There aren’t many people who can add ‘working with dragons’ to their CV, but Emilia Clarke, 27, is an exception. Next month, she’ll return to our screens, almost certainly winning hearts and conquering her next kingdom, as Game Of Thrones’ most powerful female character Daenerys Targaryen, mother of dragons.
Emilia’s role as a goddess-like figure has turned her into an international star, especially as she spends a lot of time naked on the show. Talking about getting her kit off on TV in front of millions, she laughs about auditioning for the role and being told there might be some nudity involved: “I was given scenes to read and was told there may be nudity – a smidgen, I think, was the word used,” Emilia says. “I read the final script and my jaw dropped to the floor.”
If you haven’t managed to catch the show (seriously, where have you been?!) you only have until 9 April to catch up, because series five is set to be epic and with even bigger dragons. Gulp. We sat down with the GoT star to discover a little bit more about those nude scenes and why we’re all obsessed with the show…
Hi, Emilia. Are people surprised when they see you and you’re not blonde?
[Laughs] They’re more surprised that I’m smaller than they expect [she’s 5ft 2in]. I love putting on the blonde wig, though. It changes my look and helps me throw myself into Dany’s world. I’d love to try going blonde in real life, and every so often I promise myself I’m going to do it but then I end up chickening out. I still have terrible memories of colouring my hair as a teenager and the results were disastrous.
Do women ever remark on your fabulous eyebrows?
My mum had rules when I was growing up: Don’t do drugs, don’t have sex and don’t touch your eyebrows. So I got bullied as a kid for having ridiculous ones. She said: “You’ll be thankful when you’re older,” and I am. My mum used to tell me to brush them with Vaseline when I went to bed at night. [Laughs]
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Why do you think we’re all so obsessed with Game Of Thrones?
The writers are able to create such an intense emotional journey for audiences. There’s such rampant love, jealousy and hatred.
Had you read the novels before you started work on the series?
No, but I’d heard of them. I’ve since devoured all five books and feel I have a deep understanding of the universe that George RR Martin [the author] has created. Getting to play Dany is an ultimate way of being able to recreate a character for whom you feel this intense bond and sense of responsibility.
How has your character changed?
It’s been an insane transformation. She was sexually exploited at a young age when she was very timid… And now she’s standing in front of 10,000 people with three dragons at her back. Dany has grown into a strong and empowered woman who has a very sharp sense of who she is now and what she sees as her mission. She’s almost evolved into a Joan Of Arc-style character.
Game Of Thrones was your first serious job as an actress. Was it scary when you joined the show?
It was a baptism of fire. I kind of had to learn very quickly what it was I needed to do. It was mind-bogglingly incredible! I was three years old when I said I wanted to be an actor so in that sense it’s something that I’ve always dreamed of doing and always, always, wanted to do. I was only a year out of drama school when I landed the part. I did an episode on Doctors and then did an advert, then eight months later I got Game Of Thrones, so it was incredibly bizarre. But at the same time, when you’re going through so much, learning so many new things and having new experiences every day, you rarely get a moment to stop and go: “Whoa, this is crazy!” You kind of just have to keep paddling and keep your head above water… It was a lot to take on at the beginning but I’ve grown into Daenerys and we’re both a bit bolder now! [Laughs] I’m ready to take on anything even without my dragons.
We’ve got to ask you about all those nude scenes…
I had to find a way to warn my parents in advance. So I told my mum and then she passed the message along to my dad when I wasn’t around. It turns out he wasn’t that concerned… But when Christmas came around, my uncle Ken looked me straight in the eye and said: “Emilia, you didn’t tell me you’d be naked for that long!”
Apart from Game Of Thrones, you took on Audrey Hepburn’s iconic role playing Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany’s on Broadway – what was that like?
It was then that I realised Game Of Thrones has truly caught the public imagination, when occasionally during curtain calls I would hear a few cries of “Daenerys!”. That meant a lot to me.
Has playing Daenerys given you a greater sense of self-boldness in your own life?
I’ve tried to imagine how she would handle certain situations and summon up her kind of intensity and fearlessness, but generally I fail to channel her when I need her the most. I’ve become a little more forceful on certain occasions, though. You wouldn’t want to cross me on a date!
Are you seeing anybody right now?
People keep asking who I’m dating at the moment and the answer is, wait for it… No one. And that’s OK. I’m figuring out a lot of stuff right now. I think as women it’s often our nature to nurture someone else, but sometimes it seems to be at the expense of ourselves.
And what do you think your life would be like now if you hadn’t got the part of Daenerys?
Maybe I’d still be working either in a bar somewhere in east London, or as a waitress and doing odd roles on TV. I don’t even want to contemplate the possibilities… I’ve been very lucky.
Catch Emilia in the new series of Game of Thrones which starts 9 April on Sky Atlantic HD
By Giselle Wainwright