As Nikolaj Coster-Waldau gears up for the fourth season of “Game of Thrones,” the Danish actor weighs in on the powerful franchise, the industry and the rising sea of opportunity.
An off-duty Nikolaj Coster-Waldau opens his front door, wearing a plaid cotton shirt, shorts, sandals and a friendly smile, having just wrapped the cover shoot for this month’s issue. The accomplished Danish-born actor lodged himself into the global consciousness largely via his role as the morally ambiguous Jaime Lannister in the mega-successful HBO series “Game of Thrones.” At 43, he is tall and tanned, and he fixes his eyes on yours when he talks. He’s your basic, chisel-jawed lady-killer, in the old-fashioned sense of the word—sword or no sword. We may as well cut to the chase: How is it that, even though his character on “Game of Thrones” is having sex with his sister and pushed a young boy out of a window, crippling him (in Episode One), he is not universally reviled and we are all, in fact, intrigued and even smitten by Jaime Lannister?
“That’s what I loved about this character when I signed on,” he replies with enthusiasm. “You start out with a guy who seemingly is a very cynical, dark, evil man, if you will, and then they told me what his journey would be, and I found it fascinating. Even with the first scene, he does something so horrible and then says, ‘The things I do for love.’ That is his motivation.” I mention that his sister, Cersei, whom he is reunited with in Season Four, seems rather unlovable. Plus she seems to be developing a drinking problem with all those endless goblets of red wine. Coster-Waldau laughs, “I think so too. Jaime does ask, ‘Why did the gods make me love such a hateful woman?’ It’s interesting because so far she hasn’t shown many redeeming qualities. Mind you, clearly she hasn’t had an easy life.” The opportunity to dissect and discuss the show’s characters as if they actually exist is hugely fun and engaging. “That’s what’s great about the show,” he agrees. “It’s not the dragons. You are curious about what happens to these people.”
Coster-Waldau’s natural ability to make women swoon is no doubt part of the reason he was cast in The Other Woman, a big-budget romcom released in April directed by Nick Cassavetes, costarring Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann. His character also has a dark side: “He comes from privilege, he makes a lot of money, he has put his wife and his children in a beautiful house, he works hard, and he thinks that he’s entitled to have a bit of fun and that it doesn’t hurt anyone. So he keeps seducing women. He loves himself so much he’s looking for someone who loves him as much as he does. He’s such a selfish, narcissistic prick, there’s nothing better than to see him suffer at the end, when he loses his cool.” I sense he enjoys depicting these bad boys. “You are trying to find some kind of truth; whether the character is good or bad doesn’t matter. It’s about finding those moments where hopefully the audience will be able to connect and identify. Villains are so much fun to watch because they do the unexpected, and we all sometimes wish we could let loose. I remember reading Donald Duck when I was young, and there was that little red devil that would pop into his mind, urging him on. We all have that. We rein ourselves in all the time.”
“I don’t know, but it
tells us a lot about women,
So is it this inner moral battle, this darkness underneath the alpha male exterior, that has contributed to his sex symbol status? “I don’t know, but it tells us a lot about women, doesn’t it?” he grins.
Since graduating from State Theatre School in Denmark, Coster-Waldau has had a long list of starring roles on his CV, both in the U.S. and in his home country, but he is not one to underplay the good fortune that has come with the massive success of “Game of Thrones,” or the fact that this TV series enables him to explore his character in far more depth than he would in a film.
We touch on how remarkable television is at present, including acclaimed Danish series such as “The Killing” and “Borgen,” and Coster-Waldau praises another HBO standout, “True Detective.” “You know what’s so great about all of it? The fact that we, as an audience, really like complicated stuff. Now you get to do these stories that are eight hours long and it’s great, you can sell it and it works. I’ve been catching up with ‘House of Cards.’ On the surface you would think it is so different from ‘Game of Thrones,’ but it’s really very similar. Power and politics.” He mentions he enjoyed Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street, and I disagree mildly, commenting that there was nothing to learn except rich guys like hookers and drugs. “I thought it was a great movie. I don’t go to the movies necessarily to be educated about morals. Sometimes it’s important, but I don’t think we should be afraid of letting people make up their own minds. There’s nothing worse than people stuffing a message down your throat.”
He’s currently on location in Sydney working on Alex Proyas’s new action adventure Gods of Egypt, where he plays the mythological god Horus, costarring alongside Gerard Butler and Geoffrey Rush. Here, he’s stayed low-key and largely unspotted by the paparazzi, waiting for the arrival of his wife, Nukaka, an actress and singer from Greenland whom he married in 1998, and their two daughters, 10 and 14, from their home in Denmark. He is far more interested in discussing the potential perils of Australian wildlife and whether or not he should even show his girls the chart he has of poisonous arachnids. “The Kingslayer” is, like most people, frightened of Huntsman spiders. “Guys that think they have to be manly or butch, tough, all those things, they bore me. To have a sense of humor is the most important thing. I don’t think you should take yourself too seriously, especially with what we [actors] do. There is so much incentive to do just that. You need to fight against it or it will mess you up.” I wrap our conversation by asking if “Game of Thrones,” and the presumably unexpected fame that has ensued, has changed his life.
“Everything changes your life, doesn’t it? But at the core, you hope that you don’t change.”
By Kirstie Clements.
Photographed by Hugh Stewart.
Fashion Editor: Victoria Collison.