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Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on Brotherly Love, Jaime and Cersei, and One-Handed Acting

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Photo: Don Arnold/Getty Images

The first time Tyrion Lannister asked for trial by combat (after being tried for the attempted murder of Bran Stark), he named Jaime as his champion, thinking he would have time to send for his brother. (Lysa Arryn thwarted this goal by demanding that the trial happen right away, which is how Tyrion ended up recruiting Bronn as his BFF/sellsword.) But now that Tyrion is heading toward yet another trial by combat, the man who would ordinarily have volunteered to fight on his behalf is missing a hand. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau chatted with Vulture about Jaime and Tyrion’s brotherly love, Jaime and Cersei’s relationship, and why he doesn’t have to stick his hand in his crotch anymore. [Note: Spoilers for this week’s episode, “Mockingbird,” lay ahead.]

Jaime was willing to break his oath and change his whole path to save his brother’s life. Why was he willing to go to Casterly Rock if Tywin allowed Tyrion to take the black?
You know, they don’t have that many friends or that many people they can trust, these guys. I guess you could say Jaime has one other person [Brienne], but she left King’s Landing. And Tyrion, he loves him. He’s one of the few people that gives him love back. And he’ll do anything for his brother. There’s no question about it. I love it. I think it’s beautiful. And of course, [Tyrion heading to the Wall] was too good to be true. I bet a lot of people thought, Oh, this will be cool. We’ll have Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister back together again. But of course nothing is ever straightforward on this show.

Jaime and Tyrion cling to each other more also because their relationships with their other family members are so damaged at this point, right?
That’s true! When we shot the trial scene, I got goose bumps from Peter’s performance — it was so amazing! Because he showed how he had been carrying this thing [laughs] for so long, for his whole life, his hatred for his father. And the way he took it out on the whole crowd! I loved that they didn’t hold back on that, that they didn’t try to make excuses for him.

It was like there was this glint in Peter Dinklage’s eye, because Tyrion knew that he was thwarting Tywin on multiple levels.
Yeah. It’s all about getting back at Dad, because his hatred is so big. Happy Father’s Day! [Laughs.] I think they skip that day in Westeros. And even if they did have it, or other holidays, nothing his kids ever gave Tywin would ever be good enough. If you gave Tywin a book, he’s already read it — twice. And the writing wasn’t really that good. It’s overrated. So Tyrion’s had that pressure from Tywin since he was born, because Tywin blames Tyrion for the death of his mother. I mean, that’s a lot to carry when you’re a kid! With Jaime, he’s wanted him his whole life to be something he’s not. Since he was a boy, he was trained to become a warrior, and he became the very best. But already when he was 16, 17, he became a Kingsguard member. So he made the choice at such a young age, you can’t have a family, because he wanted to dedicate himself to his sister!  And when Tywin tells Jaime what he wants him to do, to further the line, and Jaime says no, that seems to be the first time any of his kids ever said no to Tywin. That’s quite amazing, when you think that these people are 40 years old! [Laughs.]

But I like Tywin as a character, mostly because Charles [Dance] is such a formidable presence. You kind of like him because he’s so cold. He’s the perfect royal, because everything is about the future. The present doesn’t matter. It’s all about the endgame. So I loved the scene where they’re making the deal for Tyrion where Jaime realizes, Oh, I just got played. This was my father’s plan all along. He was willing to sacrifice my brother to get me to do what he wants. Wow. It’s a fucked-up family, I’m sorry! [Laughs.]

So there’s that damaged relationship with their father, but they also both have a damaged relationship with their sister, in different ways.
Yes. Yes. Wow. There was a lot of discussion after the scene in the crypt! It’s funny, because when we did the scene, we thought there was going to be a lot of talk about it, but we always thought it was going to be about the fact that we were having sex in front of Joffrey. I never thought of it as a rape scene.

In the book, when we get that scene, it doesn’t read as rape, at least from Jaime’s point of viewBut it’s a different timeline of events and a different situation on the show.
Well, the thing about it is, it clearly starts with a lot of emotion, and it’s very physical, and it’s very aggressive, and I think with the history of their relationship, and the sex they had, and where they had sex … Of course, with anything, people can take what they want, and what you see is what you see, and how you interpret it is how you interpret it. But we didn’t intend it to be just a rape scene. That has nothing to do with that relationship. I mean, the only thing I want to say is, this guy has one hand. It’s just not physically possible to … I just don’t think … She’s a very strong woman. It just couldn’t happen. I think the point was more, she didn’t want it to be there.  She doesn’t want to do it there. She’s saying, “Not here. Not now.”

“Not here, not now, maybe somewhere more romantic? Not next to the corpse of our dead son?”
[Laughs] Exactly. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to … Never mind!  I don’t want to talk too much about this scene, though, because it’ll be more interesting to talk about it at the end of this season. Definitely, no matter what, it’s a very messed-up relationship that these two people have, that’s for sure. And without giving anything away, we explore that relationship more.

Jaime, as you point out, is missing a hand. Last time Tyrion asked for a trial by combat, he wanted Jaime as his champion, but then there wasn’t time to get him to come, so he got Bronn. This time …
Well, Jaime knows who the other champion will be, and that’s the problem. He wants his brother to live, but Cersei has picked the Mountain — the most vicious man on Earth! He knows that before he lost his hand, maybe he could have beat him, but there’s no way he can beat this guy now. If Tyrion really wants him to do it, he would, but that means both brothers will die. Also, since everyone loves the Bronn-Tyrion relationship, what do you think people’s reaction will be when Bronn tells Tyrion, “I can’t help you”? There’s only so much money can buy you, and it’s like going up against Mike Tyson in his prime! You want to go up against him? “Ahhh, I love you, but it’s going to be the same outcome, so you might as well do it yourself.” “What do you mean, you don’t love me?” “I love you! I love you! I’ll buy you a beer. I’ll clean your house. But don’t ask me to kill myself!”

These two characters haven’t met, but I kind of want Davos and Jaime to have a moment, if only if they can both swap tips about how to accommodate for the loss of fingers or the loss of a hand.
They could have a nice little chat! [Chuckles.] “I know a guy who can make a great hand. I’ll give you his number! Just tell him you know me, and he’ll sort you out.” It’s so much easier with the gold hand. I mean, for me, as an actor, the fact that he loses his hand is the best thing that can happen to him — I couldn’t have thought of anything better to happen to that character, because it’s such an obstacle, and it forces such a change out of him. But it was a nightmare acting like it was a stump! I had to hide my own hand in my crotch or down my ass. It was tricky.

At least you didn’t have to go Method!
[Laughs] I’m sure [showrunners] Dan [Weiss] and Dave [Benioff] would prefer that. It’d be easier! But it’s one of those things, “Yeah, um, can’t do that. I love you guys, I appreciate this, I love this show, but nah, I don’t think so.” I’m not a Method actor, that’s the thing. Christian Bale would have done it, but I’m not going to go there! [Laughs.]

Q&A: Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau