Screen queen, war­rior woman, fem­i­nist icon...

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents - Words by Joseph Hooper Pho­to­graphs by Alexi Lubomirski Styling by David Van­de­wal

We get up close and per­sonal with Game Of Thrones star Emilia Clarke.

In Game of Thrones’ Daen­erys Tar­garyen, Emilia Clarke has cre­ated one of the strong­est, most en­dur­ing fe­male char­ac­ters in our pop-cul­ture con­scious­ness. So where does all that fire come from?

“I GET sleep­less nights over the last sea­son. THE HIGHER EV­ERY­ONE PLACES THE bigger the fall” MAN­TEL, THE

She wasn’t the first choice to play Daen­erys Tar­garyen. The part sup­pos­edly called for a tall, wil­lowy blonde. But when the pi­lot episode of Game Of Thrones ran into prob­lems, Emilia Clarke, a then22-year-old Lon­doner – pe­tite, curvy and blonde only by dint of that now-trade­mark plat­inum wig – dived head­long into her au­di­tion.

“We in­ten­tion­ally chose heav­ier scenes re­quir­ing a bold, Joan-of-arc faith in her­self that ex­tends be­yond the bounds of rea­son,” wrote the show’s co-cre­ators David Be­nioff and DB Weiss via tan­dem email from Los Angeles, where they were adding fi­nal touches to the sev­enth and penul­ti­mate GOT sea­son, now on our screens. “We watched her au­di­tion on a tiny video win­dow on a com­puter in David’s kitchen. Then we met her in Lon­don – this fun, friendly, easy­go­ing per­son who was about five-foot-noth­ing. And we were like,

‘You did that?! Do it again!’ So she did, and we knew she was the one.”

The cast­ing re­vealed its per­fec­tion from the first episode – the story of a young queen com­ing into her power, bound up with an erotic com­ing-of-age. We get a glimpse of Daen­erys’ fu­ture ca­pa­bil­i­ties when she’s lit­er­ally tossed into an ar­ranged­mar­riage bed with the mus­cle-bound 193cm-tall ruler of the semi-bar­bar­ian Dothraki clan. This frag­ile-look­ing, tiny woman, un­til then a vir­gin, soon has him in her sex­ual thrall, ready to seek world dom­i­na­tion at her bid­ding. Death soon re­moves Khal Drogo from the picture (a fate that seems to await most GOT char­ac­ters), but Clarke’s “Khaleesi” (the hon­orific given to her by the Dothraki peo­ple) has just be­gun her quest for the Iron Throne – the power centre of the show’s 67-episode, seven-king­dom epic. She’s a young woman on the make who wants to do the right thing, but when the ex­pe­di­ent thing is called for, as it of­ten is in the bloody alt-me­dieval world she in­hab­its, she’ll have you hanged from the near­est lamp post with­out los­ing too much sleep over it. And when con­ven­tional re­alpoli­tik fails her, she’ll play the dragon card (an­other hon­orific: “Mother of Dragons”, a non-metaphor­i­cal ti­tle) and ma­te­ri­alise from a wall of flames, naked and pu­ri­fied, as her peo­ple swoon in won­der and her cold-blooded off­spring swoop men­ac­ingly in the sky.

The HBO off­shoot of Ge­orge RR Martin’s dun­geons-and-dragons fan­tasy nov­els, once re­garded as the ex­clu­sive prov­ince of ado­les­cent boys, has emerged as a pil­lar of our Golden Age of Television along­side Mad Men, The So­pra­nos and Break­ing Bad, with mil­lions of peo­ple around the world tun­ing in for the sea­son six fi­nale alone. And Clarke has emerged, along with her friend and cast­mate Kit Har­ing­ton (aka Jon Snow), as the heart and soul of the show.

