For seven seasons, Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has wowed the fans of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” as fierce warrior and gregarious lover, Jaime Lannister.
In “Shot Caller” — now in select theaters and on demand — he plays Jacob Harlon, a California stockbroker who ends up in jail on a DUI. In order to survive, he joins a white supremacist gang and rises through the ranks as “Money,” someone who will do anything to survive the prison system.
It’s the fourth film from Ric Roman Waugh, who previously directed the Dwayne Johnson action movie, “Snitch.” “We’d met a couple years before just to have a chat, and I really liked his passion,” says Coster-Waldau about taking on the transformative role. “I was blown away by the script, but I had to confirm that it was the role of Jacob ‘Money’ he was thinking I could do. It’s one of those parts you go, ‘That’s a lot to dig my teeth into.’ ”
“It was very important for us that he’s clearly not joining an ideology, he’s trying to survive,” he adds about developing the character. “The tattoos on his body are all telling a story. He’s basically covering up his body in tats. He’s putting on this armor. His face, his hair — it’s putting on this mask of ‘I have no fear,’ even though he has nothing but fear.”
Part of the actor’s research included meeting an actual “shot caller” who, like Jacob, went to jail on a nonviolent crime but had to learn how to fight back. “He [told me], ‘You have to understand that everyone’s terrified all the time. Everyone is hiding that they’re afraid, but the fear is there. It’s a shark tank and you just try to look as mean as you can, so no one will mess with you. When I had to stab this guy, I was even more afraid, because I felt like if it doesn’t work out, he’s gonna kill me.’”
Coster-Waldau is no stranger to fighting on huge battlegrounds in “Game of Thrones,” but one of “Shot Caller’s” set pieces involves a full-scale prison riot with hundreds of extras. “It was crazy,” he told us. “We had so many extras, and some of them had definitely been inside. A lot of them were ex-gang members, but everyone was so respectful. ”
“The thing about being afraid is that they’re always afraid,” the actor reiterates about portraying fear, something he rarely does on his TV show. “In ‘Game of Thrones’, Jaime Lannister, he’s on the battlefield, and he’s also afraid, but you have to get through it and you have to cover it up. I don’t think of one when I’m playing the other — it’s just very different.”
“I really think Jaime is a great character, and it’s been so much fun to play him,” he says about heading into the final season of the HBO show next year. “He has evolved over the years, and this season surprised me a lot when I read it.”