It was an overcast day when I, your intrepid and fabulous FaBio drove his (questionably street-legal and dust-plagued) automobile from his white-picket fence safehaven in Orange County, CA. North I went, ever north, and then west and then north again, up along the 5 to the 101, zigging and zagging though the rough-and-tumble proving ground of Los Angeles traffic to place myself squarely within the safe and sumptuous confines of the Beverly Hills Four Seasons hotel, there to seek out and conduct interviews with not one, not two, not five, but TEN (10) Game of Thrones cast members!
I had been to the Four Seasons before, of course; not because I live a generally posh life (which of course I do) but rather because it’s the same place Winter and I sat down to interview George some two years ago! Yes, as was the case back then, I was fed. And yes, the food is still as delectable as I remember it being.
Gathered was a gaggle of approximately 20 reporters. Some, like one nice young chap from the New York Times, came with their stoic game faces on, completely professional; others, like the vibrant Terri Schwartz from Zap2it, were more prone to playful and/or frivolous banter. Much like me. (Actually, Terri was playfully frivolous and professional!)
From there we were broken into 4 groups. Myself and Terri were joined by a rather been-there/seen-that woman named Paulette from Xfinity TV, as well as two more. We were dropped into a small conference room where we awaited our first “team.”
For us, the first of these was that very-dynamic duo of the indomitable Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and the irrepressible Gwendoline Christie.
Nikolaj entered, casual and cool, wearing a dark green lumberjack shirt that made him look like an extremely attractive transplant from the American northwest. Gwen came looking for a fight—or rather looked capable of winning one, dressed in a sleeveless white-and-orange jumpsuit that would have seemed natural on Uma Thurman in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Her “guns” were blazing (see photo below). I was half-ready for Gwen to go all postmodern Brienne on us and pull a samurai sword from behind her back. The woman looked choice.
The interview was recorded on a digital audio device; apologies in advance for not properly identifying each interviewer. As per the norm all “uh,” “um,” and other sundry and distracting sounds were removed, especially if doing so made the author appear smarter.
NOTE: It has to be said that, with this interview and with others of this amazing cast, they comport themselves with the absolute greatest decorum. I’m not sure if it comes with being British (note that Nikolaj is not and yet this completely applies to him), but never have I met a more motivated, humorous, non-pretentious group of actors who are truly thankful for the roles they’ve been given, and to a large degree understand our fanaticism—because they too are fans. In my “other life” as a television critic I have spoken to many other actors, people from shows like The Walking Dead, Spartacus, and others, and the level of emotional and physical involvement I have seen with the cast of Game of Thrones doesn’t even come close to anything else. It laps the field. This is lightning in a bottle; Nina Gold has struck it rich. And we reap the rewards.
FaB: Hello, people! Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie have entered the room.
Nikolaj: Hey, hey.
Gwendoline: (sing-song) Hulloooo!
Nikolaj noticed FaBio’s red and gold LANNISTER shirt…
Nikolaj: Now that’s more like it!
FaB: I’ve interviewed you before, you know.
Nikolaj: (winking) I know.
There is brief discussion about who’s seen what, and FaB reveals he hasn’t seen any of season 3 yet (though apparently the others got screeners)! It’s also revealed there’s no Jaime or Brienne in the first episode!
FaB: I heard there was no Arya.
Gwendoline: We’re not in it at all. The whole thing. We’re removed. It’s a whole separate spin-off show.
FaB: It’s just you, Jaime, and a bear, tripping down like… well, it’s like Wizard of Oz now.
Paulette gets right down to business (she does this a lot) by trying to go right for the scoop, asking them what can they tease about the new season? What are they allowed to say?
After a long pause…
Gwendoline: Okay. Nikolaj, thanks for tossing that over first.
Nikolaj: (smiling) Well?
NOTE: This is the first of many such moments, where these two just love putting one another in difficult positions. They’re like siblings whose primary amusement comes at the expense of the other. But you really have to see these two up close and live to fully appreciate their bond. It’s theatre in and of itself.
Gwendoline: (HEAVY SIGH) Well, fine. As ever with Game of Thrones, you expect the unexpected. So everything continues to be turned on its head. (to Nikolaj) What do you think of that answer?
Nikolaj: Well, we’re as we’re just starting, so I’m going to be nice. You did your best. Well played.
Gwendoline: I think maybe you can do better.
Nikolaj: No, it was a great answer. (to everyone else) As for us, when we meet [Jaime and Brienne] they’re still on their way back to King’s Landing. And Jaime’s not happy with this situation. He’s still in chains, she’s in control, and he’s trying his very best to get out of this situation—to get rid of her—and he does so in his own charming way. He does it by driving her mad.
