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'Game of Thrones' Q&A: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on the Hand of the Kingslayer

The actor behind Jaime Lannister comes to grips with how the mighty have fallen

Noah Taylor and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on 'Game of Thrones'
HBO/Helen Sloan
April 16, 2013 11:35 AM ET

He's a golden god of Westerosi society, but Jaime Lannister has spent a lot of time getting tarnished. "The mud is my friend," says actor Nicolaj Coster-Waldau of the substance his twice-captured character has seemingly been covered in since Robb Stark got the jump on him in the Season One finale of Game of Thrones. "It's good for your skin."

Unfortunately for the Kingslayer, no amount of medieval dermatology will be able to cure that nasty scar he just acquired on his right wrist – you know, the one where his hand used to be. Thinking quickly to prevent the vicious mercenary Locke (Noah Taylor) from sexually assaulting his former captor Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), Jaime's payback for this random act of kindness was getting his hand chopped off. With it went his skill as a swordsman and soldier, and his entire self-image. Coster-Waldau says it's a moment he's been waiting for since the day he was cast.

Hey, Nikolaj. How are you?
Winter finally stopped here in Denmark, so I was about to change my car from winter tires to summer tires. I was saved by your call.

It's not every day one gets a chance to save the Kingslayer.
He needs saving these days, that's for sure.

'Game of Thrones' Cheat Sheet: What You Need to Know for Season Three

How soon did you know this was where you were headed with the character?
Oh, I knew that from the very start, from the first meeting I had with Dan [D.B. Weiss] and David [Benioff] and Carolyn Strauss. It was such a thrilling prospect, one of the things that you're just hoping that we'd make it Season Three. For me, it made all the other stuff so much fun to play: you wanted to go as far as you could with his arrogance and his cockiness and the way he's so . . . well, confident is the word, right? Which is also his downfall in that scene with Locke. He does not see this one coming, that's the thing. What does it do to a person when he has to reevaluate himself on so many levels?

In his first scene in the episode, he says to Brienne, "Listen, I'm the one they want. I'm the bigger prize. They're not going to hurt me." He has the leverage of being a Lannister. He's so convinced! That's what saved him with the Starks. That's what made it possible for him to be the way he was.

Even when he first became the Kingslayer, he got away with it because of who he is, and that's as grievous a crime as they come.
You're right. If you're Kingsguard, you cannot kill the king. Ground rule number one in the book of Kingsguards: You don't kill the king. Just remember that. Don't wave your sword around close to the king.

The one silver lining there is that it gave him the best nickname of anyone in the whole series.
That's true, that's true! And the one that he hates the most. He despises that name. But I love the fact that he has that. Most people can relate to that whole annoying thing when people think they know who you are. That's in the extreme for Jaime, because everybody assumes, "Well, he's the Kingslayer, he's got no honor." On top of that, he's the most dangerous, feared man. It doesn't sit well with him – but of course, he's lived well off it. Now it's a different story after losing his hand.

Your relationship with Brienne that whole buddy-comedy vibe with him cracking wise and her as the straightwoman is extremely popular.
Absolutely. I love it too. There's something in his core that he . . . how do you say it . . . he doesn't take himself too seriously, and doesn't take life too seriously. That's the way I see it, anyway. Because he's never had to. Or maybe sometimes life has been so impossible for Jaime on so many levels that he's just resigned himself to it – "My life is impossible, and I'm in love with my sister, she's the queen . . ." It's just so weird, everything. All those things have made him very cynical.

There's one thing that he really believes he does well, more than anything, which isn't about him being a Lannister, about being born into it: He is an amazing soldier. Now, the most precious thing, the thing that defined him, has been taken away. Does that mean he loses that sense of humor? All those things are really interesting to discuss and to explore with Dan and David, so . . . I'm sorry, I'm going in circles. You were asking about Brienne and I'm talking about Jaime!

It's very Jaime of you.
We should have Gwen on the phone. It'd be more fun. She would definitely have a funny comment about this.

The thing that I love about all these things that happen – some of these really horrible incidents – is that the characters actually are really truthful. I can totally understand why Locke gets so angry with Jaime. I mean, I don't know anything worse than when I meet someone who has a sense of entitlement just because of who they are – "Hey, I'm famous, so I should be treated differently." When you meet people like that, you just want to punch them. And that's exactly what Locke does. Granted, he takes it to an extreme because he's also a bit of a psycho, but I think you still understand where he comes from.

Same with some of the things that Jamie says to other characters, like Brienne. They're very hurtful, but most of the time he actually comes from a coarse truth, which makes it bite so much harder.

That's what was devastating about what happened to Jaime: For the first time we see him perform a truly selfless act, putting himself on the line to save Brienne from Locke and his men, and he's immediately punished for it.
[Laughs] I know, I know. Now, what if the question was put to Jamie – "You can either save this lady or you can save your hand." I'm pretty sure he would save his hand, I'm sorry to say. Maybe losing his hand will make him answer that question in a different way later on in his life. For him as a character, for him as a person, I think, he needs to lose that hand.

Earlier you mentioned the woman Jaime loves. Game of Thrones doesn't give us a whole lot of couples who are in fulfilling relationships based on love, instead of on money or power changing hands. The irony is that it's the incestuous would-be child-murderer who's part of the show's one grand true love affair.
Now, thank God Jamie doesn't know this, but it seems that his true love has problems with the whole "being faithful" part. But I guess that was sort of the package to start with when she got married to Robert. Jamie's love for Cersei really has defined him and his years as a young man. It's going to be interesting to see what happens, because this year has changed him. Now he's lost his hand, but there's also his time with Brienne. It's the first time he's been forced to be close to a woman, as an adult, maybe ever, but also just close to a person who's outside his circle of family. That exposure does change him and is good for him.

He's been in a closed system for the longest time: Lannister, Lannister, Lannister.
Lannister or the Kingsguard, which is also a very specific thing. The only person he's really been able to talk to is his brother. Cersei as well, but that's always been complicated because, well, you know. [Laughs] I think he loves her more than she loves him. Actually, Lena [Headey] said something really interesting at this panel we did for the Academy in Los Angeles. I said that he loves her more than she loves him, and she said that deep down, she wishes she was him.

Well, she's been surrounded by men all her life, and forced to answer to them, so it makes sense.
And she lives through her son now. [Pause] Yeah, that didn't turn out well, did it?

Way to go, dad, way to go.

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