Game Of Thrones: On set with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Northern Ireland
Fantasy saga Game Of Thrones, filmed in Northern Ireland, returns for a third season today. We visit the set to talk exclusively to cast and crew of the hit series
On a wet, windy, mud-sodden hilltop overlooking Cairncastle near Larne, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is filming repeated takes of the same scene for series three of the cult fantasy drama Game Of Thrones.
The rain is lashing down and several crew members stand huddled under a large umbrella watching Coster-Waldau shoot the scene with fellow actor Anton Lesser.
A small group of mainly foreign journalists, unprepared for Northern Ireland's unpredictable elements and the rough terrain, wait patiently in the freezing cold for the director to shout "cut". Coster-Waldau is then motioned over to meet us for a quick chat, as we squeeze up together inside a tent.
The Danish actor plays the charming but ruthless Jaime Lannister in Game Of Thrones, a central character since series one. Jaime, 'the Kingslayer', spent most of series two as a chained prisoner of Robb Stark's.
In the scene he's just shot for the new season, Jaime is en route back to King's Landing, the capital city of the Seven Kingdoms. Spoiler alert – he has been maimed, which he acknowledges is not good news for a sword-wielding soldier.
Based on roughly the first half of the third novel in George RR Martin's A Song Of Ice And Fire series, A Storm Of Swords is a fan-favourite and allegedly the reason showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss wanted to do Game Of Thrones in the first place.
It's also the series Coster-Waldau has been waiting for.
The handsome Dane explains: "I came on hoping we would get to shoot season three. It's very clear Jaime lives in a world where everyone has a very negative opinion of him and they fear him.
"And none of it has anything to do with the way he sees himself. More of that is revealed in this season."
Playing such a complex character is a "privilege", he says. "Everyone has strong opinions about him. But he has a lot of depth to him.
"When I read the pilot script, I thought he was a great part. It's not about good or evil, or black and white.
"That's what makes him so interesting to play."
Despite his harsh working conditions, Coster-Waldau says he enjoys shooting outdoors.
"I actually really like it," he says. "It's really cold, that's not nice. But it makes the work easier. You just react to the elements and they help you."
And he says he has fallen for the charms of Northern Ireland.
"We've shot in so many beautiful places since we've been here and the people have a great sense of humour," he adds.
A Storm Of Swords continues the complicated romp of rival families vying for power in a fantasy kingdom where winter and summer last for years.
It flits between numerous narrators and across continents, with new characters, locations and plot twists making it one of the most challenging adaptations for television.
According to executive story editor Bryan Cogman, the third book in the series is the one cast and crew have been working towards.
"A Storm Of Swords is the largest book in the series, which presented us with an embarrassment of riches when it came to material," he explains.
"New worlds are brought in, new characters too. We had to split the book in two, but we are treating it as a whole."
Cogman describes season three as "more intimate" and says it builds on plotlines and character arcs going all the way back to the first episodes of the series.
"We peel back the layers of some of the characters," he says. "There are a lot of big sequences in this book but a lot of emotionally charged, game-changing character moments too. Jaime, for example, has an incredible season with lots of thrills, laughs and tears.
"That's the beauty of it. There are so many characters, you can never get bored."
Back in the relative warmth of the Paint Hall, where much of the award-winning HBO production is shot, journalists are shown around the 16,000sq ft building, which houses four cells and hosts sets like the Throne Room, the High Hall at the Eyrie and Sansa Stark's bedchamber.
As we take it in turns to perch on the throne, made from three large pieces of driftwood, construction manager Tom Martin tells us that Lord Of The Rings star Elijah Wood dropped by while on a visit to Northern Ireland last year. Frodo Baggins would have felt right at home on the medieval fantasy set, which, in some parts, resembles Middle Earth.
The week of the set visit all three production units – The Raven, The Dragon and The Wolf – are shooting. Game Of Thrones is the largest show on television, filming in five countries – Northern Ireland, Croatia, Morocco, Iceland and a few scenes in the US.
"It's monumental," says Martin. "The scale of the production is mind-boggling. No other TV show has so many moving pieces."
In the armoury room, weapons master Boyd Rankin is helping prepare a shipment of 400 spears and shields to send off to Croatia and Morocco.
"We work closely with the props and wardrobe departments," he says. "They influence the design of the weapons.
"We're trying to steer away from Conan The Barbarian territory. Because it is fantasy, that gives us an element of freedom with the design." Game Of Thrones features a strong local cast, including Michelle Fairley, Conleth Hill and new additions Richard Dormer and Ciaran Hinds.
But none is on set today. In the Fitzwilliam Hotel in Belfast city centre, however, we meet Dublin actor Liam Cunningham, who plays Davos Seaworth in the epic tale.
Liam says he is thrilled to be part of the show and enthuses about Belfast as one of the locations.
"It is probably the best television show that has ever been made," he says. "And to have the opportunity to work with these boys is just fantastic.
"It's the biggest cable show, not only on HBO, but it's the biggest thing in sight at the moment, and rightly so.
"It's quality stuff, and to have that filmed here in Belfast, I mean, it reflects incredibly well on the place that you have the quality of people here that can be associated with a production of this quality. Everyone's a winner, basically."
Cunningham concedes he didn't read the books beforehand.
"I read Lord Of The Rings once and it nearly killed me," he laughs. "So what I portray is what the scripts are giving. I mean, the character is one of the few in the show that actually has some redeeming qualities.
"He's loyal and he's pretty straightforward. He's a good man in a nest of vipers, and that's kind of what interested me."