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Nikolaj Coster-Waldau Tries to Score on the Soccer Field

The soccer ball arced into the air and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau ran after it, loping down the artificial turf toward his team’s goal. He didn’t quite make it. His opponents scored.

“Thirty years ago, I would have had it,” he said, shaking off the goal as he jogged back toward midfield.

This was on a recent Tuesday afternoon, on a soccer field at Sara D. Roosevelt Park on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Mr. Coster-Waldau, an actor best known for “Game of Thrones” and an enthusiastic soccer player since childhood, had signed up for a nine-against-nine pickup game on an app called Just Play.

“I still play, I just don’t run as much anymore,” he said, as he watched the other players, 16 men and one woman — from Albania, Bosnia, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Mexico — change into cleats and game wear. “Reynaldo?” he said, clocking a teammate’s jersey. “That’s confident.”

Was he nervous? “I’m not,” Mr. Coster-Waldau said. Then he qualified his answer. “A little. They have proper boots.” He had not brought cleats, so he made do with sneakers, Adidas track pants, a sweatshirt, T-shirt printed with the logo for his production company, Ill Kippers.

The temperature was in the high 30s. Under gunmetal skies, it felt much colder. Though for Mr. Coster-Waldau, who spent much of last spring filming the Netflix movie “Against the Ice” in Greenland and Iceland, where temperatures dipped to 20 below, this registered as balmy. He took the sweatshirt off.

Mr. Coster-Waldau grew up in Tybjerg, a rural Danish town of about 40 citizens. After graduating from the National School of Performing Arts, he played the lead in a major Danish film, “Nightwatch,” and spent the next two decades volleying between large roles in Danish movies and small roles in Hollywood ones (“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 complicated 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 best-looking man in Westeros.” And Mr. Coster-Waldau — rangy, blond, with impeccable bone structure and a rugged broken nose — really was.

“I never thought I would be in a show with dragons,” he said. “Just goes to show you never know.”

Since the show ended, divisively, in 2019, Mr. Coster-Waldau has focused mainly on small but ambitious projects including “Against the Ice.” It is a biographical film based on a 1909 expedition by the Danish explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen, who had set out to confirm that Greenland was a single land mass. After separating from his crew, he found himself stranded in Greenland with one companion, Iver Iversen (Joe Cole). They stayed alive until their rescue three years later.

A chronicle of extraordinary heroism and a story of survival amid punishing conditions, “Against the Ice” is also in some ways a buddy comedy. Well, a buddy comedy in which polar bears attack and a lot of dogs die. “I can promise you that no animals have been hurt in the making,” Mr. Coster-Waldau said.

It is also a celebration of the forbidding natural beauty of Greenland, which he came to know through his wife, Nukaka Coster-Waldau, a former Miss Greenland. “The nature is breathtaking,” he said. “It’s so big it puts your own existence into perspective — in a healthy way.”

The shoot was often arduous. Some sites could only be reached by helicopter and snowmobile, with the actors riding along in fur and reindeer hide to keep warm. At one point, the crew had to be rescued from a glacier in a storm. Reviewing some footage, a Netflix executive wondered if the makeup department had added too much ice to Mr. Coster-Waldau’s beard. The ice and the beard were real.

By the time he was on the soccer field, Mr. Coster-Waldau had clearly defrosted. He and a few players warmed up, passing the ball — white, with flower detailing — back and forth with feet, knees, heads. A pigeon, guarding one of the goals, looked on. Then the organizer handed him a neon-yellow pinnie and the game began.

Though Mr. Coster-Waldau spent his school games as a midfielder, on this day, he mostly ran up and down the flank, his blond hair bouncing, occasionally signaling for the ball.

“Pressure, pressure, pressure,” he shouted.

Finally, he made a shot on goal. It missed, by a wide margin. The other team scored. He made another shot on goal, this one bounced off the post. The other team scored again.

Play paused briefly when a 19th player entered the field. He hadn’t signed up. For a moment, Mr. Coster-Waldau channeled Jaime Lannister. “What’s the punishment?” he said in a graveled baritone. The extra player was allowed to leave unharmed.

A few minutes later, Mr. Coster-Waldau perhaps channeling Jaime again, shouldered another player out of the way. “I’m too old,” he said. “I have to use force.”

He made one more shot on goal — wide again — and then somehow managed to kick the ball into the neighboring basketball court. He quickly retrieved it. His fellow players hadn’t seemed to recognize him, but when his team finally scored, a teammate pumped his fist in the air and shouted, “House of Lannister!”

Everyone cheered.

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