Khaleesi’s got nothing Emilia on
She plays the slave-freeing, kingdom-conquering feminist queen on Game of Thrones. But just wait ’til you meet Emilia Clarke in real life.
Over the past five seasons of Game of Thrones ( GOT) we’ve come to know Emilia Clarke by her ferocious drive, her flame-breathing dragon babies, and her many names: Daenerys Targaryen, Khaleesi of the Dothraki, Mother of Dragons. A portrait of woman power, Khaleesi pivots from maternal sweetness to enemy-obliterator in seconds, and the show is a cultural giant, with Emilia at its centre. Fans call her “Queen of Badassness”, which amuses Emilia because she feigns that badass aura for cameras. “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to be like, ‘I can handle anything,’” she says, “but the core of me is mush.”
That vulnerability has been with her since she was a girl in the English countryside. The daughter of a businessexec mom and sound-designer dad, she did theatre and never fitted in with the popular kids. She found her footing at the Drama Centre in London and did two jobs after graduating – a soap opera and a TV movie – before landing GOT.
Today, at 29, she also has the movie Me Before You (based on the bestselling, tear-jerking novel) to her name. Here she talks about her insecurities, and the highs and lows of playing the most powerful woman – no, human – on TV. GLAMOUR You went to acting school. Do you think great acting can be taught? Emilia They taught me to invest in myself, feel vulnerable and commit to a character. But it was an uphill struggle. You’ve said acting is a tough job. If I had kids and they asked, “Do you want (me) to be an actor?” I would say, “If there’s anything else you can imagine doing, do that,” because there’s so much heartache, failure and ugliness that doesn’t get on the front of the magazine. certain dudes where I’m like, “You’ve seen my tits.” Awkward! You’ve spent much of your 20s playing Khaleesi. Are there ways you’ve realised your own power while playing her? Within the space of time between them saying, “You’ve got the part of Khaleesi” and now, I lost my power. I found it, then lost it, then found it again. As a young adult, you spend your 20s figuring out who you are and what you want to do; it’s a scary time. There are days when I feel like the less version of myself. How do those days affect filming? Can you act supremely confident without being supremely confident yourself? For sure. I know I’m going to put the wig on and go out there and let her refill me. You mentioned nudity in GOT. Why, in a show full of women’s breasts, butts and the occasional vagina, did we never see your husband Khal Drogo’s penis? I did, but it was covered in a pink fluffy sock! Showing it would make people feel bad. It’s too fabulous. No, I don’t know why. But you do get to see Michiel Huisman’s (Khaleesi’s love interest in seasons four and five) perfect bottom. Another criticism concerns the show’s depictions of rape. After Khaleesi is raped by Khal Drogo, many people came away with the unsettling impression that almost immediately after, she falls in love with her rapist. Well, there’s Daenerys and Khal
“I’ve spent a lot of time trying to be like, ‘I can handle anything’, but the core of me is mush.”
Your character in Me Before You is very different from Khaleesi. Louisa is meek, and it takes time for her wit and drive to show. Did that part of her interest you? Oh yes, I was obsessed with My Fair Lady growing up. As an actress, you want to show a character’s growth. It’s fulfilling. And I’m very close to Louisa as a person. At school, I was uncertain and unsure. So there was sincerity there that I was desperate to play, because with Daenerys, I’ve spent my acting career putting armour on. Khaleesi’s got her dragons for power and strength. Who do you rely on most? My family. My drama school friends – some of them aren’t acting any more. The gorgeous thing about having friends who aren’t in the entertainment world is that they say things like, “You’re letting important moments pass you by. Don’t be cool about it.” Stop. Appreciate this. With a franchise as popular as Game of Thrones, it must be no surprise to you that there is plenty of fan fiction. If you were writing some yourself, what storyline would you like to see unfold? I want to see Daenerys and her three dragons share the throne, and eat goat that they’ve barbequed. And I’d bring back all the pretty boys, get them to take their trousers down, and be like, “I’m now the queen of everything! I’d like close-ups of all their penises, please.”
“As an actress, you want to be able to show a character’s growth.”