As Daenerys Targaryen (aka Khaleesi, aka the mother of dragons and many more titles), Emilia Clarke has become one of the most identifiable faces of Game of Thrones, the fantasy phenomenon that has surpassed cult viewing to become one of the most popular shows of the past five years.
Despite the fact that the show has made her life “unrecognisable compared to what it was”, the London-born and Berkshire-raised English actress is refreshingly down to earth, and extremely honest about her rise to fame, and what life is like in the public eye.
The 29-year-old is outspoken and honest when it comes to gender equality and her character’s role in the promotion of a powerful woman on screen, and she is certainly not afraid to speak out about wanting to be known for more than just her on-screen nude scenes…
A game-changing role
Theatre and drama is something that she grew up around, thanks to her theatre sound-engineer father. But for Emilia, there was no industry insight or advantage when it came to making her own way as an actress; in fact she’s even joked, “I told my parents I wanted to be an actor, and they were getting ready for a life of unemployment, so they’re just happy I’m in work!”
“Your father was in the business?” she was asked by Esquire, a point that she very quickly clarifies, providing an insight into her grounding family. “He was crew, not cast,” she told the magazine. “There’s a big divide… He wanted me to be very realistic about the whole thing, about how nobody makes any money. The only line you’ll ever need to learn, he told me, is, ‘Do you want fries with that?’”
Before Game of Thrones came along in 2010, the actress had featured in just two television shows, British medical soap, Doctors, and a TV film, Triassic Attack. “My agent calls me up and says, ‘Did you ever go up for Game of Thrones?’” she has revealed of her introduction to the show and her life-changing role. “My agent told the casting director, ‘I know that the breakdown for this character is tall and willowy and blonde. I know she’s short and round and brown, but I’d like you to see her.’”
“I had two scenes [to read] which told me nothing and not very much time in which to read all those [George R R Martin] books,” she very honestly added of her preparation for the audition.
“So I did what every good actor does and Wikipedia’d the living **** out of it.”
An unstoppable career
There is no doubt that Emilia’s life has changed since Game of Thrones came along, she – or at least her character – is a household name around the world, and she has now got her pick of the roles, when it comes to her next step.
“My life is unrecognisable compared to what it was – Game of Thrones has opened doors that were never there before,” she has said of life since she was cast in the show. “But it can be dangerous to see it in those terms, I think. It’s best to take it as it comes and work as hard as you can, and hopefully the other things fall into place.”
Last year she played Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, a role she described as an “iconic character and there really was this mantle to uphold”, having originally been played by Linda Hamilton. While she’s recently wrapped Me Before You, a screen adaption of JoJo Moyes’ novel of the same name, she isn’t afraid to turn down a role, most notably, Fifty Shades of Grey, which she opted out of, leaving Dakota Johnson to play the role of Anastasia Steele. “I really wanted to work with [director] Sam Taylor-Johnson because she’s [really] amazing,” Emilia said of the role, “But there is a huge amount of nudity in the film. I’ll never say, ‘I’m 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.”
When it comes to the future, she seems unfazed about her next roles, and is very frank about the idea that Game of Thrones won’t – and shouldn’t – go on forever.
“I’m all about leaving the party when it’s still kicking,” she said, after it was announced by HBO that the show would ‘likely end after eight seasons’. “So I think that maybe [season] seven will get split into two, or maybe it will just be straight to eight.”
And how does she want it to end? “What I would hope for Dany is that she wins the whole damn thing – that’s what I think is going to happen!”
An unwavering belief in gender equality
Objectification, sexualisation and the role of women in Game of Thrones is a much discussed topic, and it’s certainly not one that Emilia shies away from.
In line with her choice not to star in Fifty Shades of Grey, last year, the London-born actress is thought to have put a stop to her nude scenes as the Khaleesi, saying, “I want to be known for my acting, not for my breasts.”
“One of the many things I love about Daenerys from Game of Thrones is she’s given me an opportunity to fly the flag for young girls and women, to be more than just somebody’s wife and somebody’s girlfriend,” Emilia said of her character’s strength, proving that she is more than justa nude scene in the show, during a chat with the LA Times.
And she recently attended The Wrap’s annual Power Women Breakfast in Los Angeles, where she was keynote speaker due to her “unwavering beliefs in gender equality – both on and off screen.”
“I think we should just see more equality across the board really, and see more inclusiveness between men and women,” she said to Sharon Waxman, The Wrap’s CEO and editor-in-chief in an on-stage Q&A. “Hopefully we can educate a new generation of guys that are coming up that there is no difference.”
And when quizzed about her on-screen power, she added, “I think I was lucky because in season one, there was such a lovely arc. You saw her as this naïve young girl, and then I was able to find her strength, so there was that development. It wasn’t as though I was just thrown in and expected to be this strong warrior. And then, with each season, it’s just kind of grown and it’s kind of wonderful.”
A frank view of love and life
When it comes to Emilia, you won’t find endless headlines about her love life, although she has been linked to her Game of Thrones co-stars Kit Harington (Jon Snow) – who she was said to be ‘enamoured by’ – and Richard Madden (Robb Stark), and has also had a high-profile relationship with Family Guy creator, Seth MacFarlane. The pair dated from 2012 until 2013, and a source said at the time of their spilt, “They are no longer dating. It was really a location challenge. She has been in Europe shooting Game of Thrones and he is based in California, so it was hard to make it work despite [sic] the distance. They have remained friends.”
And the difficulty of maintaining a relationship, while working on multiple films and an Emmy Award-winning show, is something she has spoken frankly about.
“I kept thinking that for clarity of mind, I had to be in one place. And then I just realised that’s not how this life is going to work. It makes [romantic relationships] absolutely impossible,” she told Marie Claire. “I’m soppy and I do like to believe that when the right person comes along, it will work, because you want to make it work. Everyone else seems to manage it.”
Red carpet style
Emilia is a darling of designers, and these gowns by Donna Karan (worn on the red carpet in 2013 and 2014) and a geometric design by Rosie Assoulin (2015) show her love for black and white hasn’t wavered over the years.
Career highs and lows
Smash hit Game of Thrones couldn’t ensure only plumb roles for the star, as Terminator Genisys was panned by critics.
Despite a rumoured romance with Kit Harington and a high-profile romance with Seth MacFarlane, which ended due to work commitments, Emilia has yet to find the perfect partner. But she remains a romantic at heart and says that if the right person comes along, ‘it will work because we’ll make it work’.