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[Warning: Spoilers ahead for past episodes of Game of Thrones]
After losing a hand, battling a bear, and experiencing a host of other ups and downs, it’s difficult to pinpoint one key moment for Jaime Lannister in this season of Game of Thrones.
It’s a moment Coster-Waldau had waited for since signing on for the role. In early meetings when he was offered the part, the Danish actor was presented with the basic outline of the very meaty arc his character would have – should Thrones make it to season three.
“They all said ‘You should know, it’s a great character. He’s in season one and very little in season two. But if we get to season three, there’s a scene in the bathtub and you lose your hand and there’s a bear,’” Coster-Waldau tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Coster-Waldau calls that bathtub scene, in which Jaime reveals he broke his vow and killed King Aerys in order to save the population of King’s Landing, an “amazing” experience as an actor.
“It was beautifully written and it made sense. You can only carry secrets around for so long. Finally he found someone he knew he could tell the story and it wouldn’t be thrown back at him,” he says.
That revelation calls into question key scenes from previous seasons, including one in which Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) and Jaime meet at the Iron throne, and Ned shows his contempt for Jaime’s slaying of the mad King.
“I think if there’s one guy Jaime was hoping to be able to find some sympathy or at least maybe gratitude from, it would be Ned Stark. As he says in that scene, ‘Listen, I was there when the King burned your brother and father alive,’” Coster-Waldau says. “But of course Ned Stark is the honorable man and he will have none of that.”
In a chat with THR, Coster-Waldau also reveals why his bear costar is the “biggest diva” he’s met on set, if there is anything romantic between Jaime and Brienne, and who is the greatest fighter in the Seven Kingdoms.
The Hollywood Reporter: Jaime has gone from villain to someone who is much more sympathetic this season. How did you accomplish that as an actor?
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau: First of all, it’s about the writing, with George R. R. Martin creating all of these characters. They’re very rich. But I don’t think he was a villain. With Jaime, he’s always had this arrogance about him. Most people know the feeling of how annoying it can be if you meet someone and they already think they know who you are, or they have a strong, preconceived opinion about you. For him, it’s been extreme since he was known as Kingslayer. Untrustworthy. And on top of that, he’s coming from the most powerful family. But he’s not going to give people the satisfaction of saying “Oh, I’m actually a nice guy” or “Don’t judge me.” He couldn’t care less.
THR: Maybe he wasn’t a villain, but he did push Bran out the window. How does Jaime justify such actions?
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau: The first thing he does is try to kill an innocent kid. That is a trademark of a villain. When he does that, he says “The things I do for love.” And then he pushes the kid out the window. That line was very important for me, because it’s one of those hooks you use at an actor, because I think it is at the core of who he is and what defined him – up until this season. In his mind, Cersei (Lena Headey) is everything, and his life has been dictated by her and how he could be close to her. He became a member of the Kingsguard at a very early age against his father’s wishes. It was because he wanted to be close to Cersei. Imagine making a choice when you’re 16 and then you’re going to carry that through the rest of your life.
THR: How has Jaime’s friendship with Brienne changed him?
Coster-Waldau: This is the first time as an adult he’s been forced to be with another adult – another woman in this case – for such a long time. And he meets someone like Brienne, who’s unlike anyone he’s ever met. Who’s so not like anyone at King’s Landing, where everyone says one thing and means another. She actually talks the talk and she says what she means. He sees in some ways some forgotten part of himself in there.
THR: How are they similar?
Coster-Waldau: They do share more than you would think. If Brienne makes a promise to someone, be it Renly or Catelyn Stark, she will do anything for these people. In a way, Jaime is the same. He will do anything for Cersei, he will do anything for his family, even if it means killing, as long as there is a reason for him to do it.
THR: What does losing his hand mean to Jaime?
Coster-Waldau: It’s such a fundamental change in his life. [His skill as a fighter] in many ways is what has defined him in his eyes and in the eyes of the world – being the Kingslayer and being one of the deadliest swordsmen in the world. Now he’s no longer anything, so of course he has to find his new identity.