“I re­mem­ber vividly the first time I met Emilia, which was in the ho­tel bar in Belfast, be­fore sea­son one,” Har­ing­ton re­calls. “I was sort of bowled over by this ab­so­lutely stun­ning, pe­tite girl with this wicked sense of hu­mour. We be­came friends quite quickly.” Al­though a show­down be­tween their char­ac­ters is in­evitable (“It will be a huge plea­sure,” he says), in the first six sea­sons they never shared the screen; their time to­gether is time off in Lon­don, usu­ally in the com­pany of Har­ing­ton’s girl­friend Rose Les­lie (her GOT char­ac­ter, Ygritte, was killed off in sea­son four), who has be­come one of Clarke’s best friends. “It can get a lit­tle tricky in pubs,” says Har­ing­ton. “With two or three of us in the same show, you can at­tract more at­ten­tion than you like.”

No such prob­lem at New York’s Whitney Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art, Clarke’s meet­ing place of choice – it’s been on her to-do list. (A keen seer and doer, she checked off many of the city’s at­trac­tions dur­ing the four months she spent in New York in 2013 dur­ing her run as Holly Go­lightly in the Broad­way reimag­in­ing of Break­fast At Tif­fany’s.) “I’m lucky to be work­ing con­stantly, but the fo­cus can get so nar­row,” she says. “I kind of have to go to mu­se­ums and gal­leries and con­certs.”

At the Whitney, the ac­tress is in char­ac­ter as maybe her least pub­licly recog­nised guise: her­self. Her fel­low mu­seum-go­ers haven’t the slight­est that if they were to turn their at­ten­tions, and their iphones, in her di­rec­tion, they could cap­ture the woman re­spon­si­ble for one of the more iconic TV im­ages of our time: Daen­erys lead­ing her army of lib­er­ated slaves across the desert, a pop-cul­ture mash-up of the afore­men­tioned Joan, Lawrence of Ara­bia and Eva Perón. Which suits her just fine. “Once, I had some­one run down the street af­ter me and say, ‘My friend says you’re fa­mous; can I get


a picture?’ And I was like, ‘No, you id­iot!’” she says with a laugh. And then some minutes later, in a char­ac­ter­is­tic fit of peo­ple-pleas­ing re­morse: “I feel really bad about be­ing so dis­grun­tled about self­ies. I in­creas­ingly sound like an old lady.”

Clarke, 30, hardly looks the part of an old lady, nor does she par­tic­u­larly re­sem­ble Dany, as “Thronies” are wont to call her. An English tearose com­plex­ion, full lips and, yes, Dany’s prom­i­nent brows add up to a friendly beauty. To­day, her nat­u­rally brown hair is cut in a chic, shoul­der-length bob, and she wears a silky Valentino peas­ant skirt and suede Gucci jacket far re­moved from the low-cut, lin­gerie-in­flected gowns that make up Dany’s war­rior/dom­i­na­trix look.

Rel­a­tive anonymity suits her. Clarke, con­trary to her na­tive ex­u­ber­ance, has been charged with the keep­ing of cor­po­rate secrets. For one, she’s not al­lowed, con­trac­tu­ally, to di­vulge any Game Of

Thrones plot turns. Even more hush-hush are the de­tails of the lat­est and great­est coup in her emerg­ing film ca­reer: she’s re­cently started shoot­ing a new Star Wars spin-off, a pre­quel ac­count of Han Solo’s early years. Which is to say she now finds her­self swooped up in the only global en­ter­tain­ment jug­ger­naut ca­pa­ble of eclips­ing GOT. “This film dis­pels the very com­mon in­ter­pre­ta­tion that if you’re go­ing to do a big block­buster, you just need to stick some mus­cles and a pair of boobs in and that will be that,” she says. “Ev­ery­body in the cast [which in­cludes Woody Har­rel­son and Thandie New­ton] is, like, an ‘ac­torac­tor’, which is just won­der­ful.”

