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Demystifying Jaime Lannister

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on Jaime leaving Cersei, his relationship with Brienne and saying goodbye to ‘the greatest job in the world’
By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:40 AM April 14, 2019

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau —©2019 HOME BOX OFFICE INC.; PHOTOS BY JONATHAN FORD

LONDON—Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was charmingly elusive when we asked him if he was pleased about the full character arc and eight seasons-spanning journey of Jaime Lannister, the character he plays in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” “Who knows if it’s an end, or just a new beginning for Jaime?” the 48-year-old Danish actor coyly quipped.

The potentially spoiler-baiting question prompted Jerome Flynn (Bronn), who was seated beside Nikolaj during this interview, to chuckle and tell us, “Clever! You were trying to get something there?”

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Yes, the entire cast of “GoT” has been particularly careful about not spilling crucial details about the show’s six-part, eighth and final season, which debuts exclusively on HBO and HBO Go tomorrow at 9 a.m., with a same-day encore at 10 p.m.

Elsewhere in another function room, when a lovely Stark was asked by a journalist the same question, she was quoted as saying, “We’ll all probably die.” To which another affable Stark responded with caution, “Or not!”

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The show is famous for killing off—often, very violently—its fan-favorite characters, with a long list of actors to prove this: Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martell), Sean Bean (Ned Stark), Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister), Kristian Nairn (Hodor), Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton), Jack Gleeson (Joffrey Baratheon), Kerry Ingram (Shireen Baratheon) and Richard Madden (Robb Stark) to name a few.

But the difficult choices Jaime makes are just as heartbreaking, like deciding to finally leave his twin sister-lover Cersei (Lena Headey) for the first time—and, perhaps, for good.

Coster-Waldau as Jaime in “Game of Thrones”

“When I read the script about the circumstances that led to this, all I could say was, ‘It’s about time he said no to her!’” Nikolaj enthused. “But, it’s also very sad. What’s great about their relationship is that it feels very true and believable.

“It’s easy to find stories of relationships where someone does something so horrible, and the other says, ‘That’s it,’ then they go their separate ways. But people who have been in significant relationships know this isn’t the case.

“If you love someone, you fight, you make up, then you fight again and make up again. If you have kids, that makes it even harder for anyone to move on. And if there’s real love at the core of it—and I believe Jaime truly loves Cersei—leaving everything behind isn’t going to be easy.

“Then, add the fact that you have three kids! You lost all three and, now, she’s pregnant again. There’s nothing simple about leaving while there’s another baby on the way. So, when Jaime leaves Cersei, he does it for the only reason explained by the same famous line he said in Episode 1 of Season 1: ‘The things I do for love…’ He leaves her because he loves her and their unborn child. This makes sense, but will they ever meet again? Who knows (laughs)?”

Our Q&A with Nikolaj:

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After eight seasons, have you figured out who the real Jaime is?  Jaime is a great character. He’s so much fun to play because he has had some pretty big things happening in his life that have forced him to reevaluate himself and his personal relationships over the course of eight seasons.

Can you talk about how you’ve managed to make a very dark character likable, particularly in the way Jaime has forged his relationships with strong female characters, like Cersei. Please talk about Jaime’s “unlikely” ally, Brienne (the 6’3” tall Gwendoline Christie).  Jaime and Brienne met under extreme circumstances—he’s her prisoner, and they clearly have no respect for each other.

That’s a nice way to start a relationship between this odd couple. If they have to pick someone who was the opposite of who they are, they would clearly pick the other one.

Then, through two seasons, they come to this realization that makes them go, “Oh my God, I’m looking at my mirror!” Because the core of these people is quite similar. It’s interesting to note that they’re both really honorable and true to their word, even though one of them is known as one of the most dishonorable men in the world.

In reality, Jaime is actually a man of his word. He has only broken his word once, when he killed the mad king. But I think he was justified in doing what he did. Of course, he had to carry that in his conscience.

With Brienne, there’s an attraction, as well—which is so unlikely for both of them. They can’t really accept it, and they clearly don’t know how to act on their impulses, because who would have thought of something like that to happen?

Lena Headey as Cersei

What was the hardest thing about filming the final season? It was a tough, long shoot, and every actor worked more days than they’d ever done in any season. The scripts were great, and I can’t wait to see them realized onscreen. But shooting them felt like going through something in life, and you say, “This is going to be so hard and I’ll feel miserable!”

But you do those scenes and realize how much you love what you do—it’s the greatest job in the world! It’s exciting, even when the situation gets so tough, or if the weather becomes very cold.

The scale, quality and expertise of everyone involved make it exhilarating to just be a part of the whole thing. You read the script of the final season and go, “This scene is impossible to shoot, because its ambition is ridiculous.” Then, you see it unfold—and it just blows your mind.

We heard there will be a lot of deaths in Season 8. If you can choose Jaime’s death, in what way would you let him kick the bucket? Old age—for Jaime, that’s the only way to go. He should be really, really old… until he finally dies in Season 155 (laughs).

What do you think makes “GoT” very successful? Is it because of the fantasy aspect of it, like the dragons?  No, it’s because of its very believable characters. Moreover, at the core of it is that, in this series, all bets are off.

There are a lot of make-or-break moments, like the one in Episode 9 of Season 1.

Back in those days, there was no question that Ned Stark was “Game of Thrones’” hero. It was his journey that we all followed, and we were led to believe that this was the story of how Ned would hurdle all the odds stacked against him. Then, just like that, they chop his head off!

There was an outcry from angry viewers about that scene, because they thought the show was f**cking with them. But, they didn’t stop watching the show.

Are there characters you follow other than your own? Who are you most invested in?  Nah, we just watch ourselves (laughs). Well, I’m biased, because I do like the Lannisters—my siblings, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and, of course, Cersei.

What was the most challenging thing about portraying Jaime? As always, you have to let go of your own prejudices as a person….

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion

Are you talking about the moral repercussions of being in an incestuous relationship with your twin sister? Well, Jaime is clearly having a very intimate relationship with her… stuff like that. Obviously, he’s done horrible things. He tried to kill an innocent boy (Bran Stark, played by Isaac Hempstead Wright).

As an actor, I had to find a way to “accept” Jaime’s actions—and that didn’t happen quickly. Because I have sisters, so I couldn’t really go down that route and use it as a motivation.

Look, I have been attracted to women I shouldn’t be drawn to, so that was something I could use. Like, when I was young, I had a great friend who had a beautiful girlfriend. She was extra “nice” to me, but I knew she was off-limits.

What’s great about Jaime is that there were so many of his secrets that the audience only learned about over the years.

So, in the beginning, you just say, “What a f**king dick.” Then, you realize later on that he isn’t all that bad, after all. There was a good reason for Jaime’s contentious actions.

Without revealing too much, will Jaime ever be able to redeem himself?  Will any of us ever redeem ourselves (laughs)? You have to watch the show.

Were you happy with the way Jaime’s story ended? Hmm. I’m not giving you an answer, mate (laughs)!

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