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Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on Headhunters, Game of Thrones, and His Most Humiliating Audition

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Photo: Frederick M. Brown Images/Getty

When Nikolaj Coster-Waldau walks into a scene in the new Norwegian crime shocker Headhunters, he owns the screen. But then this imposing Danish actor, who stands over six feet tall, is a hard man to ignore in any context. Although he has been making movies for eighteen years, Coster-Waldau only recently broke through in a major way playing the Kingslayer Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones. Clas Greve, his character in Headhunters, is a very different proposition: a sinister technocrat involved in deadly games of deception and betrayal. Fortunately, Coster-Waldau himself is nothing like that, so Vulture had no trepidations about chatting with him about his favorite toilet scene, hating the hideous boy-king Joffrey, and his most humiliating audition.

Where are you right now?
I’m at a coffee shop in Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. I’m meeting up with some kids for a charity that I’m an ambassador for, so it’s a day out for them.

Are kids ever scared of you, because of Game of Thrones?
No. [Laughs.] I would hope kids haven’t watched that, and if they did, little sick twisted Joffrey would be the one to be scared of! One kid knew I had pushed Bran out the window, and I was like, “Oh, you saw that scene? How? When?” Sometimes I underestimate an 11-year-old’s ability to go online.

Are you a Jo Nesbø fan? Headhunters is an adaptation of his book.
I knew about his Harry Hole novels, but I had never heard of this novel. And there was actually another Danish film called Headhunter a year before this one, so I was confused when I got the call: “Oh, but this one’s Norwegian?” So I read the script, and when I came to the scene where Roger Brown dives into a pool of shit, I was like, Wow. I want to be a part of this. They actually go there!

The film goes there, but luckily, your character doesn’t.
I would, though. I would be willing to do that. Roger does it because his life is on the line: “I got to jump in this thing or die.” Remember that scene in Trainspotting? Or in Slumdog Millionaire? When he wants to meet his idol, and the only way is to swim through all that shit? This is that. [Laughs.] I was so relieved I didn’t have to do it. On the day we were shooting it, I felt so sorry for Aksel [Hennie], because it was October, and it was freezing, and I was nice and warm and he was buck naked in a pool of shit. And there’s something really wrong with that guy, because he was like, “Let’s do it again! I can do it better!”

Sacha Gervasi is planning an American remake to star Mark Wahlberg as Roger Brown. Do you have any advice for them? Would you want to reprise your role as Clas Greve?
You know, I’m kind of done [with Clas]. It’s that weird thing where you would like to get that call, because you would like to be flattered, but I’m not sure about doing it a second time. I think ours is a really good adaptation, and I like the choices they made, but there is one thing — in the novel, they can get away with this, but there’s a lot of talk about my character, why he is the way he is, how his balls were cut off and all that. And it all became too much, so I wouldn’t add that. But I would have loved to see that shot from Roger’s point of view [from the bottom of the toilet], looking up and going, “Oh! He’s got no testicles!” [Laughs.]

At least you have your hair …
I still have my hair, but of course that’s spoiler territory for Game of Thrones! [Laughs.] It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? [Laughs.] But people are so paranoid about even the smallest of spoilers, even though if people really want to find out, they can Google it, or read the books. Maybe it’s more interesting to some people if there are secrets. It’s the same with Oblivion  — they are very secretive about all the twists and turns of that one. I’m not allowed to say anything about it. Part of it is because the graphic novel hasn’t even been published and won’t be until after the movie premieres.

Do you have an advance of it yet?
No! I know! Can you call Joseph [Kosinski] and tell him to give me one? [Laughs.] I got the script, though. I think there’s some kind of code on it that after 24 hours, it vanishes into thin air, like it self-destructs. Maybe not quite that extreme, but something out of Mission: Impossible.

Clas would do anything to get a job. What’s the most extreme thing you’ve done to land one?
Well, there’s the sheer amount of humiliation that’s part and parcel of the audition process. My most horrific audition was for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, when I flew in to audition for the part of Brad Pitt’s father. In Hollywood, you’re told, “They’re crazy about you. They all want to see you.” I thought, Hey, it’s a great script. It’s David Fincher. This will be perfect. So I’m expecting to walk in to a big room with a camera crew waiting, with David Fincher, maybe a gift basket, maybe not. I have high hopes. When I walk in, it’s just this tiny little office with the casting director, who says, “Hey, so I hear you want to read for us.” No one else is there. And there’s the tiniest of camcorders, and she hits it with her hand, as if she were turning it on. I was disappointed, but I start doing the scenes. It’s really dramatic, I’m really getting into it, when I hear a noise from the camcorder. You know how the old-fashioned ones shut down if they are on idle too long? It shut down. It wasn’t even recording. And she says, “Carry on, carry on.” Afterwards, I sat in my car screaming obscenities at the whole situation. It may not have been the most extreme, but it was certainly the most humiliating. They must have decided who they were going to cast while I was on the plane, and they didn’t want to tell me. No one had the heart.

Do you enjoy playing the villain?
It’s so fun! Especially when it’s over-the-top, and you go in and break all the rules. And it’s wonderful to pretend to have that confidence — Clas, you don’t want to mess with him. He would take you out. Jaime, I don’t think he’s really evil. Believe it or not, Jaime does have morals and values. He actually believes in love. If it were just about his own life, he wouldn’t have pushed a kid out a window. I don’t think he enjoys killing people, but he doesn’t shy away from it if it’s necessary. It’s a good thing that Jaime doesn’t know that his sister Cersei is shacking up with their cousin Lancel — he would be devastated. But I’m not sure if Jaime would believe it, if someone told him. He’s so sure of his sister/wife. But I’m pretty sure he also despises their little devil kid Joffrey. The other two kids are really sweet so far — two out of three isn’t bad!

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on Humiliating Auditions