Gwendoline: He doesn’t really drive her mad. He irritates her, but I wouldn’t say he drives her mad.
Gwendoline: I think that would be a little overambitious of you to say that. (Gwen and Nikolaj are in full stare-down mode) But you can think what you want, that’s your own personal entitlement.
FaB kindly points out he supports House Lannister. Gwendoline rolls her eyes at him.
FaB: Tell us about the premiere! This is the first time the show’s gotten a premiere! How was it?
Nikolaj: It was huge. I thought it was amazing.
One of the reporters asks if they “got the tattoos.” Apparently there was a temporary tattoo artist running about at the party doing house sigil tattoos.
Nikolaj: No I didn’t!
Gwendoline: (disappointed) No, I didn’t either. I didn’t even get the calligraphy. I was desperate to do the archery.
There is a mention of crossbowing and archery.
Nikolaj: I was queuing for those, but…
One of the reporters suggests they should just be able to go to the front of the line.
Nikolaj & Gwendoline: (in unison) No!
Gwendoline: We both did the photo booth.
Nikolaj: You went on the iron throne with Kit.
Gwendoline: I did!
Nikolaj: The revolving throne.
Gwendoline: Yes, David Benioff bet Kit Harington $20 that he wouldn’t jump up on the revolving iron throne, and he did it. And (Kit) said “Join me,” and I did!
Terri from Zap2it says, “And that’s how Game of Thrones ends.” Which pretty much has the room in stitches.
Gwendoline: We’ve just released the worst spoiler possible. And we’d like you to communicate that to the public.
FaB: We’ll put it in writing. Brienne Snow.
Gwendoline: Brienne Snow. Actually, it’s Brienne who’s Jon Snow’s mother.
Fab: Gwen, you were a popular choice for Brienne on our site Winter-is-Coming.net, long before you were even cast. Did you know about that?
Gwendoline: Yeah, I did know about this.
FaB: Crazy, right?
Gwendoline: Yeah, it was mad. A friend of mine contacted me and said “There’s something about you on the internet being on an HBO show.” So naturally like any actor, particularly a British actor, that’s a complete dream. So I Googlized, and was really overwhelmed. I hadn’t heard of the books before, I was overwhelmed by the excitement and passion that so many people had for these books and this story. But particularly, anyone more than my mother being enthusiastic about me was a revelation. And then luckily, the part was a dream part as well. But that’s thrilling! That, physically, that’s what they wanted! Because, you know, I’m not the kind of usual… well, I’m very tall for a woman. It’s not been my experience that it’s a positive thing. And so it felt like I’d come home.
Note: Just listening to the passion in her voice, how this affects her, and that last sentence, spoken so softly… You really get the feeling she absolutely loves everything about playing Brienne. It feels humbling just being there, listening to that. I can’t explain it any other way.
Terri talks about the relationship between Jaime and Brienne being one of her favorites in the books. She says, “I love how complex it is and how much it evolves. And I’m just curious, (wryly) obviously you two hate each other… so it must have been really hard working with one another. How do we see that relationship evolve this season?”
Gwendoline: (After a long pause) She kills him. Second episode is where they saved it. She kills him. And then he dies and that’s it. And then she gets in with Jon Snow, and then…
Nikolaj: I don’t know how much we can tell you. You’ve read the books. In big terms I’d say their relationship does evolve, and it takes some… twists and turns.
Gwendoline: I think they find themselves in situations they could never predict. Or expect.
Terri mentions both of their characters consider themselves to be knights in different ways…
Nikolaj: I think there is a little inkling of that. Especially in the last episode of season 2, where she suddenly shows her skills as a soldier. And also she shows she has a moral compass, that he, I think, deep down recognizes. And I don’t think he realizes it then, but later on… There is something about her that he kind of, in a weird way, identifies with.
FaB: Her sense of justice seems to be very strong.
Nikolaj: Yeah. And also I think the idea of people having strong, preconceived opinions about you…
Nikolaj: …and having to react to that is something that they both share.
Paulette asks if they think it’s better for the show to follow the books, or better to open things up so that we all get a new experience.
Nikolaj: I think the books. It’s important to follow the books. We want that. But of course it’s an adaptation, so we have to take… well, as you know, George R.R. Martin likes to add characters. And so it grows, and grows, and grows, and you have a huge cast, but even HBO… You have to put a limit on it. We only have 10 hours a year. Which is a lot, but still. So… Yeah, the books are at the very core. But it is a television show.
