As the mighty mother of dragons, EMILIA CLARKE was catapulted from drama grad to Game of Thrones’ hottest hero overnight. Her next move – as Arnie’s sidekick in this year’s reboot of Terminator – is equally monumental. Not that she’s fazed…
OVER SMOOTHIES IN a West Hollywood hotel, Emilia Clarke is recounting the many times she’s been asked to take a photo of her co-star Kit Harrington with a Game of Thrones fan who has failed to recognise her. ‘I’ll be in the loo and hear these girls saying, “I don’t know who she is, but that’s Jon Snow,”’ she laughs. ‘You can’t go anywhere with Kit without him being mobbed.’
Daenerys Targaryen (Mother of Dragons or Khaleesi, as she is also known) in the smash-hit series, is delighted by how infrequently she is spotted in real life. And it’s all thanks to the transformation made by a long, platinum wig that’s so iconic, hairstylists in the fashion industry have dubbed the shade ‘Khaleesi blonde’. She says it is ‘kind of funny and awkward’ in her local newsagents in Hampstead, north London. ‘It’s like, oh, that’s my face on a magazine… OK, morning, could I just have the milk, please?’ she giggles. ‘Sometimes they will say, “Oh, hello, dragon lady.”’
For better or perhaps worse, Emilia is unlikely to remain unnoticed in public for much longer. Terminator Genisys (currently on-screen), is a prequel to the 90s action franchise, with Arnie himself back in the title role. Emilia plays Sarah Connor, the legendary character played
Game of Thrones launched, when few could but entirely new to the game, less than two years out of drama school, so I am intrigued to see how such a steep trajectory has affected her. She arrives like a tiny, brunette whirlwind, atop a pair of silver Prada wedges, and grips me in an enthusiastic hug, talking nineteen to the dozen. The only difference fantastic company.
‘You just can’t fuck it up,’ she says, alluding to the pressure that accompanies a role like Sarah Connor. ‘There are a million billion fan-boys who will pull my head off if I do.
Portraying two such fantastically strong women as Daenerys and Sarah is, sadly, highly unusual for an actor of her age and experience. ‘It’s funny to me to talk about strong, independent women because I have a really badass mom, so I’ve grown up thinking that women weren’t anything other than absolutely equal to men,’ she says. ‘And thanks to Game of Thrones, my career so far has been all about playing strong women. Drama school was really the only time when I ever felt like, “Erm, can I get a good part, please?”’
Terminator Genisys of New Orleans, where ‘English roses wilt in the heat,’ Emilia says. She did, however, enjoy the physical preparations for the role, lifting weights for hours every day, and not merely for aesthetic
reasons. ‘ Those fucking guns are super-heavy,’ she says. ‘I needed to keep up with and be better than the boys,’ she says. ‘I needed to know what to do to have Arnold go: [adopting the Arnie accent] “Very nice.” That was my goal.’ Such things, she says, don’t come naturally to her, even dragons. ‘I am incredibly unpractical; my bag is a bin,’ she says. ‘I’ll get lost going to the loo; I wear heels to Hampstead Heath park; mascara to the gym – I am that person. Becoming Sarah Connor, I wanted to use the right side of my brain and throw the satnav away. I was trying to get to the kind of grit that Sarah really has, and that I lack.’
No, ‘gritty’ isn’t a word you would use to describe Emilia. Bubbly and charming, she is also incredibly pretty, petite and slim in her blue Levi’s and yellow Balenciaga vest top. Her body has, of course, been much scrutinised as a result of her on-screen nudity early on in Game of Thrones. I googled myself,’ she says. ‘You just do, it’s instinct. But never again.’ It is the negative comments that stick. ‘It just takes that one person who says, “She’s a fat bitch,” and you’re like, “I’m a fat bitch!”’ she mock-wails.
That level of early exposure also led her to turn down the lead role of Anastasia Steele in this year’s adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. ‘I really wanted to work with director Sam Taylor-Johnson, because she’s fucking amazing,’ she says. ‘But there is a huge never doing nudity,” because I’ve already done it, but I thought I might get stuck in a pigeonhole that I would have struggled to get out of.’ It’s a serious point, but one that doesn’t stop us both collapsing into hysterics as she imagines herself ‘ naked, in a pigeonhole, with an S&M toy. Help!’