THR: Jaime revealed to Brienne that he killed the Mad King for a good reason. What was shooting the bathtub scene like?
Coster-Waldau: It was an amazing scene to do, and it was building up for three years. It was beautifully written and it made sense. You can only carry secrets around for so long. Finally, he found someone he knew he could tell the story and it wouldn’t be thrown back at him in any way. It was safe. I don’t think he’d ever told the story to anyone. He couldn’t tell it to his dad — his dad wouldn’t care. He couldn’t tell it to his sister. That was the only place he could.
THR: The bathtub scene is one of several surprising moments for the character. Did you know this stuff ahead of time?
Coster-Waldau: I knew most of it in a way from the first few meetings when they asked me if I wanted to do it. They all said “You should know, it’s a great character. He’s in season one and very little in season two. But if we get to season three, there’s a scene in the bathtub and you lose your hand and there’s a bear.”
THR: So knowing the truth about his Kingslayer back story affected how you played him in previous seasons.
Coster-Waldau: It did. That bitterness and anger he feels at his core — It’s like, “I know I broke my vow, but this was a good thing. How could I not have done it?” He says to Brienne – “How is this not the right thing to do?” But as soon as Ned Stark passed judgment that was it. The whole world knew “Yeah, great that we got rid of that king, but it shouldn’t have happened that way. It should have been a more honorable way.”
In one of the first scenes in season one — Ned Stark comes to King’s Landing and Jaime meets him in the throne room, and he tries to address what happened then. I think if there’s one guy Jaime was hoping to be able to find some sympathy or at least maybe gratitude from, it would be Ned Stark. As he says in that scene, “Listen, I was there when the King burned your brother and father alive. One could have thought the fact that I killed him would not be the worst thing in your mind.” But of course Ned Stark is the honorable man and he will have none of that.
THR: How did the bear scene work? Were you acting with the bear?
Coster-Waldau: We shot a lot of the scene in Belfast, but we didn’t have a bear there. In January we went to Los Angeles and we shot with Bart the Bear II, who I must say is the biggest diva I’ve ever met on any movie set. I’m not even making this up. It was amazing to shoot with a live bear. They would have this trailer Bart would be in. It would be driven all the way to the set into the bear pit. And then, for Bart to come out, everyone would have to cheer for him: “Yay! Bart is the best! Come on Bart! Come on Bart! Your the best. You’re such a good boy.”
THR: Was working with the bear frightening?
Coster-Waldau: It was a little frightening. He’s a big animal. But it was quite amazing. In all seriousness, to see what the trainers could make the bear do, and when you see the scene, it was a huge experience for me. I was glad to be there and I was glad to applaud Bart. He earned it.
THR: Just double checking, but is relationship with Brienne is purely platonic?
Coster-Waldau: They have a connection on a very deep level. I don’t think it is romantic. I don’t know what happens in the future, but I think for him it’s still a mystery to him. I don’t think he really understands why she’s so important to him. I don’t think he’s bonded with anyone like he has with her. It’s not about anything sexual — it’s a kindred spirit I guess. I’m very curious to see what happens with these two later on.
THR: So it’s not just a matter of a Lannister pays his debts?
Coster-Waldau: No, because he did that already. He saved her from the rape. I don’t think there was a debt there. He left her with Roose Bolton, they say goodbye and there is the subtext in the way that we played it that we know this could very much end in tears for her. We don’t know. Who knows. It’s not his responsibility, but he promises he will take care of the vow [to Catelyn Stark]. And yet, he can’t just leave her. And I’m sure he doesn’t understand why.
THR: In season one you fought Eddard Stark and in this season you fought Brienne. Who is the better swordsman?
THR: She defeated Jaime even though he was weakened from imprisonment — is she actually better than Jaime?
Coster-Waldau: He was tired. You should not get me and Gwen in the same room and ask us that. (Laughs.) But now — thank God she’s not here — I can say that yeah, even though he was tired and worn out, she was very, very good. I think if he hadn’t been tied up, it would have been more of an equal fight. But she did whoop his ass, there’s no question about it.
Game of Thrones season three concludes Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.
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