If you aren't reading George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire epic fantasy novel series, then expect a bit of a learning curve when you settle in on April 17 for HBO's 10-hour adaptation of the first book, Game of Thrones .
Recognizing and distinguishing all the various leaders, factions, ruling houses, ancillary acquaintances and family trees practically begs for an old-school flowchart on parchment. However, we can attest that one thing to keep front and center is that the House of Lannister has issues. In particular, the adult twins Cersei Lannister (played by Lena Headey) and Jamie Lannister (played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) quickly prove themselves to be conniving, power-hungry and ruthless, as well as morally depraved, since they engage in the kind of sibling intimacy that makes everyone else go "Ewww."
All of those vices and more, including attempted murder of a child, make Jamie one of the more complicated and despotic characters that Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau says he has played in some time. Game of Thrones is actually the actor's third genre television series in four years (he starred in New Amsterdam and Virtuality), but the first all-out fantasy.
In an exclusive interview, the actor says genre dramas usually attract his interest because of their well-drawn characters. "Clearly I like stories with twists and turns, and when you liberate the story from contemporary realism you have a great many ways to surprise," he explains. "But at the end of the day, it is all about the character."
Coster-Waldau says Jamie in particular is a character that demands he put on the charm while masking a festering rage. "He knows what people say about him. How he is viewed," the actor says about his character's perspective on his devilish ways. "Deep down, it eats away at him. But he resents the fact that because he broke an oath and killed a dictator—killed the equivalent of Hitler—that he is frowned upon."
As the premiere date inches closer, Coster-Waldau is hoping Game of Thrones strikes a chord with audiences that love great drama in general. "I'm excited about the audience's reaction to the show as a whole," he enthuses, and then teases wickedly, "but I am really curious to see what the reaction to the end of episode nine will be."
Asked if he is a fan of Martin's fantasy fiction, Coster-Waldau admits he's only read through Game of Thrones. "When we get second season pickup I will read A Clash of Kings. Obviously, I know everything about Jaime Lannister, but I guess I am a little superstitious."
Game of Thrones premieres Sunday, April 17, on HBO.