Her noble, restrained performance as Daenerys earned her an Emmy nomination in ‘That felt like it came out of nowhere,’ she says. She couldn’t give ‘two shits’ about winning actual awards, but says, refreshingly, ‘I secretly love all that red-carpet stuff. Loads of actors hate it, but I adore wearing pretty clothes and getting dressed up.’
Such a rapid rise to success made Emilia wonder whether she should decamp permanently to the US. ‘I was coming [to LA] so much and I thought perhaps that was what I needed to do for my career.’ Then, she considered a move to New York City. ‘I did Breakfast at Tiffany’s on Broadway and I just thought, OK, amazing, I’ll live in New York,’ she says.
Her Broadway debut as Holly Golightly in the 2013 stage adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella turned out to be one of Emilia’s only slight missteps, a fact she is impressively upfront about: ‘ Breakfast at Tiffany’s was not a mistake, at all,’ she makes clear. ‘But it wasn’t a roaring success, I’ll be honest about that. I struggled. It was you either sink or swim. I found it very tough.’ I ask who she turns to in challenging times like that. ‘My mom, my dad, my brother, and my brilliant, lovely friends, most of whom are not actors,’ she says.
probably always be in London, and what matters most to me in life is the happiness that comes from being around them.’ She is hardly short of offers: she recently made Voice from the Stone – a Hitchcockian thriller set in 50s Tuscany – and due to timing, had to turn down playing Edward Snowden’s girlfriend in Oliver Stone’s forthcoming
Emilia had what sounds like an idyllic childhood on the semi-rural borders of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, with her brother, who is 18 months older than her. Her mother is a businesswoman, her father a theatre sound engineer, and it was on a trip to see the musical Show Boat, aged three, that Emilia decided she wanted to act. winning a place to study at the Drama Centre in London. She had only starred in TV adverts and an episode of the daytime soap Doctors before she received the call, aged 22, to audition for what would be one of the biggest television phenomena of all time.
S be a cinematographer, which clearly delights her. ‘He came on set with me and was like, “This is what I want to do,”’ she says. Her parents have also spent time on the set of Game of Thrones. ‘It’s lovely when they come, even though my dad will often fall asleep when he’s watching the monitor, as if he’s watching telly at home.’
Still, being constantly on the move must get lonely: Game of Thrones requires half the year spent in Spain, Belfast and, in the past, Morocco, and Emilia has likened her itinerant existence to that of a crab, carrying its life on its back. ‘I kept thinking that for clarity of mind, I had to be in one place. life is going to work,’ she says. It also makes them absolutely impossible,’ she cries. She Seth MacFarlane, and is rumoured to have been involved with her Terminator Genisys co-star Jai Courtney, but wishes to ‘remain neutral’ on her current relationship status. ‘I’m soppy, and I do like to believe that when the right person comes along, it will work, because you will want to make it work,’ she says. ‘Everyone else seems to manage it.’
When we meet, she is deep into rehearsals for Me Before You a young woman who ends up caring for a man paralysed in to who I really am,’ she says. ‘I loved the book so much. I’ve never wanted a role more, ever.’ There’s another time in years. ‘Yes!’ she whoops, excitedly. I can.’ She’ll also have the chance to work on ‘a funny indie, in the same sort of bracket as
Little Miss Sunshine’ – with her best friend, who she says is ‘the funniest person alive’. She begins bundling her possessions back into her ‘bin’ of a bag, and readies herself to leave a few hours. ‘I think it’s every actor’s dream to create their own material,’ she says. ‘We started brainstorming ideas, and we thought, if this makes us laugh, it might make other people laugh, too.’ If there’s even a fraction it’s a dead cert.
TOP, MUGLER; TROUSERS, LANVIN; EARRING, UNCOMMON MATTERS; EAR CUFF, REPOSSI
COAT AND SKIRT, GIVENCHY; RINGS, MAYA MAGAL LONDON, JESSIE HARRIS
RIGHT Emilia as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones
BELOW On the red carpet