What makes Game Of Thrones such compulsive TV is that when deaths come – and they always do – they’re so surprising. But actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has a theory to explain it all: off-screen alter egos dishing out spoiler alerts. ‘They’re the ones who always get killed off,’ laughs the actor, who plays Jaime Lannister. ‘If you talk about Thrones, you die in Thrones.’ Six years since the HBO series debut, Coster-Waldau has yet to think he’s bigger than the role, despite a string of Hollywood projects including Tom Cruise’s Oblivion and Gods of Egypt with Gerard Butler. He says he’s got too many wrinkles to be involved in any Thrones prequels, so with the forthcoming season being the last, RISING asked him how it feels to reach the end…
RISING Given the GOT body count, we imagine the first thing you do when you get a new series script is check you’re not dead yet?
NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU ‘Haha – when I get the script, it’s sent by email, and I download it, go the end and scan through from end to start. I want to see if I’m alive, that’s the first thing I do. If he has to die, he has to go out with dragon fire, haha. I don’t want him to die, I don’t want any spectacular death scene where his head explodes; I want Jaime to enjoy his life and finally keel over from old age. I don’t think that will happen, but I live in hope. He’ll make it to 99 years old, with his eight kids and his wife, Brienne. I think everybody wants to see Brienne with Jaime. Their bond, it’s the only bond he loves and respects. He loves Brienne. It’s not necessarily romantic... Well it is, but neither of them will ever act on it. There's a very devout respect between them, which breeds a pure love. He gave her his sword, which is a pretty big deal, haha! Too many jokes!’
RISING There’s a lot of speculation about the way the story with Cersei could go – the complexity that you’ve brought to your character kind of leaves room for this?
NC-W ‘I think he might start to recognise a darker side in Cersei. His allegiances to Tyrion, and especially Brienne, are curdling his inner conflict. You know, despite all his actions, Jaime has always wanted to do right. He’s got some strong morals and for the majority of his life, it’s to do right by Cersei, which sees him erring on the side of darkness in many ways. Attempting to kill a young boy being a case in point. But now, he may have to question that intent. Ever since he lost his hand, there’s been this slow metamorphosis; it’s changed and morphed his identity, he's not the same Jaime we first met in season one. But who is? And being able to walk with him every step of that way and channel that development has been very special to me.’
‘All stories have to come to an end, otherwise they aren’t stories’
RISING There’s a real trend for open-ended finales in TV right now but we know that series seven of Thrones is going to be the last – how does that feel after being embedded in it for so long?
NC-W ‘As probably brutal as it sounds, I’m ready for the end. I'm ready. I don’t want to say goodbye to all my friends in the cast and crew, that will be hard but we’ve had a great run. And all stories have to come to an end, otherwise they aren’t stories. There has to be a conclusion, but one that goes out on a high.’
RISING It’s such a cultural behemoth – has the profile of the show warped your perspectives at all?
NC-W ‘I’m very grateful for Game of Thrones coming to me after two decades had passed in my career. But I wonder how this will affect the younger cast; when this is over and they're on another series that's getting no publicity, no buzz, no spoilers, none of that, will they find the process unsettling, will they understand why Thrones is a total anomaly that may never happen again? It’s a strange place to start out from. I know, I'll probably never experience anything again like this, like Thrones. And my overwhelming feeling is gratitude, not “I'm incredibly important.” None of this has to do with me, none of the success of Thrones is down to my hand; my one hand! It’s the show, it’s the creators, I’m a small part. That’s the danger as an actor, believing your own self-importance. There's an old Danish proverb: “Don’t fly higher than your ears will carry you.” Which basically says, “don’t believe you're ever better than the next guy.” Because you’re not.’
‘Don’t believe you're ever better than the next guy, because you’re not’
RISING Do you ever get lost in the act of being a character?
NC-W ‘I don’t use my job as therapy. I’m telling a story and it’s art, it’s a craft. I know some actors... I’ve never understood that, when some actors say they can’t let go of a character, because that means you're sick in some way. That means there’s something wrong. I’m not saying you can’t get great performances that way, but it must be horrible. For me, it’s a craft and when I leave a day of shooting, I don’t leave it but I’m thinking ahead for the next day.’
RISING What’s the best piece of advice you've ever received?
NC-W ‘It wasn’t so much advice as a warning. Before I left Denmark to work abroad, the head of the Royal Theatre of Denmark, he says to me: “Why are you leaving? You have what so many would dream of here; great parts, great opportunities, you will have a lot of success here, why throw it all away?” He couldn't understand. I was nervous, maybe I was making the wrong move. But when he said that to me, it sealed the deal. This was right for me, I knew I was making the right choice.’
WHAT NEXT? While you wait for GOT season seven, check out Small Crimes which debuted on Netflix this spring with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the lead.