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Season 4 Interview: Gwendoline Christie & Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to interview a number of actors in London. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has been our most frequently interviewed actor, I believe—he’s always been quite game to talk to us!—but they’ve always been just with him. This time around, Gwendoline Christie joined him, and I finally got to see at first hand what the show is like as the two actors spark off one another, sending zingers one another’s way with much laughter. And sometimes the zingers aren’t just directed at one another, as you’ll see below ...

Interview

Nikolaj, since we spoke last year we’ve seen that your character has become more human and likable. Do you feel that progression continues this season?

Nikolaj: I think that the key here is that—what’s great about is that a show like this has so much time to learn more about the characters. There’s no question that at the beginning you knew nothing about Jaime Lannister, you just saw his actions, but you didn’t know why he acted like he did. Now we’ve learned a lot more, and a lot of things has happened. When we meet him at the start of this season, it’s a few weeks since he’s returned and he’s now Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. The whole Lannister family is there, and Jaime deals with his father’s expectations, with Cersei—and that’s of course quite complicated—and his brother is also in a very tight spot and he needs Jaime to help him. He has Joffrey, his nephew/son, who’s being a bit of pain… and of course he has to deal with Brienne, who keeps reminding him of this promise he made. And of course he lost his hand, which is quite a bit of a problem.
It defined him in his own eyes, and in the eyes of the world as well. He puts on a very brave face, if you will… Perhaps I shouldn’t give anything more away. Obviously, it’s very important him that people respect him, and even fear him in a pure physical way. It’s important that people believe he’s dangerous. But whether or not he still is, that’s another question.
As to whether he’s more vulnerable… yes, of course, he’s definitely changed quite a bit. He’s for the first time met someone outside of the family whom he thinks he can trust and respect. He’s not quite aware of that when we start this season, but it’s there. There’s a scene from the first season, where Tywin tells him he wants Jaime to become the man he was always meant to be. ... and maybe this season is about that; not necessarily the man Tywin wants him to be, but the man he wants to be.

Nikolaj, since we spoke last year we’ve seen that your character has become more human and likable. Do you feel that progression continues this season?

He’s the same guy who returned home, but he’s had a bath, a hair cut, got rid of the beard… There’s so many things he has to deal with with his family, his sister, there’s that part of him that would like to just close his eyes and things return to how they were. But they’re not, because there’s a fucking golden hand on his stump and Brienne’s there hectoring him. As in life, you don’t suddenly go, “I have changed, I am now this person.” It takes time.

How much do you two like working together, really?

Gwendoline: (muttering) Not really.
Nikolaj: She is a lot of fun to be around, I have to say. But she’s one of those people whose funny when they don’t intend to be funny.
[Gwendoline breaks out laughing.]
Gwendoline: LOL, thanks. It is loads of fun because Nikolaj is an extraordinarily complex and challenging man. He’s quite riveting to be around. I’ve improved in many qualities—
Nikolaj: You have improved!
Gwendoline:—like tolerance, my tolerance has really improved—
Nikolaj: It’s true.
Gwendoline: But I’m very lucky—
Nikolaj: I’m so proud every day when I work with her with how she’s grown.
[Gwendoline laughs]
Gwendoline: Thank you. Thank you, you’ve done a great job, thanks. But no, it’s really entertaining, and it could so easily not be. It’s such a glorious benefit to be on a job where you’re often working outside, where there’s a lot of rain, and you can feel like sometimes the elements are against you, but you’ve got someone you can have fun with. And if that feeds into the scenes, then even better, because imagine trying to grind that one out without the humor.

Nikolaj, do you have more fun being sarcastic and ironic, or when he’s trying to be kind?

Nikolaj:  Oh, I love his wit. I think what’s interesting about those scenes earlier on, when he was traveling with her, he was clearly using it as a tool to hack away at her armor and find a weak spot. And he knew exactly where to go.
Gwendoline: That is true. But you did also say you really enjoyed doing those scenes.
Nikolaj: One of the great joys of playing Jaime is the writing, starting with George Martin creating this character, and then David and Dan. He makes you smile, even when he’s being really, really inappropriate. It’s kind of fun.

You’ve been through many emotional scenes as well. How has that been like for you, as an actor?

Nikolaj: As an actor, it’s what you hope for. It’s exciting. You have a character who starts in a dark place, and if nothing else he knows one thing: he can fight, that no one’s better than him. And then you take that from him. And of course he thinks, I’m a man of privilege, I can buy my way out of it. But no, you say he can’t. It’s been terrific.

Gwendoline, as Nikolaj mentioned, Brienne reminds Jaime of his promise to Catelyn regarding her daughters. With his having set her out on this quest, Westeros is a very cruel, hard place, and Brienne’s more or less going out to face it alone. Is there a need she’s trying to fill by doing this? Some would say that the woman’s dead, the promise has no force anymore. What drives Brienne?

Nikolaj: I think—no, I just—
Gwendoline: Why? What is it? Tell me first.
Nikolaj: He knows so much about this show.
Gwendoline: I’m aware of that, and I was about to give him an answer that was about series 3—
Nikolaj: I was just trying to help you!
Gwendoline: But you underestimate my intelligence so many times ... [rest lost in recording as your intrepid interviewer can’t stop from laughing]... it’s so insulting!
Nikolaj: I’m so sorry!

