Emilia Clarke: ‘Game’ over for the Dragon Queen
LONDON—You can’t blame Emilia Clarke for getting nostalgic when asked to talk about “Game of Thrones,” the wildly popular HBO series that has catapulted her into the big leagues.
“I remember feeling petrified on my very first day on the set,” she told us when we met her to talk about the final season of the show, her voice brimming with as much wistfulness as palpable affection. “I spent the first four or five seasons of ‘GoT’ being perpetually scared of what I was doing, whether I was going to deliver something that was expected of me or just mess it up. I was afraid someone was going to come and say, ‘We changed our mind. I would like you to leave now, as quickly as possible.’
“My last day in the show was just as emotionally confusing. But you can see how much it has changed me. It was two very different people from Day 1 to the very last day of ‘Game of Thrones.’
“It’s something I’m always going to get reminded by over how much of it has taken over my life—it’s been a decade, after all. Back then, I was just an innocent kid who had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know anything about the industry, about myself, and what the series was going to be.
“In those 10 years, the most defining parts of my life happened within the rungs of the show. My final day on the set was deeply emotional, with loads and loads of tears. Since it began, I had gone from being a kid to being a full-fledged grownup. And so, saying goodbye to it is like saying goodbye to that part of yourself—which is important, because it’s like leaving home or leaving school or something similarly significant. It’s been a good ride.”
Indeed, during our recent trip to London to chat with the cast of the world’s most popular show, we saw how 10 years and eight seasons’ worth of confidence-boosting experience of portraying Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, Mother of Dragons and Breaker of Chains, has taken over the 32-year-old actress’ bouts with self-doubt and indecisiveness, especially when she needed to assert herself.
When a male journalist started talking about nudity and whether or not she and Kit Harington had doubles in the scene that required some bum exposure in Season 7, Emilia, without sounding arrogant, didn’t mind showing displeasure over his line of questioning.
“This question of yours speaks more to the society we live in, pursuing this sort of question than discussing the storyline that required for it [the nudity] to happen,” she quipped. “When we, as actors, get asked about it, I think that is the thing that you miss out on. It doesn’t matter whether it was Kit’s ass, my ass, or another person’s ass that you see, because that isn’t what the show is about. It’s not what acting is about. It’s something that we have to do as actors. I’m sure we, in this room, have all been naked at some point today.”
The actress did acknowledge how important her love scenes with Kit Harington, who plays her lover Jon Snow, were.
“Yes, shooting that [intimate] part was weird, because Kit is one of my best mates,” she explained. “You put us together in a room, and we just giggle and giggle and giggle and giggle some more. It was nonstop giggling! We did that scene and discussed how we would go about it. It was very strange doing it with your friend (laughs), that’s for sure.
“But it was something that had to be done because it’s a defining moment for Dany and Jon’s relationship. It’s the most important relationship either of them had.”
Our Q&A with Emilia:
How do you deal with parting, with saying goodbye? It’s difficult. I mean I’ve got tattoos inked on me now—no, not really (laughs). At the premiere, we were all still feeling like, “This is going to be it.” Yesterday, we did some ADR (automatic dialogue replacement or looping, which requires rerecording of dialogue that cannot be salvaged from production tracks). Even then, it was very, very sad.
Just wrapped a job, and I was quite lucky because I only had a short amount of time to do mine, and I couldn’t [handle it] very well. It was terrible; it was hopeless.
What do you think about the ending of the show? Everyone who watches the show is going to be rooting for his or her own favorite people—everyone has a favorite, so everyone will like different parts of it. Regardless of how it ends, there will be fights over how it’s going down.
Now that the series is over, would you consider joining a long-running TV show, or would you like to continue your career in movies? It would be nice to do some smaller movies right now. From when I started doing this, the landscape of our industry has changed beyond all measure. I had no idea what it was like when I first started because I was naïve, and I didn’t know enough of what was going on.
Now, I can see it as it is. The advances in technology and social media mean that we can watch shows in a million different platforms, with viewers asking for less cinema and more TV or whatever form it takes. So, it would be completely naïve of me to say that I wouldn’t do TV, because there’s a lot of the incredible writing, incredible characters and incredible directors out there.
But I do, as many actors do, have a romanticism about cinema. I want to have a go at it and dip my toes into that.
