If you don't know who Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is, you soon will. When the Danish actor isn't bonking his sister (!) as brutal Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones or throwing a child witness to the act out of a window (!!), he's starring in Headhunters, the big-screen adaptation of Jo Nesbo's bestselling Norwegian thriller.
If Nesbo is being touted as 'the next Stieg Larrson', the future is looking none too bleak for Coster-Waldau either. He's just finished filming a horror, Mama, alongside Jessica Chastain, and is now filming a sci-fi blockbuster with Tom Cruise, currently called Oblivion. Here, he talks about Headhunters, the meal-ticket that is Scandinavian crime stories, and how the success of Game of Thrones has taken him by surprise:
Q: You get to play the alpha male in Headhunters…
A: Yes, Clas is an extreme alpha male. Though Aksel Hennie’s character Roger is also an alpha male. And I guess for him, he wants to see himself as the alpha male. He’s this guy full of insecurities, but when he meets Clas, it’s like it’s his superior. He’s everything Roger isn’t. In reality, Aksel is an alpha male! He’s the guy who will do crazy things; he will climb up a building! He’s very well cast as Roger Brown. He’s an over-achiever, for sure. He’s Norway’s biggest film star, so I knew of him.
Q: How do you explain this sudden wave of Scandinavian crime thrillers?
A: Well, we’ve had these TV shows that have done really well internationally now, and I think there are different reasons. With the television and the films in Denmark, it’s been a very conscious effort. Whatever division that used to be between doing film and TV has been erased. You do get the best of both worlds joining forces. So when you do shows like The Killing or Borgen, you have the best directors going in and doing two or three episodes. So I think that’s part of it.
Q: Why has it been crime that has taken off as a genre?
A: I guess that maybe it’s because these are very civilised countries – very well regulated. They have all these Twin Peaks-like perfect worlds. You remember The Celebration? Thomas Vinterberg’s movie…that whole thing, you have the perfect façade, and then underneath you have all the rotten disorder. And it happens every month, you hear about something horrible. In Denmark, it still continues to shock people that it could actually happen in Denmark.
Q: Could it have anything to do with the gloomy winters that Scandinavia has?
A: Maybe! To be honest, I don’t know why. Everything comes in waves, and I guess now it’s just that wave. It’s probably going to ebb out in a few years.
Q: How popular is Jo Nesbø back home?
A: In Norway, he’s like a national hero.
Q: You’ve managed to get a nice balance between European and American productions. Has that been by design?
A: Well, a lot of luck, for sure. Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be an actor. I always wanted to work in England. To me, English actors were the best. They were the ones that I admired the most. Mostly on British television. There were so many actors you saw, and I loved watching these shows on the BBC. Back then, it was what we wanted Danish television to be. But there were also American actors [I loved]. So already when I went to drama school in Denmark, I applied to Bristol Old Vic and I was accepted. After I finished drama school in Denmark, I had my first job, which was the movie called Nightwatch – which was then remade with Ewan McGregor. And then I started in Bristol at the Old Vic, and I was there for less than two weeks, and I ran away! Well, it was a good plan, I think. The plan was, if I want to work in England, I had to learn the language, and if I want to learn the language, what better way than going to drama school and do nothing but focus?
Q: So you didn’t speak any English then?
A: Well, I spoke English but it was what I’d learnt at school. But then I also realised I wanted to act, I wanted to work, and you can’t learn to become an actor. I believe that you have to do it; that’s how you learn the craft anyway, if there is such a thing. So I stayed here, and then I went home and did some work, then I came back. And then they were going to re-do Nightwatch and I got a call from Ewan McGregor’s agent, and I signed up with that company…and suddenly I got a job on the movie Bent, the Clive Owen movie. I found myself in Glasgow making out with Clive Owen, and Mick Jagger hanging in a trapeze with rubber tits singing ‘Streets of Berlin!’ It was a great experience, and I thought "I can actually get a job doing this."
Q: Headhunters has been picked up for a Hollywood remake. How do you feel about that?
A: Well, it’s great. For Nesbø and the company that made it, it’s a great situation because the fact is, no matter what, our film has a release in April in the States.
Q: At least if the remake does well, American audiences might then discover the Norwegian original of Headhunters…
A: Maybe. But I think it’s more the fact that it’s good publicity for Headhunters in Europe and Scandinavia, and they can make a bit more money out of it!
Q: It also keeps the Scandinavian crime cycle going…
A: Yes. In fact, I’m sure there will be a lot of fantasy television in the next couple of years because of Game of Thrones. I’m just guessing.
Q: Are you amazed at how popular Game of Thrones has become?
A: Yeah. It’s a pleasant surprise, because it’s very extreme. It’s HBO – well, all their shows, they really commit themselves and to do something like Game of Thrones, it’s a very expensive show to shoot. It’s got the biggest cast of any show, I think. And this season, we shot in three different countries. I can’t imagine anyone else being able to pull that off really.
Q: What is it you like playing about that character?
A: My character? Well, Episode 1 ends with him shagging his sister, then a boy walks in and he says "the things I do for love" and pushes the boy out of the window. It was a great start! I thought "Wow, that’s a great start for any character!" I didn’t know much about fantasy. I only had those pre-conceived opinions that are never very good. Everything is black-and-white and you have heroes and bad guys. Whereas here, in Headhunters, they’re all human and very selfish, as we all are.
Q: You’ve just finished Season 2. Is there a Season 3 on the way?
A: Well, we all hope. But we don’t know. I’m sure some people have decided, but we’ll wait and see.
Q: So I assume you can’t talk about what happens in Season 2 or I’d be stabbed with a big sword?
A: Yes, there are a couple of journalists that have been killed already!
Q: You’re also heading out to Hollywood for Oblivion…
It’s a ridiculously big movie. It’s a Tom Cruise movie, so it’s going to be interesting to experience that. We’re shooting in New Orleans, so I can’t wait to go!
Q: And you’re also in Mama with Jessica Chastain?
A: Yeah, it’s a ghost story. It was a lot of fun. And clearly she’s extremely talented. She’s probably going to make me look like shit! She’s had a good year! But I’m not complaining.
Headhunters is in UK cinemas from Friday 6 April Watch the trailer below...