HeyUGuys caught up with the charming Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to talk about his latest Film Shot Caller. He was the perfect interviewee, and talked openly and passionately about his love of European Cinema, the TV behemoth Game of Thrones and who he thinks would make a better James Bond between him and Kit Harrington.
HEYUGUYS: In Shot Caller you play Jacob Harlon, a former prisoner who is released from jail after spending over a decade behind bars. Firstly what attracted you to this role and is there any specific preparation you did, in order to get inside the head of a criminal who was incarcerated for that amount of time?
NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU: Well first I read the script, I thought it was brilliant. I was very psyched about the story I found it very authentic. I met Ric Waugh the director, who spent years in that world and is extremely knowledgeable, it was very important to him that we got as close to the reality these guys experience as possible. So I just spent a lot of time meeting up with ex-convicts and ex-prisoners. I also went to a couple of prisons and met inmates and tried to educate myself as much as I could. The interesting thing I found with this story is, it’s about a guy whose not a criminal, I mean he does something really stupid and has a drink too many and gets behind the wheel of his car and the consequences are horrible. I’m not a criminal I haven’t been to prison but I thought there was something interesting about the idea you just take a guy into this environment and then you see if he can survive and if he has what it takes to survive.
Presuming scenes in this movie weren’t shot chronologically, we see different snippets of this characters life, from different moments in time, from when he was a business man and happily married to when he becomes a hardened criminal. As an actor when you’re shooting those kind of scenes, how do you go about constantly shifting your perspective to where that character is at that moment in time, on a scene to scene basis?
Well its a lot of preparation, we didn’t have a lot of time to shoot. In a perfect world you would have been able to shoot chronologically, so you would kind of start the process at the beginning and then build your way towards the present day. We sometimes shot like three different era’s at the same time, we would shoot ten years back, five years back and then present day, all in the same day. So it was all about the preparation and about being very clear in my head about where is he now and how is his emotional level now. Because what of course happens once he goes inside prison is suddenly fear is a constant companion and that is such a big difference from him being just a regular guy. He is afraid all the time but he has to hide this fear and of course then the longer he is in there the more accustomed he is to this world and he becomes as they say in the film institutionalised. He suddenly really understands this world all too well, he can navigate there and he feels safe inside. When he’s released it’s suddenly that world which is scary and tricky. But to answer your question it’s just about doing all the work as much as you can before and then trusting the director.
I watched another film of yours this year, where you play a prisoner who is released from prison, Small Crimes. I find the parallels between the two characters interesting, especially in relation to how both of their primary emotions are driven by their estranged families. Why do you think both of these characters took drastically different approaches in regards to their quest for redemption?
I mean, you’re right there are a lot of parallels and some similarities of course between those two characters but there’s also one very big difference between them. That is that the guy in Small Crimes he’s all talk but no real action if you know what I mean. It’s more like a comedy anyway but he is talking about all these things that he wants to do and he wants to change his life. But you know he can’t, he is who he is and he’s a scumbag. Now Jacob on the other hand is a good guy but then in order to survive he has to suddenly adapt too this insane world, he changes dramatically. The guy in Small Crimes doesn’t really change he is who he is, that’s the tragedy of that film. But Jacob unfortunately changes for the worst. Even though at the end of the film he seems to be a very powerful man who scarified his life for his family. At the same time the film is a story about a guy who was broken completely in prison.
I notice when it comes to film roles, you still do a lot of Danish Films. Is it still important for you to keep that connection with the Danish Film industry as your Hollywood career inevitably starts to flourish as well? It’s quite refreshing to see your still very invested in it?
It is important to me; I mean all the Danish films are European films. I remember I did a film a couple of years ago in Ireland called A Thousand Times Good Night, which has a Norwegian director, and we shot in around Dublin. I think that European movies although they can sometimes be a little too (laughs) Artsy-Fartsy, there is a determination too deal with what it means to be human, to question why we are who we are and why we do what we do and I think that is really why I love my job. It’s also why I love doing these smaller American Independent films because it’s kind of the same thing. I think that’s also what’s less attractive about the big-big budget movies these days. It wasn’t always the case and I hope we can get back to a place like the 70’s; we always talk about those movies. You could do a big movie but it could still have colour it could still have three-dimensional characters. But for some reason what people want to see now in their movies is literally cartoon characters, as an actor it’s quite disappointing. I love working on North American projects but I equally love to work here in Europe because it’s just more interesting. A movie like Shot Caller comes along its rare that you read scripts like that.
Regarding your TV work as Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones or New Amsterdam as well for that matter, I was wondering when you’re playing characters over a longer form of storytelling in TV –what are the challenges and the benefits of playing a character over a longer period of time, as opposed to when you play a character in a film role.
Well it’s that you have so much more time to tell a story; if they evolve if they change it doesn’t have to happen over the course of seventy-five minutes. It doesn’t have to happen in one scene, or two scenes, you can have it be more organic and that’s interesting. Of course the challenge can be that it becomes repetitive. Now with New Amsterdam it was only for a season but with Game of Thrones because its one big story, I’ve never felt like oh now here we go again and that we are just doing the same thing. Because it actually has changed quite dramatically from season 1 to where we are now. There are a lot of great Television Shows being made these days, with Netflix, with Amazon and HBO. What I mentioned before that I miss in the big budget movies, the characters that are three-dimensional that is what we actually get now in a lot of these Television Shows. That’s why you see so many great directors and actors and writers. They all choose television and it’s running away from movies unfortunately. I think its too bad because I do have to confess that there is for me nothing more exciting than to sit down in the cinema and the lights go out and you are being told a story in two and a half hours that just takes you too a different world, that is the best. And you can’t recreate that in your lounge at home with your TV, in my opinion.
Yes I would agree with you and that is the magic of cinema, but I think Game of Thrones is the one of the most cinematic shows we’ve ever had on TV as well.
Oh yeah! I mean shooting this season now, this last season; we spent more time than any movie would shooting everything. It’s so great now the show, that it compares with the biggest of movies. So I think that’s also the reason why we will be ending it now, there is no where to go after this season.
Speaking of cinematic greats and great cinema, I believe you have a film coming up with the great Brian De Palma coming out next year called Domino, can you tell us anything about that?
We wrapped that a month ago. He was amazing; he’s such a cinematic genius in the way he takes his shots. It was bizarre to have him shooting in my home country in Denmark. He was shooting all over Europe, it’s a low-low budget movie and you have this guy whose just a powerhouse and it was very exciting.
Who do you think would make a better James Bond, You or Kit Harrington and why?
Oh I think Kit, you know it’s the hair he has the best hair.