If Clarke’s me­ta­mor­pho­sis into Khaleesi wasn’t proof enough that she, too, be­longs squarely in the “ac­tor-ac­tor” realm, she seems de­ter­mined to use the launch­pad pro­vided by GOT to carve out a film ca­reer that ex­hibits a sort of ex­treme ver­sa­til­ity. Last year, she starred as Lou Clark, an adorable, chatty, un­apolo­get­i­cally dorky English coun­try girl – her fa­mous con­tours hid­den be­neath a rain­bow of mis­matched, lumpy jumpers – charged with the care of a hand­some quad­ri­plegic in the ro­man­tic sleeper hit Me Be­fore You. “The sec­ond she walked into the au­di­tion,” says di­rec­tor Thea Shar­rock, “I texted the pro­ducer: ‘We found her.’” Later this year, in a change of pace, she’ll play a trailer-park denizen, drug ad­dict and sex­ual op­por­tunist who leads an FBI agent astray in Above Sus­pi­cion, a gritty in­die based on a true story. The in­ter­view for that role, too, was an at-first-glance af­fair. “She came over to my place in Hol­ly­wood, and I opened the door, and there was the char­ac­ter from the movie,” says Aus­tralian di­rec­tor Phillip Noyce. “The ac­cent, the swag­ger, the need­i­ness, the con­fi­dence. We could have started shoot­ing that day.”

Al­most a year af­ter film­ing wrapped, Clarke can still slip into char­ac­ter when the mood strikes. “Ah, play this girl called Su­san Smith,” she says in an Ap­palachian hill coun­try ac­cent, the words pour­ing out like codeine cough syrup. “She was mar­ried to a drug dealer, then she meets this other guy. It doesn’t end pretty.” Still, in the cin­e­matic uni­verse, Clarke’s call­ing card re­mains, in a word, badassery. She was, af­ter all, Linda Hamil­ton’s suc­ces­sor in the Sarah Con­nor role, play­ing op­po­site Ah-nold in the 2015 Ter­mi­na­tor re­boot Ter­mi­na­tor Genisys. And even though we don’t know what char­ac­ter she’ll play in the Han Solo movie, it’s im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine that there won’t be a fris­son of recog­ni­tion, an echo of the young Car­rie Fisher from those first Star Wars: cute, feisty and con­sti­tu­tion­ally in­ca­pable of tak­ing any crap from men, whether they be foes or friends.

Fear­less is the ad­jec­tive that her friends and col­leagues in­vari­ably use to de­scribe her. But as fear­less as Clarke has been in seiz­ing the chances that come her way, she ad­mits that cer­tain as­pects of main­tain­ing her al­ter-ego mas­ter­work, Dany, send her nerves into overdrive. Take that yet-to-beshot fi­nal sea­son of Game Of Thrones: “Oh God, I get sleep­less nights over it. ‘Oh, you’re gonna mess it up. It’s the last sea­son, and it’s go­ing to go wrong.’ My mates are like, ‘It’s you – you [and Daen­erys] are one and the same now. You need to trust your in­stincts!’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’ve got to do more re­search!’ The higher ev­ery­one places the man­tel, the bigger the fall. That sounds aw­ful, but it’s true! I don’t want to dis­ap­point any­one, ba­si­cally.”

While it’s an ex­cel­lent thing that Won­der Woman’s Gal Gadot has fi­nally proven a woman su­per­hero can carry a block­buster, for the past six years, GOT has given Clarke the can­vas to sketch a richer

pal­ette of fe­male power. And you don’t have to take a re­fresher course in Carl Jung or Joseph Camp­bell to recog­nise the dif­fer­ent forms it takes: lover, war­rior, mother, at times some­thing close to mes­siah. Take the close of sea­son three, when Daen­erys is car­ried aloft by a mul­ti­tude of slaves she’s lib­er­ated; Clarke’s face, in ex­treme close-up, ec­static – a rock’n’roll god­dess at a me­dieval rave. But it’s the lover who’s cre­ated the con­tro­versy.

