At 44 years of age, you could argue that it’s taken Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau some time to arrive.
Outside of Denmark, he was mainly known for small roles in Ridley Scott films Blackhawk Down and Kingdom Of Heaven, until 2011 when Coster-Waldau became known to audiences (and boxset obsessives) across the world as narcissistic, incestual, attempted child killer Jaime Lannister in fantasy drama Game Of Thrones.
To mark the release of gritty Danish police thriller A Second Chance, Esquire met up with the actor to talk career advice, his favourite Game Of Thrones scenes and who really belongs on the Iron Throne.
Jaime Lannister has slowly become one of the more likeable characters in Game Of Thrones. Did you prefer playing him when he was an out-and-out villain?
I’ve used this analogy before, but imagine if you went back through your life and found one thing that you’re not proud of, then imagine that the movie of your life starts right there. It’s going to take a while before people realise he’s not all bad.
Do you see him as a romantic character?
Yes. His is one of the few stories on Game of Thrones where he actually, really loves a woman. It’s wrong on many levels because the woman is his sister, but he really loves her and he will do anything for her. By trying to kill Bran Stark, he was actually trying to save Cersei and her children. It’s not all black and white.
How did you feel when you read that Jaime was going to lose his hand?
I thought it was amazing. I felt great when I saw the first scene where he’s having sex with his sister, because it was such an emotional conflict. Losing his hand was similar because that was his identity and by taking that away, he’s forced to find himself again. I do miss fighting, though.
Which scenes did you enjoy filming more, being dragged through the mud with Brienne or spending time in King’s Landing?
I really loved the stuff with Brienne, I miss those scenes. I liked to be out in the mud. Jaime’s best scenes have been the ones with Brienne.
Which death affected the cast and crew the most, in terms of someone leaving the show?
The Red Wedding, when Michelle Fairley, Richard Madden and Oona Chaplin died, was tough because we’d all worked together for years. I was really sad when Tywin Lannister was killed last year because Charles Dance is a great guy and played such a great character.
Which character should Jaime spend more time with?
I would like to go back to have some scenes with Tyrion again, but also it’d be fun to have Jamie and Jon Snow meet. I’d love it if Jamie got to go to The Wall.
Do you have a favorite character?
Jaime is my favorite character. I like Tyrion as well. I like the darkness that he showed at the end of the last season.
Who would you most like to see on the throne at the end?
I think they should just burn the throne. Or have Hodor up there.
A Second Chance felt very grounded after Game Of Thrones. Is that what you were looking for?
No. I was shooting in New York when I got the script for A Second Chance and was blown away by it. I always look for something different and the idea of doing a really straight drama with [director] Susanne Bier was a perfect opportunity.
Did you take inspiration from any other police thrillers?
I actually met a cop who worked with street gangs. I wanted to understand what drives someone who deals with very hardened criminals on a daily basis. How do you turn that off when you go home at night?
Do you think achieving this level of success later in your career rather than earlier on has been beneficial?
Sometimes I do wonder. I look at some of my colleagues on Game of Thrones, like Emilia [Clarke] and Kit [Harington] and this is more or less their first job out of drama school, so obviously they know nothing else. You have a feeling, well ‘good for you’, but we all have different paths. Game of Thrones is so unique and the odds that any of us involved will be in another show like it are very slim, so I’m enjoying the ride.
What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
It was advice I didn’t take, so it was good in the sense that I knew I was going to do the opposite. I was leaving Denmark to go work abroad and the head of the Royal Theatre of Denmark said ‘you’ve got all these great parts and you’re going to have a great career here, why would you go away…it’s so stupid’ and I chose not to follow his advice. Sometimes you just have to just follow your gut.
A Second Chance is released Friday 13 March. Game Of Thrones season 5 will premiere on 12 April.