doing a radio show together in 1997.
“It was love at first sight for me. But I think it took her a little longer,” he says.
They have two daughters and Coster-Waldau tries to take the family with him as often as possible when he is shooting.
“Although it can be tough sometimes. As soon as I finished shooting Susanne Bier’s latest film, I spent five months in Australia, where I did a huge Hollywood epic, Gods of Egypt. It would have been difficult to have them there with me.”
Game of Thrones is not something he wants his children to see.
“But it’s hard to keep an eye on it. One time I arrived at their school a few years ago and the children in my youngest daughter’s class started shouting ‘there’s that guy who pushes children out of windows’. I don’t want my kids to watch the show. They shouldn’t have to see their dad in the kind of situations Jaime gets into.”
Mads Mikkelsen, Denmark’s other superstar, once told me that he cannot take his children to the Tivoli theme park in Copenhagen any more, as he runs the risk of getting stuck with a never-ending line of autograph hunters. I ask Coster-Waldau if he feels the same way.
“I try not to think about it. It wouldn’t be fair to my kids. But of course you always have those thoughts at the back of your mind somewhere. And I avoid going to places where I know there will be a lot of tourists.”
“There are some really overbearing fans. When we had a premiere in Seattle a year or so ago, things started to get a little claustrophobic. All those people who wanted to take photos of me. One of them said ‘Can I take a picture of your shoes? I like shoes’.”
“And once I was showering at a gym and I heard someone say ‘What are you doing here? Can I take your picture?’ In the shower!”
Home is Copenhagen and in 2014 he made the most of the opportunity to be in his first Danish film for many years, Susanne Bier’s very dark drama En Chance Til (A Second Chance).
Of Coster -Waldau, Bier says, “I admire Nikolaj as a wonderful character and for his natural talent as an actor. He is truly skilled. At the same time he’s both extremely nice and friendly, and he has something in his eyes that makes you unsure about him or what his next move might be. This made him well suited to his role in En Chance Til.”
Coster-Waldau loved returning to Danish film, as well as working with colleagues unafraid of serious issues. “It was wonderful to make a film in Danish again, and to be working with Susanne. She and her screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen always address questions of morality. That’s what interests me. What makes humans tick? Sometimes we do the exact opposite of what our morals dictate and what we believe in. Why do we do that?”
Does he have a dream role? He nods.
“Yes I do, and it is the next film I’m going to make. But I can’t say anything more, other than it will be made in the US.”
Text: Gunnar Rehlin
Published: May 5, 2015