One Year After The “Game Of Thrones” Finale, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau Is Going Behind-The-Scenes

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
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ONE YEAR AFTER THE GAME OF THRONES FINALE, NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU IS MAKING BIG MOVES. FIND OUT WHY HE DECIDED TO TAKE ON SHAKESPEARE, MOVE TO LOS ANGELES AND START HIS OWN PRODUCTION COMPANY JUST BEFORE TURNING 50.

UPDATE: Due to the coronavirus, the theatre run of Macbeth has been delayed. 

BY LAURA SCHREFFLER

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Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
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It’s been exactly one year since the beginning of the end (otherwise known as the eighth and final season premiere of Game of Thrones) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has not plummeted into a downward spiral of depression, drowning his sorrows in whiskey, waxing lyrical about the good old days playing Jaime Lannister. Instead, he moved to Los Angeles, started a production company and is preparing to take on Shakespeare—not necessarily in that order—and life, at the moment, is coming up roses (or palm trees, as it were).

“I feel great! I haven’t felt any post-traumatic stress or any kind of pain about leaving the show,” the Danish actor admits. “I mean, there was a bit of dust when we had the premiere, but that was kind of it. It settled long ago.”

In his opinion, Thrones was a wild, worthwhile ride while it lasted, but he’s been there and done that. With almost a decade as the House of Lannister head under his belt, it was well and truly time to start a new chapter. When the Kingslayer died at the Battle of King’s Landing, it was time to let him rest in peace … and let his flaws (like an incestuous affair with his twin sister) die with him.

“It’s funny how very different it was [working on the show], as opposed to how your life is perceived from the outside,” he muses. “Because GOT was the biggest show on earth, you can easily imagine that it would be overwhelming to be a part of, but that was never the case. Obviously, the last season took so long to shoot that it was a big chunk of the year—nine months in all—but over that time it felt like just another job in a line of jobs I had that year.”

He will allow that not seeing the cast and crew like usual in September felt weird. “This past fall was different because I wasn’t going to Belfast, and I didn’t get to hang out with this amazing group of people. When you have a great experience with someone and you miss seeing them every day, it’s difficult to get used to. But hopefully we’ll meet again down the line on some other project,” he says pragmatically.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
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One that, preferably, has nothing to do with George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy novels. Not because he didn’t love it, but because he did. “I don’t think you can try to recreate or should want to recreate something that’s been so successful, because that’s just setting yourself up for disappointment; things are never going to be the same. Life moves on, things change, and you just have to accept that. It was such a great experience, but life goes on, and then something else happens that’s equally great.”

At this moment in time, that something is taking on Shakespeare. When former Thrones director Matt Shakman—who now serves as the artistic director of Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse—offered him the opportunity to play Macbeth, he couldn’t resist … despite the fact that he’d be playing yet another king slayer. And so, he didn’t. Coster-Waldau will be making his L.A. stage debut on June 16, with shows running through July 19. “I said yes without thinking too much. It’s a great play for me, very violent, very tight. He’s not a bad playwright, this guy Shakespeare,” he jokes.

All kidding aside, it’s a dream role for Coster-Waldau, not just because of the material, but because he’s come full circle: His acting career actually began with Shakespeare, playing Laertes in a Danish production of Hamlet in 1992. 

“I realized, ‘Of course I love theater!’ and I haven’t been on stage for a long time [since a 2002 Danish production of Beckett]. Years go by, and you keep on saying, ‘I’ll do it next year’ and then something else comes along. But it’s an amazing part and he’s a very good director, so it was an easy choice. Basically, I couldn’t think of a reason not to do it.  Although now that I’m sitting here trying to learn the damn words, I’m thinking of all the reasons why I shouldn’t have, but too late now! I can’t wait to do [this play], but it scares the shit out of me in a good way.”

Don’t let him fool you: Coster-Waldau doesn’t sound worried in the least. Exhilarated, happy, giddy even, but not nervous. “I spend a lot of time trying to understand what the hell he’s saying, and really understanding it. At this stage, I’m really hopeful that I’ll get there in the end,” he says with a cheeky laugh. 

We have no doubt that, in two months’ time, he’ll have flawlessly transformed into the ambitious Scottish general. For those unfamiliar with the Bard’s tragedy, a trio of witches prophesize that Macbeth is slated for greatness and destined to become king, but his dangerous desire for power becomes his undoing as he and his wife murder and lie to hold on to the throne at any cost. To play him, an actor must descend into madness, paranoia, self-loathing and tyrannical behavior (on stage, that is). This is not, as we all know, unfamiliar territory for Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
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“Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are ambitious; they will do anything to get up on top, and once they get there, there is nothing but panic and paranoia,” he says. “You can definitely see that in Thrones: Cersei playing the game, thinking everyone was out to get her—and she wasn’t wrong. A lot of the themes are the same—the political flights, the constant battling for power.”

