A veteran actor with more than 40 film and TV roles to his credit, Denmark native Nikolaj Coster-Waldau finally hit paydirt as the nefarious, yet complicated, Jamie Lannister on HBO's hit series Game of Thrones. However, far from resting the laurels of his hard-earned fame, Coster-Waldau has kept busy before the cameras. His latest effort, 1,000 Times Goodnight, stars Juliette Binoche as Rebecca, one of the world's top war photojournalists, but she's also a wife and mother, leaving behind a husband and two young daughters every time she travels to a new combat zone. After a near-death experience chronicling the ritual of a female suicide bomber, husband Marcus (Coster-Waldau) levels an ultimatum: give up the dangerous profession or lose the family she counts on being there when she returns from each assignment. With an offer to photograph a refugee camp in Kenya, a place allegedly so safe that daughter Steph (Lauryn Canny) is allowed to join her, Rebecca comes face to face with just how much she risks each time she steps back into the fray. Directed by former photojournalist Erik Poppe, the Film Movement release hits theaters and V.O.D. today, October 24.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau spoke with Alex Simon recently, while on location in Seville, Spain, where he's shooting season five of Game of Thrones. Here's what followed:
Tell us how you got involved with 1,000 Times Goodnight.
I met Erik when I was in Belfast. He used to be the Juliette Binoche character, as a war photographer, and I loved the idea of changing the sex of the main character to a woman. If it had been a guy, then it would have been kind of a cliché: the man going out into dangerous situations and being heroic. This turned that conceit upside down, and I think it works beautifully.
In the press notes, Erik actually quotes one of my heroes, iconic war photographer Robert Capa: "If the picture isn't strong enough, then you're not close enough."
(laughs) Yeah, that's a great quote, and of course it's true. Erik lived it and so does Juliette's character in the film. Didn't he die in the field?
Yeah, he was, arguably, the first photojournalist to die covering Vietnam, in 1954. He also shot that famous picture of a soldier in the Spanish Civil War the instant he's felled by a fatal bullet. It's viewed as the greatest war photo ever taken.
Yeah, I know the one. Very powerful. Sobering.
But it sounds like it was the dichotomy of Juliette's character that drew you to this.
Yeah, and the question of what is it that's truly heroic? In the beginning, we see Juliette risking her life based on her mothering instincts to save the lives of some children. But then her own children are saying to her, "We don't want you to go back into the fray. We just want you to stay here and be our mom." But it's like the danger is an addiction for her, an adrenaline high, a moth to the flame, and she can't stay away. Nothing complicated is ever due to just one thing. And of course, my character as her husband, wants her in a safe place, as well.
That's what gives the film its power, I think: its objectivity. Every character has a very clear, rational point of view.
Yeah, this was the first time I've played a character that was very close to home for me. My wife and I have two daughters, just like my character in the film, and if family is important to you, your priorities change and become very clear, rather quickly.
I've interviewed Juliette several times over the years and each time, she struck me as someone who's highly intelligent and committed to her work.
Absolutely. She's almost relentless in her search for truth and understanding more about the scene and the characters. She's very good at asking questions and not settling. It was tough, but it also made the final result amazing, I think.
I didn't recognize Larry Mullen, Jr. until I saw his name on the credits. He was always hiding behind his drum kit when I saw U2 play live.
(laughs) Yeah, I didn't either. I met the cast in a restaurant in Dublin and it took me a while to realize that, yeah, I'd seen this guy before. (laughs) I think he likes that degree of anonymity, actually. But he's a really good actor and such a nice, easy-going guy.
We have to talk about Game of Thrones and Jamie Lannister. Of all the characters on the show, his arc has been the most interesting, for me. During the first season, he was absolutely reprehensible, but you began to see more shadings in his character as the series progressed, particularly in his dealings with Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie).
What's interesting with the show, not just Jamie's character, since you have so much time to develop the characters, no one is black and white. It's all gray. And when we first meet Jamie, all his actions are against the people whom we originally see as the heroes of the story. I don't think Jamie has really changed as a person so much over time, but I also never saw Jamie as a "bad guy," in the traditional sense. He's certainly done some really horrific things, but he's not a psychopath. He was motivated by logical things: pushing the kid out the window, for example. He was doing that to protect the love of his life and her kids. The same when he attacked Ned Stark. Jamie was trying to protect his brother. When I started out, I knew what was going to happen for the next three seasons, if we got that far, so I really looked forward to doing those scenes with Brienne that would open Jamie up and allow us to learn more about him and what made him tick, so to speak. From the beginning, I knew he was a great character, because he begins appearing to be one thing, but at the end, turns out to be something quite the opposite. That's not only a great character, that's great writing, and it's what makes being an actor such a pleasure.