Gwendoline: Fine. I hope you mean it. Okay, I think what we see in series 3 is that she’s aware of this promise that Jaime Lannister has made to Catelyn Stark, to make sure the Stark girls are safe, that they’re to be returned. And she swears an oath that she will take Jaime to King’s Landing. She’s a woman of her word. When she met Catelyn Stark, I think it was the first time Brienne met a woman with such strength, and she sees strength exhibited from a woman without a sword, and that she has a pure heart. It’s the kind of purity that Brienne herself aspires to and dedicates her life to. So I think Brienne’s mission in life is one of honor, and to make sure things are carried out. Brienne decided to become the woman that she is because she didn’t want to get married and die in childbed, so she’s carved out a different life for herself. She’s wedded to the greater good, and the excecution of that, and consequently she’ll take in her stride everything.
Nikolaj: ... That was really good.
[Laughter]
Gwendoline: Can we now ask him after every question that I answer, how he would have answered it?
Nikolaj: No, but she was brilliant, she didn’t actually answer the question.

Would you consider playing Brienne a cathartic sort of thing?

Gwendoline: No! I wouldn’t say that. It’s just acting. It’s a skill and it’s what I trained to do. It’s not something I’m going to lament, but all female actresses are aware that there isn’t an abundance of brilliant female roles. But this is a brilliant, multi-faceted female role, and I’m so lucky to be playing it. I don’t think it’s a cathartic experience for me. It’s acting and it’s a job, and I love doing it. I hope the success of Game of Thrones will lead to more brilliant female parts for actresses to play.

So there’s nothing therapeutic in it?

Gwendoline: No, no. It’s a brilliant part, and it means as an actor one can exercise…
Nikolaj: Working with me, though, is a kind of therapy.
Gwendoline: That is even better.
Nikolaj: But it is a kind of therapy, isn’t it?
Gwendoline: Working with you? Isn’t therapy supposed to be some sort of vaguely enjoyable experience… ?
Nikolaj: Noooo. No, it’s about growth and moving on.

Gwendoline: So in your opinion, how is our acting together—
Nikolaj: For me it’s hard work.
[Laughter]
Gwendoline: You’re not the only one!
Nikolaj: But I understand the responsibility I have to such a young actress to help and guide you.
Gwendoline: And I’d like to thank you for that, and to share with everyone how grateful I am. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau! Woooo! [Applauds]
[Laughter]

Given how huge the Red Wedding was as a shock, do you think we’re going to be able to look forward to more surprises of that kind in this season?

Nikolaj: That’s down to the source material. It’s quite… You have a lot of story lines, as you know, and at some point they come to their climaxes, if you will. And this season there’s more of those. But the Red Wedding was quite unique, and no one has the aim of trying to top that.
Gwendoline: Also, the nature of Game of Thrones is that nothing replicates. When you think you’ve figured out the formula, it changes, because the narrative is never conventional. You just don’t know what will happen next. [Turns to Nikolaj.] Well, maybe not you, because you’re so much more cynical about it…
Nikolaj: No, no. You’re absolutely right. I’m not cynical about these things! I cried when I saw the Red Wedding, I have to say… No, no I didn’t. But I thought it was amazing, how it was shot, and I was moved by it. I didn’t cry, because I knew it, but I thought it was amazing.
[Laughter]

Gwendoline, just asking about your presence in King’s Landing this season. Because one of the things in the novels is that Brienne arrives, talks to Loras and Jaime, and that’s the extent of her interaction with characters in the city before she goes on her quest. But we saw in the Foreshadowing that you’ve a scene with Margaery and Olenna, for one thing, so that’s new. Can you hint at any other interactions you might have in King’s Landing, like with Lena [Headey] or Charles [Dance]...

[Interviewer notices dubious expression on NCW’s face.]

I’m not looking for spoilers! I mean, Gwendoline, do you get to work with some of the other great actors that there are in King’s Landing? You’re there, it’s—

Nikolaj: No. No, that would kind of be a spoiler, wouldn’t it?
[Gwendoline bursts out laughing at Nikolaj’s tone.]
Nikolaj: You’re sayings things that for you are obvious, like “Going on a quest,” but people who haven’t read the books—

But it’s in the Foreshadowing!

Nikolaj: No—

It is! She’s wearing armor, she’s fighting with your sword, she’s not in the city—

Nikolaj: Yeah, but that’s all! What does it really say?

But that’s something—she’s out and about!

[Laughter]
Gwendoline: Maybe I’m just going out to the shops!

Which could be dangerous, like a sale at Harrods…

Nikolaj: But you don’t know, you don’t know.

Okay, okay. Ignore that part, then, and just—do you get to work with any of the other actors in King’s Landing? We know you’re there, after all, at the start of the season.

Gwendoline: I’ll say this. Brienne in King’s Landing is an anomaly. She ends up in situations and with characters you wouldn’t expect. There’s lots of surprises! And… I said to someone last week, I never said to anyone “This happens.” I have friends asking me, and even my mum says something, and I don’t say. Because what I love about the show is that it’s such a glorious suspension of disbelief, that people can be so passionate about it. I would never want to spoil that. I could never wait for the next book or TV show that I liked, and I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone

One last question, then. What’s your thoughts on being on the most pirated show in the last two years?

Nikolaj: I think it’s obvious that it needs to become more available, online, and quicker. I totally get why people do that. If you have to wait six months because you can’t get the show where you are in the world, and you know that if you click a couple of times and you have it… well, you’re going to do that. But I know that for many people, if they know they can pay $5 for it and get it legally when they want it, they’ll do that too…. But of course you shouldn’t steal!
[Laughter]

[This is probably my very favorite interview ever, by the way. Nikolaj gave me a taste of the banter he throws Gwendoline’s way, apparently, and it was quite funny (and, as you can see, left me flustered)! In retrospect, I think my casual use of “quest” was putting them on edge about spoilers when for me it was just 14-year-old information, and would have been edited out if I posted this prior to “Oathkeeper”. So I shouldn’t have argued the point. It was very funny, though! And now we see that while many of the actors are happy to tease things like upcoming scenes with actors, Gwendoline Christie very much likes keeping the cards close to her chest.]

 

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