Game Of Thrones is a show that can creep up to the bor­der of soft porn – yes, all those harem scenes – and yet vir­tu­ally noth­ing on TV or in film has so many strong, in­deli­ble fe­male char­ac­ters: Lena Headey’s Cer­sei Lan­nis­ter, So­phie Turner’s Sansa Stark, Maisie Wil­liams’ Arya Stark and, of course, Clarke’s Daen­erys, whose con­trol of the bed­room is as firm as her do­min­ion over the king­doms she con­quers. GOT has gen­er­ated push­back for this have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too ap­proach to sex­ual de­sire be­tween the sexes – The New Yorker likened it to read­ing an anti-misog­yny tract in­serted into an is­sue of Pen­t­house – but Clarke is fully on board. She’s even game to glee­fully dis­sect one re­mark­able scene in the fourth sea­son, when her lieu­tenant Daario slips into her bed­cham­ber, and Daen­erys ba­si­cally com­mands him to dis­robe be­fore her.

“‘Take off your clothes,’” Clarke quotes. “It’s bril­liant. I ac­tu­ally went up to [Be­nioff and Weiss] and thanked them. I was like, ‘That’s a scene I’ve been wait­ing for!’ Be­cause I get a lot of crap for hav­ing done nude scenes and sex scenes. That, in it­self, is so anti-fem­i­nist. Women hat­ing on other women is just the prob­lem. That’s up­set­ting, so it’s kind of won­der­ful to have a scene where I was like, ‘There you go!’”

In the scene, her dis­robed cava­lier was played by Dutch ac­tor Michiel Huis­man. “He’s got a cute bod and def­i­nitely wasn’t a shy wall­flower about it! He didn’t wear a sock, which was a sur­prise. [Be­nioff and Weiss] were like, ‘You need to pull your­self to­gether. Daen­erys would not be crack­ing up like this.’ Not very queenly.” Har­ing­ton says, “Emilia is so sweet, so giv­ing, but she also has a filthy, filthy mind when she wants to.”

And Daen­erys is, to be sure, a woman war­rior – a leader pos­sessed of the no­tion, hereti­cal in the tooth-and-claw mi­lieu of GOT, that she can make the world a better place if she’s run­ning it. In one scene from a pre­vi­ous sea­son, she com­pares the joust­ing rul­ing fam­i­lies of the Seven King­doms that make up the GOT uni­verse to the spokes on a wheel. “I’m not go­ing to stop the wheel,” she tells her coun­sel­lor Tyrion Lan­nis­ter (Peter Din­klage). “I’m go­ing to break the wheel.” Her soft voice, in­formed by a cer­ti­tude that would sound mad if she didn’t make us be­lieve it, achieves a kind of Shake­spearean in­ten­sity. Yes, it’s Shake­speare with CGI dragons, but still, the Bard’s force is with her.

Clarke is the daugh­ter of two strivers who raised her and her brother in the bu­colic coun­try­side out­side the univer­sity town of Ox­ford. Her fa­ther, who died last year, had been a roadie who worked his way up to sound en­gi­neer for some of the big­gest, most over-the-top Lon­don mu­si­cals; her mother was a sec­re­tary who climbed the ranks to be­come a re­spected mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive. Clarke went to a prom­i­nent lo­cal board­ing school,

“I’M START­ING A PRO­DUC­TION I’ve got a fe­ro­cious COM­PANY... thirst FOR DO­ING STUFF”

St Ed­ward’s, mostly, she says, be­cause her brother did and she fan­cied some of his friends. (Score­card: one se­ri­ous high-school ro­mance.) But, ever the keen en­thu­si­ast, she says she’d never have been mis­taken for one of the cool kids. “My school was quite posh, and I never quite fit in that mould,” she says. “I was really arty, and no-one else was. They were all, like, lawyers who did ten­nis. I was crap at ten­nis, and I didn’t care about law.”

Af­ter board­ing school, she found her tribe in drama school – not the Royal Acad­emy of Dra­matic Art (she hadn’t been ac­cepted), but at the still­more-than-re­spectable Drama Centre Lon­don. That was her kind of fun. (“I like be­ing sur­rounded by peo­ple where you sud­denly go, ‘Oh, I’m not clever enough; I need to read more, watch more.’”) By grad­u­a­tion, she says, not one of her teach­ers con­sid­ered her the next break­out girl, so she de­cided to take a prac­ti­cal ap­proach: she’d give it a year and then as­sess her fu­ture. Af­ter some low­pro­file TV and movie work and a pay-the-rent stint as a tele­mar­keter (a quo­tid­ian hell be­yond the imag­i­na­tion of Ge­orge RR Martin), she’d al­ready passed her self-im­posed dead­line when she shot her­self out of the can­non at that GOT au­di­tion.