Paulette also mentions she is going to watch a lot of Game of Thrones before the season 3 premiere and asks: “Have you ever binge-watched any other series, like over a weekend or in a week? What kind of food did you eat? Did you take naps? What do you suggest people do, or how they should binge-watch Game of Thrones?”
Most of the other reporters agree “a lot of tissues” are necessary.
Gwendoline: I have binge-watched… Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm, In Treatment, Breaking Bad. And throughout that time, I’ve been unable, pretty much, to leave the room.
Nikolaj: (leaning in, fascinated) What did you eat?
Gwendoline: A protein shake. Numerous protein shakes. Because it’s giving you all of your nutrients, and it’s like a milk shake.
Gwen is so EARNEST! It’s almost faux-earnest. It may actually be faux-earnest. Unless she’s really into protein shakes. Either way, the woman has the room laughing again.
Gwendoline: That’s the honest answer. The honest answer.FaB: Well we’re intrigued!
Gwendoline: (to Nikolaj) What do YOU binge-watch?
Nikolaj: Well, I am of course a little bit older than you, so… I think the first series I really binge… binge-watched? That’s a difficult word. It was The West Wing. And last summer I saw all of Breaking Bad. All of it. And I don’t remember what I ate. [I watched it] during shooting this. In the evenings. Nights. I am such a huge fan of Breaking Bad.
Terri says that she kind of thinks that informs his portrayal of Jaime.
Nikolaj: It’s funny, because it’s like… You take this guy, this really good, good guy, and then by the end of the show he becomes like… Scarface. And on the surface, Jaime Lannister starts out as horrible. He’s trying to kill a child. And then he takes a different journey. But there are some similarities I think.
FaB: We have a few questions from the loyal Bottom Supporters at Winter-is-Coming. Do you mind?
Nikolaj: Go ahead!
FaB: GG asks: Do you think Jaime regrets any of his actions so far, or do you think he stands by them ’til the bitter end?
Nikolaj: He’s not proud of what he did to Bran. He’s not like, “Yeah, I’ll just push a kid out a window…” (SHRUG!) But I also don’t think… He’s not sentimental. He understands why he did it. I think he believes that he did what he had to do.
Nikolaj is asked, “In broad strokes, can you talk a little bit about Jaime’s journey this season? Maybe his emotional journey?”
Nikolaj: No. (after some laughter) I think… People who’ve read the books, they would know a lot of things happen. And this [season] was the one… I was really hoping we’d make it this far. Season three. Because last season I was pretty much stuck in Robb Stark’s prison. So this year is a year of change. In many ways.
FaB: You were very muddy through all of last season.
Nikolaj: That doesn’t change though.
FaB: Nothing? No bathing? No one’s thought to wash you down…? Give you a bath…?
FEEL FREE TO MENTALLY INSERT THE SLY MICHAEL MYERS DR. EVIL RAISED PINKIE LOOK I WAS GIVING BOTH OF THEM.
Nikolaj: (after a casual shrug) Maybe we… might have a bath. At some time.
Terri catches on quickly, leaning forward, and asks, “May we say there could be bathing in season three? Or… is that in future seasons…? This… POTENTIAL bath…?”
Some polite coughing ensues. But I cannot stress enough how each reporter is now… slowly… beginning… to lean… forward. We’re so eager!
Gwendoline: (casually) I think everyone washes, don’t they?
Terri has the tail of a fish and refuses to let go, saying, “In the woods? Do they? I guess there are streams. (innocently) Maybe…”
Nikolaj: (smiling casually) I think Jaime would love a bath.
Everyone in the room pretty much agrees that yes, yes he would. And yes, a bath would be a good thing.
Nikolaj is still smiling. But does he confirm? No. Of course not! He’s toying with us, you see. And he’s enjoying it. I can’t even describe the OFFHANDED glances he and Gwendoline are giving one another. The NON-COMMITTAL SHRUGS. They’re brilliant, really. Because they’ve either filmed a bath scene and aren’t telling anyone… or they KNOW about the bath scene and didn’t film it and aren’t telling anyone.
BUT THEY DO KNOW SOMETHING.
Where was I?
Anyway, Terri mentions Peter Dinklage sort of lucked out in the prosthetics department...
Nikolaj: I loved that line in the first episode of this season. Did you see it? Where she comes in and says, “They told me your whole nose was gone.” And he says, “Oh, I was lucky.”
Terri asks if he had any such luck, or if he had any issues with any other sort of prosthetics…?
(Insert meaningful look.)
