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Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on Last Night’s Episode, Incest, and Gratuitous Nudity

Photo: Frederick M. Brown Images/Getty

Going on first impressions, it’s fairly safe to say Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s character on Game of Thrones is, well, despicable. In the first episode of the series, Ser Jamie Lannister is not only caught having sex with his twin sister (the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms) by a young Bran Stark — he also attempts to throw the boy to his death. (Unfortunately for him, Bran is either more resilient or bouncier, and just winds up paralyzed.) We spoke with Coster-Waldau about how he justifies Jamie’s actions, what it’s like to film those “awkward” love scenes, and what he thought of last night’s really disturbing breastfeeding moment.

How familiar were you with the source material before you got this role?
I didn’t know the books; I didn’t know anything, really. My first taste of it was when I met [creators] Dan [Weiss] and David [Benioff] and [executive producer] Caroline Strauss in Los Angeles. And I went out and read the books, then I came back and read for them. I’ve only read the first book, so I’m starting now on the second. I don’t want to jinx any seasons.

Despite his actions, Jamie has actually been portrayed a little more sympathetically than he was in the first book.
Yes. Of course, when you read the book, you don’t know anything about him, you just see his actions. There’s no sympathy whatsoever. And that really doesn’t come until book three, when he becomes one of the POV characters. People do really horrible things — I mean, Jamie does a truly horrific act, but there’s always some kind of reason behind it.

How was this character pitched to you? Was the “great warrior” aspect emphasized a lot more than the “incest with sister” aspect?”
[Laughs.] Of course, that was thrown on the table after an hour, I think. “Did we mention it was his twin sister?” The focus was about how complex everything is. And how what one person will perceive as truly evil, in the eyes of someone else, is actually an act of justice. A good example is that he’s known as the “Kingslayer.” And he stabbed the Mad King in the back, but this was a guy who was ready to burn down the whole city. To have people tortured and molested and killed in front of crowds and take pleasure in that — this was like Hitler times ten, so that’s part of the equation.

But it’s tough to root for a character after an attempted child murder.
Just to shoot it was horrible! You have little Isaac [Hempstead-Wright, who plays Bran], this innocent kid and he’s so sweet and, then, having to do that. But it is interesting. You want to find out what the hell is going on with these people.

Is there a different approach to shooting a love scene that is incestuous?
No, it’s just uncomfortable. But as uncomfortable as it was to shoot, it did not compare to having to watch it after. I was at a screening with a very good friend of mine in London, and he leaned over and said, “Man, that’s just wrong.” And then Isaac is so great as Bran, and he’s so happy and innocent …I think anyone remembers some point in their childhood where there were strange sounds coming from the parents’ bedroom and you accidentally walk in. As a kid, you don’t want to see and you shouldn’t see. And seeing that — myself, me up there … ugh, it’s horrible.

To be fair to Jamie and Cersei, they went well out of their way to hide themselves.
I know! What a freak of a kid. Where are the parents? You don’t allow your kid to climb up on towers. It’s ridiculous. You see a kid doing that at the age of 9, he’s going to wind up in some really dark place. In a way, I was trying to help everybody by chucking the kid out.

So he got what he deserved —
He got what he deserved. Naughty kid.

There were some fairly shocking scenes in last night’s episode. Are you at the point where you’re getting used to it?
There’s a scene with Peter Dinklage, he’s captured and he’s taken to Catelyn’s sister. Her sister’s relationship to her young son — that’s disturbing. See, that’s going to make people forget about Jamie chucking out a little kid. For me, I went, “Oh, whoa, George R.R. Martin has a sick mind.”

I’m assuming that you’re talking about the scene where she’s breast-feeding her adolescent son?
I heard about it when we were shooting. I spoke to my dialect coach and he’s like, “It’s just horrible. She had this fake tit and he just came in there and he had to suck it. You shouldn’t make kids do that.”

Though, the male-on-male oral-sex scene or the horse-decapitation scene may overshadow the breast-feeding scene.
Oh, I forgot about that. Apparently, after episode two when Ned kills the direwolf, people were pretty shocked. But now you just wonder, How can they top — oh, they could. Wow.

There are a lot of added sex scenes in the series that aren’t in the book. Why is that? Is it needed to spice things up?
“Get a breast in there, please!” Maybe. I can only speculate, but the idea that a bit of sex isn’t bad — I don’t think it’s foreign for television. The one scene where I was taken aback was Daenerys’ [Emilia Clarke] wedding night with Khal Drogo [Jason Momoa]. I guess the whole point of that is that it is brutal and that she is more or less raped, but I still thought it was … it was kind of … it was very hard to watch. For me, anyway. The point was, it wasn’t supposed to be sexy. There was — I’m not going to say … no, I better not — but I thought there were a lot of naked, very good-looking women at the wedding dancing around there.

Jamie wasn’t in the episode much last night until the sword fight with Ned at the end. What’s next for him?
As far as I remember, I am on the run a while. So you won’t see me for one episode, I think. And then I hook up with my dad, basically. And the Stark-Lannister fight is on. So he’s in trouble. They’re all in trouble.

Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on Incest, Nudity