The crime thriller The Silencing follows reformed hunter Rayburn Swanson (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a man whose grief over his missing daughter has caused him to slip into a downward spiral of alcoholism and self-destruction. When the body of a teenage girl is found in the wilderness and Sheriff Alice Gustafson (Annabelle Wallis) is called in to investigate, the two of them find themselves caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse while tracking a dangerous killer.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau talked about playing such a haunted character, the challenges in playing Rayburn Swanson, bonding with his canine co-star, and what he did during a break from filming. He also talked about the legacy of Game of Thrones and how the show’s popularity affected the shoot, and what led him to start his own production company.
*Be aware that spoilers for the film are discussed*
Collider: There are a lot of layers to what’s going on in this story. There’s the debate over hunting, the family drama aspect, and the crime thriller aspect of it. When you read this, what was it about the story that most struck you?
NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU: For me, it was, in many ways, a familiar story. It’s a story about a guy who’s haunted by his past and needs to find some kind of closure. There’s a killer, so you have that aspect you. And then, it had some twists that I thought were interesting, especially with the hero character and Annabelle [Wallis’] character, and that relationship, that surprised me in a way that I thought, “Well, this is a twist that I didn’t see coming.” There were quite a few little things where you had the thriller and those elements, but then it also had things that were unusual.
When it came to the character itself, what were you most excited about with what you’d get to do with him, and was there anything that made you nervous?
COSTER-WALDAU: This is a great story about a guy who’s decided and insisted on learning from his past mistakes. He was a hunter, but he was also using horrible traps, and he’s changed his ways. But then, at the end, he goes back to his old ways, in the way that he deals with the opponent. That was challenging, in a good way. You’re supposed to feel like he got what he deserved, but the way that Ray gets closure is by returning to what he was, which is not necessarily a good thing for him. At the very end, in the last shot, you see him standing by the lake with a bottle of whiskey. And then, the question is, is he gonna pour it in? Is he gonna have another drink? Is he done with that? Has he moved on? And I like the fact that we don’t answer that question. The fact is that he lost his daughter. She’s never coming back, so how do you ever get over that? I don’t know.
This guy’s life is very solitary. He doesn’t really interact with anyone, unless he absolutely has to. So, what was it like to do a good portion of this alone, inside of this home with a dog? Did you get to bond with the dog, at all?
COSTER-WALDAU: I did get to bond with the dog, yeah. It was a very nice dog. You’re alone, but you’re alone with a big film crew, and we had a fantastic crew. So, I had a great time, with great people. We shot in Sudbury, in northern Ontario in Canada, and as you can see in the movie, it’s a beautiful area. I did enjoy it.
This seems like the type of project and character that could be very draining. Was this the kind of shoot that you really needed to pace yourself to get through, or was he not as intense to play, as it seems like he would be?
COSTER-WALDAU: Because of the nature of the story, it wasn’t full on. There are these two main stories – you follow her and you follow him – so there were little breaks. I got to become a member of Sudbury Climbing, so I learned that. I had a couple of days to do something completely different, which was great. He is an intense guy. There’s no question about it. He’s haunted and, until half-way through the movie, he’s self-medicating all the time, so that gives you a different headspace. With anything, you have to stay focused, so that you don’t overdo it. He drinks a lot. If I drank that much, I’d be falling over. He’s an accomplished drinker. He knows what he’s doing.
Now that it’s all over and you’ve had a bit of time away from Game of Thrones, how do you feel about the legacy of the series, in the larger TV landscape?
COSTER-WALDAU: I don’t know. I think we’ll probably have to wait another few years before we have that discussion. It’s been a year now, since we had the final episode. I had such a great time on that show. It was quite amazing that you go back to something for so long, and I was never bored or like, “Oh, now I’ve gotta go back to this?” Because of the nature of the story, the story changed. My character was such a great character, and he was always on a new journey, so I’m gonna miss that. I miss it. I miss my friends and I miss the crew. But at the same time, it’s also a relief that it’s over because it was time to move on. You don’t wanna overstay your welcome.
Did the attention that the show got ever affect the way it felt, when you were shooting the series, or did you always feel like you were shooting the same show, no matter what was going on in the outside world around it?
COSTER-WALDAU: Obviously, it did change. It changed in the last few seasons. Not so much in Belfast, although the last season was quite intense in Belfast, as well. But when we were shooting in other countries, we were in that space. We were in a cocoon, if you will, because there was just too much attention from the outside.
You also started a production company. What was it that made you want to start a production company, why was now the right time to do that, and what are you hoping to do with it?
COSTER-WALDAU: My oldest and best friend and I talked about this, over the years. We write together, and he’s a brilliant writer. And then, my publicist decided that he did not wanna be a publicist anymore, and he’s brilliant. He quit the business and I said, “Well, what are you gonna do?” And he said, “I’m gonna read a lot of books. I wanna do something in that world.” He’s great, and I believe that, if you’re really, really talented at something, then you’re probably also gonna be good at something else. So, it was basically because Jeffrey Chassen decided to stop being a publicist. That’s what started this whole ball rolling. I thought, he could run the company, with me and Joe [Derrick]. And he said no, at first. And then, a couple of weeks later, he came back with a proposal, which was really well thought out and really impressive. I showed it to Joe, and we were like, “Okay, I guess this is it. We’re starting a company.” Since then, we’ve just been trying to get our hands on great stories, as much as we can. Knock on wood, I’m very pleased with what we’ve achieved so far. So now, we just need this coronavirus to get out of town.
Has that enabled you to keep working, while you’re at home? Are you continuing to work on developing stuff, while you’re waiting for things to go into production?
COSTER-WALDAU: Yeah. We’ve tried to stay busy, and we have been busy. Fingers crossed and coronavirus willing, we started pre-production today, on our first script. Hopefully, we’ll be shooting in two months time. Coronavirus is starting to rear its head again, but fingers crossed that we’ll be in production.
What is that project?
COSTER-WALDAU: It’s a script that we wrote, but the studio hasn’t announced it yet. Hopefully, they’ll announce it soon. I think that everyone’s waiting for the first day of shooting, so that they can go, “Oh, my god, it’s actually happening.” But it’s very exciting for us.
The Silencing is available on DirecTV, on-demand and digital.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.