He might be the star of the biggest show on TV, but his wife still hasn’t watched it. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau talks to Lucy Pavia about climate change, feminism and code names
There was a bit of a hoo-ha filming Game Of Thrones season 7 in Ireland last year, says Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. To protect against plot leaks, every member of the cast was given a code name. The trouble was everyone kept forgetting what their code name was. ‘So they’d go, “Nathaniel! Who is Nathaniel?” Then you’d have to check a special book to find out who Nathaniel was, and you’d go, “Wait, I’m Nathaniel?”’ he says. There was also the constant interruption of drones buzzing overhead, trying to capture the actors in the middle of a revealing death scene. ‘Last year, they were shooting in San Sebastián and suddenly there was a drone,’ says Coster-Waldau. ‘People started throwing rocks at it until they realised that it was their drone. They were shooting a scene with it,’ he says, laughing.
But in a year, the madness will finally be over – after six years, Game Of Thrones is now on the home straight. Season seven will be the penultimate in what is now officially the most popular TV show of all time. It’s a relief, says Coster-Waldau, to still not have the foggiest how it’s all going to end.
The 46-year-old Danish actor has been a large cog in the show’s complicated wheel from its jaw-dropping first episode, where his character Jaime Lannister shoves a ten-year-old Bran Stark out of a window after being caught having sex with his sister.
Coster-Waldau says when he first read for the part in LA, he couldn’t fathom how a show with this many stories and characters could get made. In fact, it very nearly didn’t – the first pilot was a bit of a disaster, so they shot it again, recasting several of the main characters in the process. He survived this initial actor cull, as well as all the well-publicised on-screen culls that have happened since.
What can he say about season seven? ‘Through [previous] seasons of Game Of Thrones, the world has expanded, they’ve introduced more and more characters and killed off a lot, too,’ he says. ‘But now it’s going in the opposite direction. Not that they stop killing people off, but we don’t have so many new characters. And some of the old ones reconnect, which is fantastic.’ If he wasn’t in the show, who would he be rooting for? ‘Samwell Tarly. He’s a great character. You would think he would be involved in the end game. Bronn is also a lot of fun. He gets the best lines.’
A few weeks before we speak, a newspaper reports that five of the show’s main actors (Coster-Waldau, Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage) had signed a record-breaking HBO deal of £2 million per episode. When Coster-Waldau’s neighbour in Denmark read about this, he popped round to suggest it was only fair that the actor pay for their new fence. ‘I said, “Don’t believe everything you read, you idiot.” But, yeah, there is a lot of… writing,’ he sighs. ‘I remember once, within a week, my salary went from $500,000 to $1 million, which I thought was pretty amazing.’
Home is just north of Copenhagen, where he enjoys a low-key life off set with his wife of almost 20 years, Greenlandic actress and singer Nukaaka Coster-Waldau, and their two teenage daughters Filippa (16) and Safina (13). His wife still hasn’t watched Game Of Thrones, but has a pact with her mother-in-law’s husband to sit down one day and see it all in one go.
‘When you know someone really well, it becomes a little ridiculous to see them pretending to be someone else,’ he says. ‘I mean, what we do is quite a silly thing.’ He is equally shrugging about the fame part of the job. ‘I worked with a famous actor and he had to arrive with three Cadillac Escalades and bodyguards. Obviously it makes people pay attention, because it’s unusual. But if you [are able to] walk down the street and get on the Tube, people might go, “Hang on a second, is that?” You know, nobody cares really.’
Outside of Game Of Thrones, Coster-Waldau has been building on his film career, starring as a former bank robber under witness protection opposite Borgen’s Birgitte Hjort Sørensen in Danish movie 3 Things, and as a crooked cop in Netflix black comedy Small Crimes. This month, he’s set to play a newly released prison gangster in Shot Caller.
He has also been made a United Nations Development Programme Ambassador, helping drum up support for the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, choosing to focus his energy on two in particular. The first is climate change. ‘My wife is from Greenland and you can clearly see the effects of the glaciers retreating. It’s the canary in the mine.’ The other is gender equality. ‘As you know, I have two daughters,’ he says. ‘I obviously want them to obtain the same rights as men do… there are over 150 countries that have laws that discriminate against women. To me, that just doesn’t make sense.’
Right on, Nikolaj. Any chance we could clone him?
Game Of Thrones Season 7 premieres exclusively on 17 July on Sky Atlantic and Now TV