Of all the roles in Game of Thrones, Ser Jaime Lannister may be both the most popular and the most hated character in the novels at the very same time.
And why not, when he’s such a larger-than-life figure, an arrogant, swaggering swordsman caught up in an illicit relationship with his own sister and largely despised by all honorable men for a single act? The Kingslayer, as he’s called, seems driven by ego on the one hand and by family on the other ... and in between those two forces, there’s a hint that there may be more than meets the eye. So it was a pleasant surprise when we first learned that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau—a Danish actor who’s made a splash in the U.S. with rolls in some of Ridley Scott’s big recent films and the leading role in the New Amsterdam television series—landed the role, bringing to the part all the energy and confidence that fans could have hoped for.
Below, Nikolaj took time out of his schedule to answer a few of our questions about his role, the preparation for some of the scenes, how he sees Jaime’s relationship to his family, and more.
When you auditioned for the role, did you choose to research the character as preparation? Is that sort of thing useful at all, or can it be more of a hindrance when auditioning? How about afterward, when you had been cast, did you opt to read the series? A number of the actors, largely the younger ones, seem to have taken to it.
Before I auditioned, I had a meeting with Carolyn Strauss, DB Weiss and David Benioff where they introduced me to the world of Westeros and to Jaime in particular. It was, needless to say, very inspiring to meet those three brilliant minds. I didn’t do any other research before the audition. But once I got the job I read Game of Thrones and when we hopefully get a second season I will read the second book. Bryan Cogman also gave me a comprehensive tour of all things Jaime. That man knows Westeros.
What do you consider to be Jaime’s defining trait, the thing that really makes him tick?
The things he does for love.
The way Jaime relates to each of his siblings is pretty different. Cersei and he share a very intimate connection, as twins and also for other reasons. Whereas Tyrion, a dwarf in a time and place where dwarfs are considered figures to be mocked and abused, seems to almost worship Jaime, because Jaime (unlike Cersei) has always been kind to him. Yet while they both love Jaime, and he loves them, they’re so at odds with one another. What’s it like for Jaime to be caught up in that sort of dynamic?
Its family. Love comes in many weird shapes and forms and his love for his sister is, to put it mildly, complicated. But when we meet Jaime, there is no other way. He belongs to Cersei and is happy to.
With Tyrion the relationship is simple. They get each other, they know each other and they appreciate each other. They also know the truth and that the public perception of them is far from the truth… Clearly I am biased, but my two favorite characters are Jaime and Tyrion because they personify the expression “do not judge a book by its cover”.
In the very first episode, Jaime mentions that as a boy he didn’t have anything to fear, even when leaping off a clip into water far below… that is, until Cersei told their father. From recent previews we know that there’ll be scenes between Jaime and Tywin. What was that like, and how would you characterize Jaime’s relationship to his father?
I was thrilled when I read the scene between Tywin and Jaime because Tywin is such an important figure in Jaimes life. He is probably the only man Jaime fears but also a man that he has immense respect for and like most sons he wants his fathers approval and respect. As the readers of ASOIAF know then its a very layered relationship they have and I thought it was great to just get the first hints of that in season 1 . Also because we see the relationship to Tywins other son, Tyrion.
There’s a sense from the previews we’ve seen that Jaime seems to go out of his way to needle and insult Ned Stark. Is it just because of the political dynamics between their families, or is there something more personal to it?
I share Jaime’s view that there is an absurd sense of double standards going on with and around Ned Stark. Jaime killed a king that made Hitler look like Gandhi and the world is in shock (though secretly relieved) and mockingly names him Kingslayer.
Early on Ned Stark executes—beheads—a poor, terrified kid whose only crime was to be scared witless. No one takes notice because Ned Stark is an honorable man, and the kid was a deserter. But he kills a defenseless man for speaking the truth.
I believe Jaime feels that Ned Stark should have, at least in private, acknowledged some sort of gratitude for the killing of the man who in the most horrible way killed his brother and father.
Jaime’s introduced as one of the deadliest knights in the Seven Kingdoms, and that’s something that gets demonstrated in the course of show. How intensive was the process of training for and choreographing that fight with Sean Bean for you? Sean Bean’s quite a practiced hand at the swordplay.
Buster, the fight coordinator, is brilliant and I loved working with him and his team of stunt guys. Just a great bunch of very skilled individuals. We did train a lot. Sean is very good at sword fighting, so it was important for me to be ready. In the end, the 2 days we shot the fight sequence outside the brothel was jut magical… and sweaty.
Jaime’s also a knight of the Kingsguard, sworn to guard the king with his life, but one who’s infamous for what he did when he earned the nickname Kingslayer. What motivates him to continue putting on that armor and playing that role, when he seems to not believe in the honor of being a Kingsguard any longer?
It enables him to stay close to Cersei.
There’s been some efforts to emphasize that while the show is a fantasy, it’s not a “typical” fantasy, whatever that may mean. Did that make the idea of being involved in this production more appealing to you, and if so, why?
What appealed to me was the writing. I don’t know what typical and atypical fantasy is… Is LotR typical, is Shakespeare’s Tempest typical? Is Sheen’s Korner? Genre doesn’t and shouldn’t matter if the writing’s strong.
At some point, you probably realized that the fan base for these novels wasn’t just large, it was occasionally obsessed with the production. There’s many, many tens of thousands of readers around the world who have all formed their own vision of what the Kingslayer should be like. What is it like to take on a role like that, where there are so many people who’ll have preconceived ideas about the character you’re playing?
Wrong nose, wrong hair, wrong color…. Haha, I have had a blast reading the comments.
Together with David and Dan I have been able to make Jaime exactly the way I wanted him to be. That’s been extremely rewarding and I believe we made the right choices.
I also know that some of my choices will be dead wrong to many devoted readers, because there’s no way I can live up to their imagination.
How did working on Game of Thrones compare to some of the big film productions you’ve been on, such as Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, in terms of production values and filming pace? Is it a more or less intensive process?
It’s always difficult to compare. Game of Thrones is huge and it felt huge all the way.
Do you have a favorite moment, either on or off set, in connection to the production that you could share with us?
There are a few: Galloping through a square in Mdina, Malta. First time I walked on the set of the throne room and saw the Iron Throne… that was special. The scene with Ned Stark, waiting for him in the throne room.
What are you most looking forward to, if the show gets a second season?
The scripts. Nothing better than when a new script arrives.