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Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a long way from Westeros. The Danish actor, whose two-time Emmy-nominated role as Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones made him a global star, is spending the week on the sunny Mediterranean, watching the international series that could become the next Game of Thrones.
Coster-Waldau heads the jury of the 2021 CanneSeries international television festival. Together with his fellow jurors — Israeli screenwriter Sigal Avin, French actor Naidra Ayadi, Italian actor Salvatore Esposito and French DJ Marco Prince — he will pick the winners of this year’s competition. Its lineup is eclectic and cosmopolitan, running the gamut from Israeli dramas Sad City Girls and Unknowns, to Russian mystery series Dreams of Alice, to French spy drama Totems and Norwegian culture-clash comedy Countrymen.
Ahead of the jury’s announcement, Coster-Waldau spoke, via Zoom, with The Hollywood Reporter‘s European bureau chief Scott Roxborough on “devouring” latest TV hit Squid Game, how global streaming has brought the world closer together and what he thinks of upcoming Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon.
You were on a show that was the most publicly discussed and debated show in the world. What’s it like for you to be on the other side of that and to be able to actually be judging other people’s work?
Well, it’s very interesting and it’s been a lot of fun. When they asked me, I actually said yes very quickly because I think it’s an interesting time [in international television]. When you used to talk about internationally successful shows, shows that had a global reach, you would almost always exclusively be talking about an American show or an English-speaking show because the wisdom was that those shows were the only ones that people wanted to watch.
Then came streaming and it was met, I think, with a lot of trepidation and fear about what streaming was going to do to creativity. What was it going to do to the stories that are being told? Are we going to have less variety, less diversity? It’s been interesting to see that almost the opposite has happened. Now we see people weren’t watching shows from other parts of the world, not because they didn’t want to, but just because there was no access. You couldn’t just turn on the TV and watch a show from Serbia or from Russia. Now it’s possible.
I mean, the fact that a South Korean television show [Squid Game] is the biggest show in the world right now — you wouldn’t have guessed that just a few months ago. … I was watching a Russian show here in competition the other day. I won’t say what I think of it, I was sitting there and caught myself thinking: “They are going through the same feeling with the same shit that we all are dealing with.” It’s obvious, but we live in such a polarized world [and] there’s something about sitting and watching a show and realizing we’re all just human beings, all of us, and whether we live in different countries and different cultures, we are fundamentally dealing with the same struggles and the same hopes as everyone else.
Personally, what have been the recent shows — not from CanneSeries competition — that you have obsessed over?
I think the last show I was really impressed with, that I was blown away by, was I May Destroy You from Michaela Coel. I know I was late to the party on that one, but I was so impressed by it, on so many levels. The fact that she took such a personal, painful experience and turned it into such an incredible show with such beautiful performances and sharp writing. That’s the last one where I really was taken aback and was inspired.
I also devoured Squid Game. There, I was just curious what the hell this “biggest show in the world” was. So I checked it out. I thought it was very well made, and I thought it is an interesting time we live in where the biggest show in the world is about life and death and raises pretty big questions about the challenges we face globally, like extreme inequality.
What criteria are you and your fellow CanneSeries jurors using to judge the competition?
We talked about this, of course. The jury and I, we all agreed that we have to go by the show we like the best. So the criteria is what show blew us away, the whole package. The one where when you watch you go: “This is a fucking great story. This is just a great show.” Because it’s also important for me that we avoid playing to a certain side, to, for lack of a better word, pick the most politically correct show. Because the best shows lie beyond that. So it will be what do we like best. But of course, we have five people on the jury and taste is a very individual thing.
I am contractually obliged now to ask you about Game of Thrones.
It’s interesting that that option has been added to every contract for every journalist. But I think it expires in 2022.
I don’t know if you saw HBO Max’s footage of the Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon, which will be coming out next year. But I was wondering, personally for you, since you are done with the show, a show that had so much impact worldwide, and on you personally, how does it feel to see it coming back?
I saw the teaser trailer that they came out with and I was intrigued. I thought it was fun to see Matt Smith in that world, in that beautiful white wig. And listen, I’m curious as everyone [to see it].
But it is a very different show. It’s its own show. I just hope it’s great. I hope the success of Game of Thrones won’t get in the way for people when they experience this new show. For us, it took a while for people to get into Game of Thrones. I remember the first season people were saying: “There are too many characters, I don’t know what’s going on!” I don’t think they have the luxury we had. They have to start with where we were in like season four or five, because that’s what they will be compared to. But I really hope that it’s a massive hit for them.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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