In some ways, Clarke and the char­ac­ter she cre­ated couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent, a tes­ta­ment to her dra­matic gifts. Dany, even in her most en­dear­ingly un­der­dog mo­ments, is rather grand, and Clarke comes across like your cheer­ful best mate from school. But in drive and am­bi­tion, they’re at least first cousins. If Clarke doesn’t aim to break the Hol­ly­wood wheel – one ac­tress up, an­other down – she at least wants to be able to walk away from it un­bro­ken, with op­tions in­tact: “If this in­dus­try tires of me – which I’m sure it will, be­cause it tires of ev­ery­body – I will al­ready have been do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent. I’ve got a fe­ro­cious thirst for do­ing other stuff.”

Re­mark­ably, af­ter as­cend­ing to Iron Throne sta­tus in this pro­fes­sion, Clarke says act­ing, for her, is the coolest day job imag­in­able. “My best friend Lola and I are writ­ing a script to­gether, and I’m start­ing a pro­duc­tion com­pany. I’m that girl. Be­cause I know that re­ly­ing on just be­ing an ac­tress is never go­ing to be ful­fill­ing enough for me. When I think about run­ning a com­pany, I have that kind of calm and cer­tainty that I go to when I play Daen­erys. But it’s not like I’m go­ing to be burn­ing down slave masters or any­thing.”

Clarke ex­plains: “My mum gave me most of that drive, if I’m really hon­est. She al­ways just said, ‘You know, you do this silly job, and well done,’ but she’s proud of me when I go, ‘I’m gonna run a pro­duc­tion com­pany.’ That’s when she says, ‘Oh yeah, that’s my girl!’ That’s some­thing she un­der­stands.”

To get to know Emilia Clarke, even a lit­tle, is to ap­pre­ci­ate that she’s got a mas­ter plan in her head – and not just about work, all-con­sum­ing as it cur­rently is. At some point, she says, ro­mance will come back into the picture. The gos­sip sites have had her linked with Har­ing­ton, “which lit­er­ally makes me want to cry, it’s so far from the truth,” she says. But she has been open about the long-dis­tance ro­mance she had with Fam­ily Guy cre­ator Seth Macfar­lane that ran its course about four years ago. “It’s funny,” she says. “I’ve dated other peo­ple, but he was the only one that the in­ter­net found out about. But I kind of set my­self with a lit­tle rule this year: NMA – no more ac­tors. And yet it’s al­most the only bloody choice; they’re prac­ti­cally the only peo­ple I know!”

But some­how a so­lu­tion will be found. “Yes, I want ba­bies,” she says. “I don’t know about mar­riage. That’s prob­a­bly quite a painfully mil­len­nial thing to say. But I do want to find a hu­man that you’d want to cre­ate a fam­ily with.” In Eng­land, in the coun­try, not dis­sim­i­lar to the Ox­ford­shire coun­try­side where she grew up.

“I grew up with ducks in the gar­den and a stream,” she says. “We used to go mush­room pick­ing in the fields. My first plays were done inside trees. And if I man­age to push out a few sproglets, I would like them to have that ex­pe­ri­ence as well.” Way back in the sec­ond sea­son of Game Of

Thrones, in the city-state of Qarth, a young would-be queen makes her pitch to a highly scep­ti­cal spice mer­chant to bor­row his ships so she can get on with her mis­sion of con­quer­ing the Seven King­doms and as­cend­ing to the Iron Throne. Emilia Clarke could just as well be speak­ing for her­self when she speaks as Daen­erys: “Do you un­der­stand? I am no or­di­nary woman. My dreams come true.”

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