BORN TO RULE
Emilia Clarke’s role as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones has taken her from relative obscurity as an actress to mega stardom. And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.
Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke’s meteoric rise
if you’re a Thronie (aka Game of Thrones fan), you’ll have watched the much-anticipated meeting in ‘The Queen’s Justice’ episode of season seven of the epic series, between Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, and Jon Snow. The way that Missandei, her interpreter, handmaiden and herald, introduced her is a loaded intro, designed to intimidate Jon, who’s king of The North. Game of Thrones (GoT) is all about the pursuit of power, but it’s no game. Despite being a fantasy series, the ruthlessness, viciousness and violence (and twisted sex scenes) put it squarely in the adults-only category. And yet it’s the most-watched show on television, by far. Sixteen million fans tuned in in July when season seven premiered, and the Twittersphere lit up with more than 2.4 million Game of Thrones-related tweets that night. The mantelpieces of the show’s stars and producers must be buckling under the weight of shiny statuettes – the series has won 38 Primetime Emmy Awards, more than any other scripted TV series. In its third season, the list of cast members ran to 257 – but they’ve been steadily decimated, as any Thronie would know. In the early seasons, a study comparing the number of deaths per episode in TV shows put the GoT body count at an average of 14. Even characters you’d think just had to survive are killed off with abandon. Although it can be wonderful to see someone truly repugnant (Joffrey, that’s you) get his just desserts, the show could also be billed as Ultimate Survivor.
Daenerys has made it this far – would they, could they kill her off now? With this series, the truth is you never know. But as a character, she’s really come into her own: a powerful, self-possessed leader and a strong woman who has inspired the title ‘Queen of Badassness’ and T-shirts bearing the directive ‘Obey Khaleesi’. And along with the rise to prominence of her character, Emilia has grown to be one of the most beloved and celebrated actresses of our time.
(One of the) highest-paid actors on TV (£2 million per episode), she has 10.4 million Instagram followers, is the face of Dolce & Gabbana fragrance The One, has been on the covers of top magazines and was voted Esquire’s Sexiest Woman Alive in 2015.
Emilia has gone stratospheric, but none of those accolades captures her friendly, girl-next-door attitude. Perhaps Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana said it best when they announced that she would represent them: ‘She’s radiant and lively. Her personality and natural beauty will capture the essence of this new campaign: joyful, spontaneous and full of life. She is The One!’
When Emilia Isabelle Euphemia Rose Clarke saw Show Boat as a child (her dad did the sound engineering for the musical), she knew she wanted to be an actress. He passed away last year after battling cancer, which hit Emilia hard. He didn’t really like her repeating the crack he’d made when she shared her ambitions with her parents, but here it is anyway: if she wanted to be an actress, he said, there was only one line she needed to learn: ‘Do you want fries with that?’
For a while, it seemed he was right. Emilia applied to the big three UK drama schools, and ‘a bajillion more’, but didn’t get in anywhere. She finally got into the Drama Centre London ‘by the skin of my teeth’, she says. ‘I got a call saying, “This girl broke her leg. The place is free if you want it.”’
But it wasn’t plain sailing. She was never the favourite, she says, but that turned out to her advantage, in her view. ‘If you’re a favourite at school, you’re f**ked for life. You come out and you’re like: “Hey, where’s my golden egg?” Whereas when you haven’t had that at all, you’re just like: “I’ll do anything. I’ll work harder than you could imagine.”’
Still, you can work hard and get nowhere, and Emilia got to the point where she was considering other career paths. But yet again, fate stepped in when British actress Tamzin Merchant was dropped from the role of Daenerys, and Emilia got the part.
Before GoT she’d performed in several plays, a couple of commercials for UK charity Samaritans and a single episode of UK soapie Doctors. ‘The producers on the show had seen me in England and brought me over.’ One audition and one ‘funky chicken’ dance later, the part was hers.
The funky chicken? Well, Emilia puts that down to a sugar rush. There was so much riding on the audition, ‘I needed to go in and be like, they weren’t crazy,’ she says. ‘Before I left for America, one of my mates was like: “Dude, it’s LA. You shouldn’t have sugar, and be really healthy and like glowing and stuff.”’ When she walked into the audition, she was given a fizzy drink, and she hadn’t had sugar in so long that it gave her a rush. She did her scenes, then asked if there was anything else she could do. As a joke, producer David Benioff said she could do a dance. ‘I took him so seriously. I just wanted it so bad. And it’s the only move I know, just the funky chicken.’ So she did it. And she got the role.
Emilia has an infectious love for life. After finishing the seventh season she made the most of her downtime, hanging with family and friends and her beloved Airedale, Roxy. Her Insta shots show her getting into the full English summer music festival scene: beaming from ear to ear at Adele at Wembley, Frank Ocean at Lovebox, Victoria Park, Glastonbury…
But she’s also deadly serious about issues close to her heart, and isn’t afraid to lend her voice to these causes (scrap the cap on nurses’ pay; use your vote). And she’s a feminist. ‘You’re aware of it, but one day you go, “Oh, my God, it’s everywhere!” You suddenly wake up to it and go, “Are you treating me differently because I’ve got a pair of tits?” It took me a long time to see that I’m treated differently. But I look around, and that’s my daily life.’
There’s no doubt Emilia wants to change the world and, in a piece she wrote for the Huffington Post, she suggests we start with kindness. ‘It’s a pretty un-cool word, isn’t it? But its results are cool. One act of kindness can take your day from bearable to enjoyable in a heartbeat. Because being kind is showing someone that they’re seen and heard, and that they do indeed matter. And that’s sexy.
‘For example, having the confidence to look someone in the eye and speak to them as an equal, regardless of their gender, race or sexuality – that’s kind. It’s a small gesture towards showing that person that they’re acknowledged. Imagine we all strive to be kinder to one another on a small, day-by-day, sincere level – wouldn’t that actually feel really incredible?’