Viewed from a distance, the scene is picturesque and romantic.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, playing the complicated Game of Thrones villain Jaime Lannister, sits atop a lush Northern Ireland mountain top overlooking a green valley that sweeps down to the sea. It looks like a vacation postcard. Who wouldn’t want to be there? Except when you’re actually next to him, on the ground, your opinion of the scene is quite different. It’s very cold. It’s pouring rain. The wind is gusting and unceasing. You’re standing in mud — except, ugh, that isn’t mud. Even inside a cramped craft services tent, there’s no escaping the elements. And since he’s on camera shooting his scene over and over again, nobody is enduring more of Mother Nature’s hammering than Coster-Waldau. Yet when he gets a break to speak to a huddle of shivering reporters, he has a big grin. You’re suspicious of the grin. He’s an actor — is he faking this?
“I actually really like it,” he insists. “It’s really cold, that’s not nice. But it makes the work easier. You just react to the elements and they help you.”
And nobody has had more “help” on this show than Coster-Waldau. Last season Jaime Lannister spent nearly the entire shoot chained in a muddy cage as Robb Stark’s prisoner. Yet other actors on the show and the producers insist he always makes the best of tough environments.
“The hardest scenes to do are sitting around a table talking,” Coster-Waldau says. “Good acting is when you don’t think. I don’t want to see the mechanics of a performance. Sometimes you can see, ‘Oh, that’s what he’s doing.'”
Later, the production moves to a forest glade near Shane’s Castle. Ah, much nicer. No rain. Coster-Waldau sits beside a slow-drifting river, the sun reflecting off the water and throwing hypnotic shimmers onto his grey-flecked beard. This is a big season for Jaime Lannister, whose character is being escorted to King’s Landing by noble knight Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) who hopes to trade him for the Stark daughters. There’s very little we can tell you about his story at this time, and very little Coster-Waldau can say.
“Change,” is the cryptic one-word verb that Coster-Waldau emphasizes. “For Jaime, there’s a lot of change in every way you can imagine. He’s still driving Brienne crazy. He succeeds in driving her crazy to the point where he actually gets a shot at freedom. Then everything takes a turn.”
Coster-Waldau is called back to the set to dive into the scene. His character, shackled and parched, is tricked into drinking horse urine and vomits. He’s then knocked face down into the soupy mud by a gang of tormentors and kicked in the gut, over and over. Then he’s accidentally kicked for real — which happens during fight scenes on movies and TV shows sometimes, and Coster-Waldau is extremely nice about the whole thing. “Wow” says one of the crew members after watching Coster-Waldau give a particularly searing performance during one take.
Coster-Waldau asks the director: How many more times?
Oh, just a few…
17 DAYS OF THRONES
EW rolled out 17 Game of Thrones stories with exclusive and spoiler-free behind-the-scenes content, largely drawn from our Northern Ireland set visit last fall, leading up to the show’s season 3 premiere on March 31. After each episode air we’ll have our popular recaps (catch up on the recaps for the first two seasons here) and interviews. Follow me on Twitter @james_hibberd for Game of Thrones news and bookmark our Thrones hub here.