Aren’t you afraid of always being seen as Daenerys? I don’t think I could always be seen as Daenerys. As a character, so many things that define her are quite restrictive in a funny way. There’s not a lot of looseness to her, just like this latest character I wrapped the other day and the other characters I have played in the past. They’ve all been incredibly different. Even as a person, I am incredibly different. I’m scared of getting defined in that way.
But, to always be known as her is a compliment.
What did you learn from her? Oh, so much! The funny thing about Daenerys is that, in big shows, the final figures you see on the screen are incredibly different from the ones being filmed in the green room. You learn to make things more believable and convincing. As Dany, speaking a fake language to 300 people in a room has definitely given me the “cojones,” which I didn’t have before as an actor.
What are your thoughts about the way sex scenes are filmed in “GoT,” as seen from a female perspective, particularly with regard to Dany? It’s a rarity to see something like this, where a man is viewed through a woman’s eyes. For me as my character, I can count in one hand how many times I’ve been naked in the show.
But the female gaze or perspective I’m more concerned about is the perspective of power, or how people see a woman in power and how that resonates with the people who are following her.
Again, it’s difficult. I mean I can talk about the importance of women in this show until we all go home. I acknowledge how relevant and vital that is. After all, it changed the landscape of the industry as we see it.
Part of the heartbeat of the show are these young girls in positions of power, like Sophie Turner (who plays Sansa Stark) and Maisie Williams (Arya). You’ve got all these girls who are dealing with it individually in a way that is interesting and dynamic. But more than those sex scenes, that’s what I’m concerned about.
How would you like Dany to be remembered? Oh, my goodness. Well, she’s given it her best shot (laughs). I don’t know, maybe as the one with the dragons? But I would also love for Dany to be remembered as the one who went from rags to riches, and what she as a human being was capable of achieving as a human being.
Do you think her journey was an uphill battle? Was playing her an uphill climb for you, as well? Yeah. Away from the noise of the women in the industry, the roles we’re capable of playing, as well as the roles that we will now be given, having a strong female protagonist is a hotter topic now than it ever was before.
For Daenerys, I hope that the thing that we will get to is the fact that she’s an interesting character regardless of what her gender is. She’s a person who’s been sold into slavery—and, now, she’s found her way to the top of the tree.
She’s become the most powerful character in the show. The things that she has come up against on her way to the top may have had to do with her being a woman, yes, but we also need to take her away from “just being that” to actually someone who’s “more than that.”
More than a sound bite of being a strong female protagonist, she’s a strong, dynamic and powerful leader. It’s very empowering.
Have you seen Daenerys’ double in Norway online? Wow! I didn’t know that. (Looks at an image) I think she’s much more beautiful than me. She has great hair! I don’t really go online to check out the things I do. I did it once, and it taught me never to do it again (laughs).
Why? Because not everyone is going to write nice things about you. Of course, that is life, and you aren’t always going to hear everything nice. If you go online, you read the nasty things being said about you, and that’s all you’ll remember. I did not read anything nice when I was a young girl who did brave things in the first season. So, I don’t read them anymore—and that makes me much happier (laughs).
Big celebrities, like Madonna, worship your character. She even wore costumes similar to yours. Do you find that weird or flattering? Both. It’s deeply flattering and incredibly weird. It’s something you cannot comprehend.
I never knew that story—never, never, never ever! I’m a very optimistic person, but I’m pessimistic when it comes to my work. It’s a very fickle industry. You can be up one day, then you’re down the next. So, I try not to define who I am where my success is at this point in time.
But are you not more optimistic now after “GoT”? Yes, definitely. But I also know it’ll keep changing.
What was your first thought when you read the script for the final season? Did you react like, “Oh, no!”? I was like, “Oooh!” I mean, since it’s the last one, you read it with a different mindset, more than you’d go reading a script of any other season.
For this last one, I walked around London aimlessly for three hours, trying to comprehend how it would play out.
Did you like how Dany’s story ended? Did it live up to your expectations? (Laughs) Every part of this last season is a surprise. The end. Say more, and I’m going to get in trouble. End of scene (laughs).
The season finale of “Game of Thrones” airs on HBO and HBO Go tomorrow at 9 a.m., with a same-day encore at 10 p.m.