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Interview with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

Continuing our series of interviews Ser Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer. This is actually the third time we’ve interviewed Nikolaj—see here and here—and as always it’s a pleasure to hear from him.

This is the first time we’ve met him in person, and he’s as charming as you might expect. He takes a great deal of relish in this role he plays—a role that he’s indicated (in another interview) features what may well be the best scene he’s ever had to play as an actor—and brings his own perspective to bear on the most loathed knight in the Seven Kingdoms, what makes him tick, and what he wants. And there’s hints, here and there, of things he’s really not allowed to talk about…

For other interviews, both from the junket and on other occasions, make sure to check this page out.

Interview

Q: Your scene in the first episode appears to be the first time Jaime’s ever expressed any real fear.

“I was really amazed when I saw it [Grey Wind]. It’s actually a real wolf that they shot and—I don’t know how they do it, black magic. When I shot it, it was a very scary tennis ball.”

Q: Speaking of fear, what does he really fear? What motivates him?

“I go back to the first season. I still think he’s motivated by love for his sister and for his family. I think he fears his father, and hates him and loves him at the same time. But he’s been an outcast his whole life. Whenever he walks into a room, people have pre-conceived opinions about him, which really annoys him. Fear… I also think he’s a soldier. That’s how he was raised, and he’s very good at not showing his fear. He’d rather do the opposite than show his fear. Even in episode one, the one with Robb—he’s clearly aware that he could be killed in a second, but he’s not going to show any kind of fear.”

Q: How does it feel to play the villain?

“It’s a lot of fun to do those scenes, because they’re so well written. There are always little twists and surprises in the scenes. He has his sense of humor, which is very dark, which I like.”

Q: He’s not really a villain, is he?

“I don’t think he is. I think one of the things I like about this season is that it’s really all about perspective and how you look at things and from what angle. In the first season, it was very much the Stark families as the heroes and the victims. But then you can go to other families—no, that’s later, they’ve been very strict in telling us not to reveal anything! But for example, when Ned Stark helped Robert Baratheon gain power… they killed a lot of people, a lot of families were terrorized. We find out what that was like, we meet some of those families. From that point of view, the Starks and Baratheons were villains.

“I just saw today in a Danish paper about a big story in Libya, about these reporters that went to this town where all these African immigrants… There had been 30,000 of them in this town in Libya before the liberation of Libya, and now they’re just no longer there—they’ve been washed away from the surface of the earth. And this happened because of the freedom fighters, who are extremely racist. So evil, good… it’s difficult, it’s very tricky.”

Q: What’s good in Jaime?

“I think there’s a lot of good. I believe that when he earned the title of Kingslayer, he actually believes that that was his finest hour, killing that king. Aerys was a monster. He was about to burn down everybody in King’s Landing. Thousands upon thousands of deaths, if Jaime hadn’t done that. That’s how he sees it. Others may of course say that was easy, he was just saving his own ass, but it’s a matter of point of view.

“I think he has strong morals. Obviously, there’s no excuse for pushing a kid out of a window… but the fact was, if that kid had gone back and told about what he had seen, it would have meant the death of Cersei, of Jaime, of the children… so the choice was, my kids or their kid? Thank god the kid didn’t remember when he woke up.”

Q: Is it important to find something redeeming in a character?

“I always want to understand the character…. Yes, I have to find something I can relate to. I can relate to family and love. We all know these people in our lives who we think of as complete dicks, but then someone else says, “What are you talking about? He’s a great guy!” I wouldn’t want Jaime Lannister as a friend—he’s so twisted and arrogant and annoying—but what I do like about him is that he has a lot of honesty, saying it as it is. That’s what provokes so much anger. He’s not lying when he says those things.”

Q: Can you talk a bit about the relationship with Brienne this season?

“I probably can’t. That’s not until… later in the season. But for anyone who’s read the books, they know it’s big. But I can’t talk about it.”

Q: Have you read the books?

“I’ve read the first two books. I’m trying to read the scripts first. I love to just get the scripts first, because they are different, because they’ve made very strong choices about the characters and characters that aren’t in the show. So instead of my going, “But what about this, what happened to this character?” I’ll have the scripts as my story, and then when I read the books they’ll inform the scripts rather than the other way around. But of course I know what happens in the whole story—I know the basics, about that basic relationship…”

Q: To clarify when you say the “whole story”, George hasn’t written all the books yet but—

“Oh! No, no, no. I have no special insight into what happens after book five.”

Q: Will we get to see more of Jaime compared to last year?

“No. Next season, if we get there, that’s a big Jaime year.”

Q: What does Jaime think of his children?

“I think he considers Joffrey to be a little shit, to be honest. It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? It’s still his son, but .... not really, in a way. The other kids are sweet. But there’s no question that, as you know, Jaime’s a prisoner now but he’s still loyal to his family.”

Q: Does Jaime feel self-loathing for some of his choices?

“Oh, yes, absolutely. I think he loathes what he did to Bran—he’s not proud to that. Maybe if he had…. The thing is, he’s a man of action, in order to survive you can’t think, you have to act. That’s what happened there, more or less. I thought a lot about what happened and the effect it had on Jaime. So I think there is self-loathing, but there’s also some understanding that that’s what he had to do. And there’s some—ah, there’s some great stuff happening later.”

Q: He may feel loathing, but it doesn’t seem to be cracking his relationship with Cersei.

“I think that’s a very complicated relationship and it’s not getting easier. They are very different. I think at the core he does not really want to be part of that world. He loathes the game of the thrones, that whole thing, and she’s obsessed about it. It’s one of those things, for him up to this point it’s been about surviving, about being with her, about keeping close to her. This whole thing—he gave up his whole life: he joined the Kingsguard to be with her, giving up women “officially”, and he was young, he was sixteen. He’s older now, much older, and I think what happens next year will be soul-searching. But now, he’s a prisoner, and what he wants now is to get out of that or just fucking kill him; this thing about being tied to a post is driving him crazy.”

Q: Do you understand his relationship with his sister?

“Yes, I do understand it. It’d be hard to play it if you didn’t. But—I couldn’t imaging falling in love with my sister, but I can imagine falling in love with someone and it just happens to be my sister. Most people understand falling for someone, being attracted to someone you shouldn’t—a friend’s partner, something like that. It’s there. You try to use that. Here it’s just going to that extreme level. There are so many things in A Song of Ice and Fire which George Martin takes up to that level.”

Q: How have you found the fan reaction, at places like Comic-Con and so on?

“Amazing. I’m from Denmark as you know, and the show did air in Denmark on Canal+ but not many people saw it. So my agent told me the response in America, but when I got to Comic-Con it was just… so much more than what I expected, and I was so grateful to experience that. It’d be easy to be one of those actors who doesn’t care, who claims to hate the publicity, but I thought the energy from fans, the excitement, it was a real privilege to experience it.”

Q: What was it that most interested you in Game of Thrones?

“The writing, the characters. The fact that we can have these discussions—it’s not just, “Oh yeah, you know.” It’s interesting.”

Q: Can you imagine the other actors playing Lannisters as being part of your actual family?

“Yes! I love my family, but I’d love to have Peter as my brother. He’s smart and funny, also in real life. And Lena…. And Tywin? We’ll skip that one, he’s a little too scary for me! But Charles is great.”

Q: You have mentioned Brienne, and you’ve said in the past that you were most looking forward to her before the second season commenced. Without going into spoiler territory, what is it about their relationship that interests you so much?

“I think it’s that if you look at some of these main characters, they’re all outcasts in many ways, and I think she—if you look at the surface, that’s where Brienne and Jaime can identify with one another, even if they’re very different in other ways.”
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