Nikolaj: (grinning) Let’s talk about this another time.
FaB: Not related to that directly, but regarding the amount of additional work the two of you have had to put into this series, kind of outside the norm. Flying two people to America, just to do one scene. It’s a little above and beyond.
Gwendoline: I don’t know, really?
FaB: Well, okay. Is it fun? Or extra work?
Gwendoline: I don’t think it’s extra work. I think it’s always exciting to visit new places. I think being in an entirely new environment informs the work. It is less acting that you have to do, if it is hot and you feel that heat, somehow, or you get the sensation of a place. There’s always a visceral nature to wherever you are, and that informs your work. So for me it’s a complete pleasure. And who doesn’t want to go someplace new rather then being in a drafty studio?
She’s asked to talk a little bit about Brienne being away from Catelyn.
Gwendoline: I think Brienne’s always been sort of a solitary figure. And here she’s solitary again. I think she’s faithful to her by carrying out her mission. And she does her best to exercise her will over the slippery Jaime Lannister. Who—he is shackled, and she could kill him. Because he’s antagonizing her.
She looks right at Nikolaj.
Gwendoline: Do you know what, out of consideration for you I put in “he is shackled.” I will do no such act of generosity from here on out.
Nikolaj gives her a very Jaime Lannister smile and a shrug in return.
Gwendoline: But she’s carrying on the mission. And she’s carrying on the respect she has for [Catelyn Stark]. And I think she’s connected to her through her oath, through what she’s pledged. I don’t think she misses her, in that sense. I don’t think there’s an emotional sort of tearing. Because Brienne, thus far, hasn’t had that kind of connection to a human being before. And well, of course there was Renly, but that was a relationship that was based in the mind, not grounded in reality.
Terri mentions that they both have very physical scenes, and not all of the actors have that. “Is it more enjoyable? Is it more of a challenge?”
Gwendoline: I enjoy it because it means there’s less acting you have to do. If you’re fighting, then you don’t have to pretend you’re fighting. So that… it’s easy for me.
They are asked if they have have developed any sort of rivalry in training…
Gwendoline: (drawls) Oh, no. No.
Lovely sarcasm. Palpable.
They’re asked, “Who’s the better sword fighter?”
Gwendoline: He is.
Nikolaj: She’s very good.
Gwendoline: Yeah, I have to train for fuc—(PAUSE)—Goodness. I have to train for frying weeks on end, and he picks it up in two days.
Nikolaj: (demurring) No, that’s not true.
Gwendoline: It is true! Didn’t you learn it through Skype or something.
Nikolaj: I love it. I love all that stuff. And also for both of these characters, it’s such a big part of who they are. They know how to use their bodies and they are very good at what they do.
He’s asked if it’s like anything he’s done in the past…
Nikolaj: I’ve done some, yeah. And in many ways I think it’s easier when you’re a man, because you’ve done it since you were a boy. And most girls don’t get to fight that much when growing up. But guys do. So it’s easier to access that kind of physicality.
Gwendoline: Through Skype.
Nikolaj: Through Skype, yeah.
He’s asked if he’s ambidextrous.
Nikolaj: What does that mean…? Oh! With both hands! (jokes) If I haven’t got a script I don’t understand. Um, no I’m not! I… might have to work on that.
He gives a lovely sort of “And that’s all you’re getting” look. I think the phrase “devilishly charming” applies here, with the onus on “devilishly.”
FaB: I have a scenario for you both, so bear with me. A terrible curse descends on all of Westeros. It switches the minds and bodies of everybody in the world. So the producers come to you, and they say, “Alright, we want you to play another character trapped in your body.” Which do you choose?
Gwendoline: I choose Jaime every time.
FaB: So Jaime becomes trapped in Brienne and you have to play Jaime.
Fab: Okay! Who does Jaime get trapped in?
Nikolaj: (laughing) I’ll skip the first thought.
FaB: That went south fast.
Nikolaj: Oh, just think about it, you’ll get there. No. Alright, you know… I’ll take the dragon. Drogon. I used to smoke. And blowing smoke is so great. “Ahhhh, fire…!”
FaB: Which actor or actress would you find interesting trying to play your character, trapped in their body?
Nikolaj: (to Gwen) I wouldn’t want to see you play me, because you would have so much fun.
Gwendoline: I so would. Yeah, I would really, really, really enjoy it. Imagine it.
Nikolaj: You would upstage me completely. But who would I want to play me? Oh, I don’t know. Sorry. I think… not underrated, but the one actor I really, really admire… I love all the actors. (to Gwendoline, laying it on thick) And really admire you, of course.
