The soccer ball exploded in the air and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau ran after it, hurtling down the artificial turf towards his team’s goal. He didn’t quite succeed. His opponents scored.
“Thirty years ago I would have had it,” he said, shaking the goal as he moved back towards midfield.
It was a recent Tuesday afternoon, on a football field in Sara D. Roosevelt Park on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Mr Coster-Waldau, an actor best known for ‘Game of Thrones’ and an avid football player since childhood, had signed up for a nine-on-nine pickup game on an app called Just Play.
“I still play, I don’t run as much anymore,” he said looking at the other players, 16 men and one woman – from Albania, Bosnia, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, of Mexico – turning into cleats and playwear. “Reynaldo?” he said, pointing to a teammate’s shirt. “It’s confident.”
Was he nervous? “I’m not,” Mr. Coster-Waldau said. Then he qualified his answer. “A little. They have proper boots. He hadn’t brought cleats, so he made do with trainers, Adidas sweatpants, a sweatshirt, a tee. shirt printed with the logo of his production company, Ill Kippers.
The temperature was around 30 degrees. Under a bronze sky, it was much colder. Although for Mr Coster-Waldau, who spent much of last spring filming the Netflix film “Against the Ice” in Greenland and Iceland, where temperatures dipped to 20 below, it was recorded as balmy . He took off the sweatshirt.
Mr. Coster-Waldau grew up in Tybjerg, a rural Danish town of about 40 people. After graduating from the National School of Performing Arts, he played the lead role in a major Danish film, “Nightwatch”, and spent the next two decades alternating between big roles in Danish films and small roles in Hollywood films (“Black Hawk Down”, “Kingdom of Heaven”).
Then “Game of Thrones” came calling. Its creators needed to find an actor to play the role of Jaime Lannister, a bad-boy swordsman whose convoluted redemption arc, from violent abuser to tragic hero, spans all eight seasons.
As David Benioff, a co-creator, once told Details, “He’s supposed to be the most handsome man in Westeros.” And Mr. Coster-Waldau – lanky, fair-haired, with an impeccable bone structure and a broken, sturdy nose – really was.
“I never thought I would be in a show with dragons,” he said. “Just going to show that you never know.”
Since the divisive show ended in 2019, Coster-Waldau has mostly focused on small but ambitious projects, including “Against the Ice.” It is a biographical film based on a 1909 expedition by Danish explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen, who set out to confirm that Greenland was a unique land mass. After parting ways with his crew, he found himself stranded in Greenland with a companion, Iver Iversen (Joe Cole). They remained alive until their rescue three years later.
A chronicle of extraordinary heroism and a story of survival in dire conditions, “Against the Ice” is also in some ways a buddy comedy. Well, a buddy comedy where polar bears attack and lots of dogs die. “I can promise you that no animals were harmed during the manufacturing process,” Coster-Waldau said.
It’s also a celebration of Greenland’s natural beauty, which he got to know through his wife, Nukaka Coster-Waldau, a former Miss Greenland. “Nature is breathtaking,” he says. “It’s so big that it puts your own existence into perspective – in a healthy way.”
Filming was often arduous. Some sites could only be reached by helicopter and snowmobile, with actors riding in furs and reindeer skins to keep warm. At one point the crew had to be rescued from a glacier during a storm. While reviewing some footage, a Netflix executive wondered if the makeup department had added too much icing to Mr. Coster-Waldau’s beard. The ice cream and the beard were real.
By the time he was on the soccer field, Mr. Coster-Waldau had clearly thawed out. He and a few players warmed up, passing the ball – white, with floral details – back and forth with feet, knees, head. A pigeon, guarding one of the goals, watched. Then the organizer gave him a fluorescent yellow bib and the game began.
Although Mr. Coster-Waldau spent his school games as a midfielder, that day he mostly ran up and down the flank, his blond hair bouncing around, occasionally signaling the ball.
“Pressure, pressure, pressure,” he shouted.
Finally, he managed a shot on goal. He missed, by a wide margin. The other team scored. He took another shot on goal, this one bounced off the post. The other team scored again.
Play was briefly halted when a 19th player entered the pitch. He hadn’t registered. For a while, Mr. Coster-Waldau channeled Jaime Lannister. “What is the punishment? he says in a gritty baritone. The extra player was allowed to leave unscathed.
Minutes later, Mr. Coster-Waldau possibly channeling Jaime again, pushed another player aside. “I’m too old,” he said. “I have to use force.”
He took another shot on goal – wide again – then managed to send the ball into the nearby basketball court. He picked it up quickly. His teammates didn’t seem to recognize him, but when his team finally scored, one teammate raised his fist in the air and shouted, “House of Lannister!”