In an exclusive interview with CLEO, Emilia Clarke - breakout star of HBO’s Game of Thrones - talks to Kit Chua about laughs, love stories, and what really goes on inside the mind of Khaleesi.
It’s somehow not at all surprising that Emilia Clarke – the incumbent Sexiest Woman Alive and Woman of the Year of Esquire and GQ magazines, respectively – is really just a girl at heart.
Maybe it’s because, stripped of the blonde wig she wears to morph into her most famous character, Game of Throne’s unbreakable dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen, she isn’t your typical Hollywood glamazon. Instead, with her soft curves, hyper-expressive eyebrows and frequent, face-splitting smiles, it’s somehow easier to imagine the real-life Emilia Clarke doing
regular, everyday things like making tea or reading books.
But it’s probably ﬁtting that, in life, Emilia breaks the archetypal starlet mould. After all, in the oft-quoted words of her agent, she is “short, round and brown” – the perfect antithesis of the tall, willowy blonde the Game of Thrones producers were looking to cast as their Daenerys. Defying expectations, then, would seem to be Emilia Clarke’s MO.
That fact also offers an explanation as to why, as an actress, she is so adept at communicating a particular brand of inner strength – it’s quiet and unshowy, but as the fates of her on-screen foes prove, underestimate it at your peril.
However, as she herself tells me via a late-night conference call from London, strength to Emilia Clarke is not at all a question of being extraordinary:
“There are so many people I know whom… you just wanna shake them and say, ‘You’ve got it already!’” she exclaims, stumbling over her speech the way a person does when her feelings are perhaps a little bit too big for mere words. “Most people have the key to their own strength, and all it takes is the conﬁdence in being able to ﬁnd it. The idea that ‘I need to do so much in order to be strong’ is completely not true,” she asserts. “It’s about seeing that you already are.”
Emilia in character as Daenerys,
in Season 6 of Game of Thrones.
At the moment, we are talking about Lou, the character Emilia plays in her romantic-comedy debut with Sam Claﬂ in, Me Before You. But the observation could just as easily apply to her other roles; most pointedly, the one that she will probably always be remembered for – Daenerys of House Targaryen, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons.
Game of Thrones needs no introduction and, as always, details of the cultural phenomenon’s latest season are strictly off -limits. “I’m going to tell you what I can without getting shot by HBO,” Emilia laughingly offers. “Ultimately, as with every season, she’s being tested. And this season, she’s being tested to the point of discovering an entirely new way of behaving for her.”
A girl of innate nobility who starts as a powerless pawn then gradually establishes herself as a queen of Emilia in character as Daenerys, in Season 6 of Game of Thrones. increasing power, Daenerys is one of the few characters on Game of Thrones who manages to remain “good” in a fairly uncomplicated way.
But with the show hinting at a darker, more unforgiving side of Dany over the past season (in a particularly memorable scene, she punishes a group of fractious noblemen by feeding one of them to her dragons), I wonder if Emilia feels that the show will eventually push Dany to cross some kind of personal moral boundary.
"I think that she’s dancing that line all the time,” Emilia responds. “I think that she’s pushing what she believes to be revenge or justice on behalf of those who have suffered. And I think that’s up for debate – whether her actions cross the line into real cruelty, or whether she’s justiﬁed by simply trying to defend the underdogs. And it also asks a bigger question – the question for leaders everywhere – which is, how do you do right by all?”
By Emilia’s own reckoning, one possible solution is to answer the question of motive.
“There is a huge part of Daenerys that genuinely wants to help people. There’s one line that’s in the book that, I think, really is one of the driving forces behind all of her choices: ‘She knows how it feels to be bought and to be sold.’ [Because of that,] I think that, ultimately, her cause will always be to help, which should always keep her on the straight and narrow.”
But make no mistake, the Mother of Dragons isn’t just here to help; she’s on a quest for victory too. And if it were up to Emilia to write it, a happy ending for Dany would involve glory – lots of it.
“In the beginning, you’re always like, ‘Oh no, whoever deserves to win…’ But then you get closer to the end and you’re like, ‘No, I really her want to win now!’” she laughs, adding, “Aww, if she doesn’t sit on the throne, I think she should go out in a blaze of glory like set herself on ﬁre or, I don’t know, just ﬁnd a gorgeous Dothraki and have one last hurrah.”
“I genuinely haven’t thought that far,” she says, more soberly. “But I’ve always had at the back of my mind that the boys, David and Dan [Benioff and Weiss, the showrunners and key writers for Game of Thrones], will come up with the right ending for her.” She stops there, and muses, “But she’s got the dragons. And I do think that they mean that things need to be quite epic.”
Emilia’s next step, however, is far from epic, in that sense. In June, she co-stars with Sam Claﬂ in (AKA ubercharmer Finnick Odair of The Hunger Games) in the big screen adaptation of Jojo Moyes’ best-seller, Me Before You. Lou, a small-town girl who ﬁnds a job working as a caregiver to a disabled man (Claﬂ in), is a far cry from the mythic heroines Emilia has become known for attaching her name to – Daenerys, of course, and the Terminator franchise’s Sarah Connor, after that. But that doesn’t make her any less magical in Emilia’s eyes.
“It was so wonderful getting inside Lou’s head,” she sighs. “You need the Joan of Arcs and the Elizabeth the Firsts – archetypal leaders – but you also need to be able to tear it down to see that the real strength lies in the day-to-day. And [when it came to Lou,] that’s what I really loved tapping into, because it’s so much more relatable.”
As for falling in love with the admittedly dreamy Sam Claﬂ in on- screen? “Oh, it was so dreamy ﬁlming a proper romance because I love watching them,” gushes Emilia.
“Falling in love with Sam was so easy, because we’ve known each other forever,” she adds, laughing. “We met on a photo shoot and I’ve known him for almost seven years. Since then, it’s been one of those things where we got so close to doing movies together like four or ﬁve times. So by the time this came around, we had already developed a shorthand with each other.”
“The other thing that made it really easy is that we both cared so much about the project,” she continues. “The whole crew was in line with us as well, because of course it is sensitive subject material, so it made every part of ﬁlming easy and lovely. It was just so nice to wake up every day and be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to tell a beautiful story today.’”
And the beautiful stories won’t stop there. A self-described lover of “soppy” movies and ’90s rom-coms in particular (think Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan), Emilia’s also got her eyes on producing, and is currently working on a script with her best friend, Lola.
“I want to tell stories that aren’t being told,” she says. “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, Clueless – they were really important, tongue-in-cheek movies that informed quite a lot of our humour, and I feel like [those kinds of movies aren’t] really around at the moment. So the script that we’re writing now is a properly funny comedy about a couple of girls.”
Hmmm... a zany screwball comedy starring the Mother of Dragons herself? Just pass me my ticket, please.
Emilia playing Lou opposite
Sam Claflin in next
month’s Me Before You.
Ultimately, as with every season, [Daenerys] is being tested. And this season, she’s being tested to the point of discovering an entirely new way of behaving for her.”
The idea that ‘I need to do so much in order to be strong’ is completely not true. It’s about seeing that you already are.”