Gwendoline: (not impressed) Mm.
Nikolaj: Jack, who plays Joffrey, is such a brilliant actor.
Gwendoline: He is.
Nikolaj: And what he does in the show is so difficult. Because he plays this horrible, horrible person. But still, you do see that he’s just a kid. And I think that’s amazing.
FaB: So Jack playing Jaime trapped in Joffrey’s body.
Nikolaj: No, no, wait, because he would [upstage me] too. Yeah, Jack. Because he’s so good. (to FaB) So what is this with the bottom? I’ve asked you before…
Nikolaj with a Bottom Support question! Love it! The other interviewers look slightly puzzled.
So of course I regale them with Winter’s cautionary tale of attempting to seek out hidden clues: “Always Support the Bottom. It’s a joke that sort of spawned out of our site. We’re SO excited for everything that happens with Game of Thrones. And the very first season they sent out these little scents in a treasure-chest type gift box. And for some reason, Phil, the guy who created Winter-is-coming.net, he was scouring through, thinking, ‘Maybe there’s a hidden compartment or something!’ And at the bottom he saw the words “Always Support the Bottom,” like transferred [onto something], like a watermark. And he thought, perhaps, hey! Here’s some sort of clue to something! So he sent the question out to the masses, and lo and behold: Most people replied, “I think most people just put that on the bottom of crates.”
Gwendoline: (laughing gleefully) Yes! That is amazing!
FaB: And so we’ve… made it our proud motto. Us basically taking things a little too far, a little too excited. It fits us to a tee.
Nikolaj: Yeah. That’s good.
Terri asks if there’s one part of the ASoIaF mythology that they’re obsessed with, or something they really want to know more about.
Gwendoline: To be really honest, I’m obsessed with my character. So that’s all I’ve ever concentrated on, really. I thoroughly enjoy the whole thing, but it’s just a basic actor’s obsessiveness. So… that’s the most boring answer. (pause) That I give as a gift. To you.
Paulette asks if she watches the whole show…
Gwendoline: No. Only my scenes. I don’t even really bother reading the script or anything. Just, yeah, my bits.
I cannot stress how, the more serious she sounds, the more she’s actually taking the piss (as the British say). This woman would be insanely great to party with.
Nikolaj: (impressed) Honesty.
Gwendoline: (accusatory) You’re the same! It was you that told me to do it!
FaB: Blame Nikolaj. They all blame the Kingslayer anyway. Why should anything else be different at this table?
Nikolaj: (sad face) I know.
Paulette asks if there is a theme for season three… “Things that fans can look forward to?”
Nikolaj: Yeah, there’s plenty fans can look forward to.
Paulette presses, “Things you can talk about.”
Nikolaj: Well now it gets tricky, doesn’t it?
(NOTE: Noah Taylor plays “Locke,” a Bolton bannerman that’s, essentially, replaced Vargo Hoat, adding a thread of continuity to House Bolton.)
Nikolaj: He’s so good.
Gwendoline: We loved him. I absolutely adored him. I met him earlier, years earlier through friends, and we’ve been photographed together, but hadn’t seen each other for all that time, and he was just the most gloriously savage, entertaining, extraordinary… And you can tell he’s dedicated to the work, but he’s having fun with it all the time! He was one of my favorites to work with this season.
Nikolaj: Oh, yeah. He’s amazing. He bruised my rib.
Paulette really wants a “theme” for the season, so she asks again…
Nikolaj: A theme, hm…
Gwendoline: I think season 2 was about war. And I think season 3 is about the aftermath of that. (she sighs) That’s so generalized though, I’m sorry. Everything becomes just… much more complex. I don’t know. I’m so boring.
Paulette tries to be helpful: “So war doesn’t solve anything, it just makes things more complicated?”
Gwendoline: (the closest approximation I can give here is that she gives a “Bronx cheer.”) Woo!Our party is tragically broken up as Nikolaj and Gwen are yanked away from us to go do interviews elsewhere. As they’re leaving, Terri asks Gwendoline if she knows what “shipping” is; Gwendoline says she does. Terri tells her Jaime and Brienne are her number 1 (OTP!), and really hopes they’ll get together.
Gwendoline: Do you think? I don’t know. I think he’d just like… keep his socks on and watch TV all the time. Hog the remote control…
And that’s that. I can only say their banter was extremely infectious, and they really got the interviews off to a rollicking start. I so completely enjoyed meeting Nikolaj in person and Gwendoline (anywhere) for the first time.
Three more to go! This is fun!