Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has become a household name playing Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones, bringing him fame and fortune. But is that what makes the Danish actor happy? Not by a long shot, according to a new interview with The Red Bulletin. From the sounds of it, a great deal of Coster-Waldau’s happiness comes from simply being Danish. Maybe that’s why many people say that the Danes are one of the happiest nations on earth.
“The trick is that we Danes have low expectations. My father always used to say to me, ‘Only fly as high as your ears will take you.'”
For a guy with low expectations, it seems Coster-Waldau is doing pretty well. Just staying alive on a show like Game of Thrones is an accomplishment in itself. He’s also one of the leading actors in the new theatrical release Gods of Egypt. One would think this might all go to his head, but the 45-year-old family man stays grounded not only through his family but also by getting back to nature and chilling out with the boys. One of the things the Game of Thrones star loves is mountain biking, and The Red Bulletin caught up with him out on the trails in 40 degree weather just north of Copenhagen.
“At home I’m surrounded by women, so it’s important for me to do things with my guy friends. I need the dirt, the cold, the mud and grime… We’re all animals deep down, which is why nature has such a deep impact on us. I recently went fishing on my own in the wilds of southern Greenland. It was a magical experience.”
Coster-Waldau also said friends help keep him grounded, because as he put it, “Danes don’t tolerate showoffs.” Fatherhood has also been a major influence, and he said the second he became a father, he ceased being the most important person in the world and suddenly someone else’s mortality became more important than his own. The Game of Thrones star is determined to make sure his daughters have a happier childhood than he did, being brutally honest about the struggles he faced growing up.
“My father was an alcoholic. He died in 1998,” Coster-Waldau told The Red Bulletin. “But I had a great mother, even if we did sometimes get visits from the police. My mother occasionally used to get carried away and would buy presents for my two sisters and me that, sadly, she couldn’t afford. I still remember the day I had to return my mini hi-fi… I mostly just felt sorry for my mother. I knew how humiliating it was for her. She had a job and worked hard, but it was difficult to make ends meet.”
While his childhood wasn’t entirely miserable — he and his father would often bond playing cards or watching sports — Coster-Waldau was determined that not only would his daughters have a happy childhood, but he had to let them know how lucky they were that they didn’t have to face the struggles that he he did as a child. Having said that, if given the chance, the Game of Thrones actor would not change his past.
“I make sure they know that their life isn’t normal. They need to understand that. It can’t be taken for granted that you won’t ever have to worry about food and money. But I’m proud of my childhood nonetheless… I don’t think it’s harmful to encounter the darker sides of life. If kids get bullied at school, for example, it’s horrible. But if you’ve got parents who love you unconditionally, then you realize that you’re good enough, regardless of what others say.”
It’s hard to imagine the Game of Thrones star — and fan heartthrob — facing rejection at casting calls or struggling to make a name for himself in Hollywood, but after 20 years in show business, Coster-Waldau has a few rather notable “failures.” He says his audition for the film Vertical Limit when he was 28 was “the worst screen test ever.” He felt so badly about it he reporteldy went on a shopping spree and bought $1,500 worth of clothes; but, splurging only made him feel worse, especially when he returned the items the next day. The disdain sent his way from the snooty saleswoman of the Lisa Kline Men shop in Los Angeles was a rather embarrassing experience.
Sometimes, the so-called failures turn out to be blessings in disguise. Coster-Waldau also lost the lead in John Carter.
“At the time that felt bad, but the irony is, that same summer I was cast in Game of Thrones. GoT became a huge hit; John Carter didn’t.”
Despite the bloody and brutal fates of many of the actors on Game of Thrones, Coster-Waldau doesn’t worry about his character being killed off and is happy to just let the story unfold as it should. Instead, he keeps his focus on real life, although he himself narrowly missed a life-threatening situation.
“There are moments when humankind shocks me. I was supposed to fly to Paris on November 14. I’d already packed my bag when I saw the news about the terrorist attacks. It’s unimaginable to me how someone could get to a point where they want to kill as many people as possible. But overall, I look positively to the future. It’s part of our nature to look ahead and find solutions to our problems. Because this life is the only one we’ve got.”
Coster-Waldau — and Jaime Lannister — seem to be making the best of it despite what life throws at them.
[Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images]