When we suggest this could also be a metaphor for Hollywood, he readily agrees—and he should know, especially now that he’s taking on Tinseltown as both an actor and a producer. And so we’ve arrived at his most ambitious post-Thrones endeavor: the launch of his new company, Ill Kippers Productions, a joint venture with longtime friend and writer Joe Derrick as well as power publicist Jeffrey Chassen, which was announced this past November.

“[Joe and I have been] writing together for years, and now it seemed like the perfect time to launch. Because I have been on that show for so long, it’s afforded me a platform where I can—at least for a year or two—get some meetings that I probably couldn’t have before.”
The Ill Kippers crew won’t be pulling a Reese Witherspoon and just adapting books that they like: their storytelling will span a variety of mediums.

To start, they have a character-driven film in the works, as well as podcasts—which Coster-Waldau says he listens to religiously—a documentary and a crime series based on a true story, and an inside look at Comic-Con, which he was first exposed to through Thrones. “I came in with a lot of prejudice about who goes to these things, dressing up like Star Trek—what is that? Then, I found out it’s nothing like what I expected [and thought it] could be an amazing backdrop to tell a story about identity and the world we live in right now.”

No, he will not star in each and every story he produces—although, as the boss, that’s a nice perk (and no telling whether or not he’ll play himself in the Comic-Con story). “It’s not just about finding vehicles that I can star in. I mean, we’re also looking for something great for me, but it’s really about telling stories that resonate with us,” he explains. “The reason I’m an actor is because I find human behavior fundamentally interesting. I want to understand what we do, why we do it, and why so often there is a gap between what we say and what we do.”

At least fans can breathe sighs of relief that his handsome face will not remain only behind the camera. “I’m still acting, all the time. I still work a lot; that’s not going to stop,” he promises. “My wife was joking, ‘I thought you were going to slow down!’ but it’s kind of become the opposite. But it’s my passion and it’s fun so there’s no conflict there. It’s exciting to build something new with people that you really like. There’s just a very basic joy in that.”

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
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The joy he’s finding in his new city could also be described as basic, though the home itself cannot be. When Ill Kippers became a reality, he packed up his family—his actor/singer wife, Nukâka Coster-Waldau, a former Miss Greenland, and two teenage daughters, Safina and Fillippaand headed to the Hollywood Hills to live in a minimalistic, three-bedroom Scandinavian-inspired abode, dotted with neutral colors and stark geometric shapes. The family still splits their time between their permanent residence in Copenhagen, where he, his wife and eldest daughter also work, but for now, the City of Angels is where they hang their hats.

“I can’t plan on HBO putting me up in a hotel anymore, so we got a place here now, which is absolutely wonderful,” he says, noting that it was the right time to head West. “I’ve always liked coming here and always wanted to spend more time here, and obviously now I will be spending more time doing the play. It also makes sense to spend more time here when you’re starting a production company.”

His daughters are big fans of their new city. In fact… “Both of my kids have acquired the acting bug, so let’s see how the chips fall. The only thing my wife and I have said to them is, ‘Whatever you pursue, just do it with joy and passion.’ Obviously, you try to explain—and I think they understand—that, like in most jobs, it can be very tough to get a break. Thank God the industry is changing for women, so hopefully they won’t have to deal with the issues that some of the generations before them have dealt with.”

That he’s a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Program makes female equality even more top of mind for Coster-Waldau. “I have two daughters myself, and I want them to grow up with the same possibilities that men have. The fact that we live in a world where there is such a huge difference between whether you’re born a man or a woman is insane.”

Coster-Waldau was set to travel to Jordan for the U.N.’s Global Goals World Cup, the first women’s activist soccer tournament, this April, but the event was postponed in the wake of COVID-19. But the pandemic won’t sway him from continuing his charity work. “What I’ve found through doing the work with the U.N. is that it’s always a challenge to understand and appreciate the tragedies that are taking place around the world if you’re not living through them. You try to pass on the information as best you can, but you also know that you can’t expect anyone to feel the burden of the world—and you shouldn’t, because that’s not a way to live.”

And although fake news circulating through Denmark claimed that he had died earlier this year (which pissed him off royally, by the way), he is all about l-i-v-i-n. “I’m trying to live my life in the moment,” he says. “That’s the ideal, to just be present. I’m very much halfway in my life.”

As Coster-Waldau prepares to turn 50 this July (no, we can’t believe it either), there are many more adjustments ahead, some welcome, some not. “The biggest change in my life at the moment is my family structure. One of my daughters is a young adult and will be leaving the nest. Forget the end of Game of Thrones—that’s more overwhelming and life-altering than ending some television show, don’t you think?”

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
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