Millions of people know Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons in Game of Thrones. Her life story is the AMAZING TALE of how a role an outstanding TV project made a previously unknown debutante one of the most recognizable actresses of her generation
Emilia Clarke grew up in idyllic countryside in Berkshire, an hour’s drive from London. “Our garden had a stream with ducks. I was a real country girl,” recalls Emilia. Her parents sent her to a private school in Oxford, where she studied alongside kids from families richer than her own. “It was a fancy school”, she says.
“And we weren’t that fancy. People were good at games and wanted to be lawyers. I just wanted to be everyone’s friend. It was painful - I was on the outskirts, peeping in, going, ‘You guys look fun. Can I join in?’.”
Emilia’s father worked as a sound engineer. As a child, she often stood in the wings watching rehearsals. When she was 10, she told her parents she had decided to become an actress. She still remembers the advice her father gave her as she was starting out: “When I told my dad I wanted to be an actress, he replied there was only one line I needed to learn: ‘Do you want fries with that?’.” After school, Emilia applied for the three best British drama schools, including RADA, but all turned her down. She did not give up, though. She worked as a waitress, saved up money, and continued sending her CV to drama schools. One day she had a call from Drama Centre London: one of that year’s intake had broken her leg and there was a vacancy.
Her time at Drama Centre gave Emilia a great deal and, above all, self-discipline. “I knew my place. They never let me play principal characters or even ingenues. I played old women, hookers in rags. Our teacher taught us humility. If you’re already a star in school, life is bound to drop you back down to earth. But if you have nothing, you’ll sweat your guts out and you won’t mind beginning with something small.” After graduating from acting school Emilia gave herself one year to make it as an actress. She was ready to take on anything that was going: a bit part in a hospital soap opera on the BBC, a role in a stupid him about dinosaurs a la Jurassic Park. When the year was up, she was exactly where she had begun - an unknown ex drama student with a very brief CV. It was at this point that she received the life-changing call from her agent. An actress was needed for a costume drama based on George Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire for HBO - a tall strong blonde with a sporty look. Emilia is a curvy brunette of no great height, but she had no hesitation in saying “Yes”. She was in luck: Tamzin Merchant, who was originally supposed to play Daenerys, had left the project, so a new actress was needed urgently.
Daniel Weiss and David Benioff, the creators of Game of Thrones, later said they knew they had found the actress they were looking for when they saw Clarke’s audition for the role of Daenerys on their laptop screens. “When we went to meet the casting director and Emilia, we thought, ‘Lord, just so long as she doesn’t turn out to be a crazy bitch!’,” remembers Benioff. But Emilia knew very well what the role meant to her. “When I first got my hands on the script, I realized this was no fairy tale about a Disney princess. The script had my character suffering sexual violence: she was married against her will!
And there were nude scenes and one where Daenerys undergoes an initiation rite and eats a horse heart. When I read that, I told my dad: ‘Just don’t watch the first 5 episodes’.” At the premiere of the series in 2010 Emilia met one of the most influential men in Hollywood, the comic Seth MacFarlane, and they started dating. MacFarlane was much older than Clarke; to begin with, that appealed to Emilia. But after becoming officially engaged a few months later, the couple suddenly split up without explanation. It was only much later that Emilia admitted that Seth was incredibly jealous - and this had so affected her life and work that she had preferred to put an end to their relationship.
As her popularity grew, Emilia started to receive tempting offers from the world of the big screen. In a gap between filming Game of Thrones she played the legendary Sarah Connor in a reboot of Terminator. But the part proved physically draining,requiring Emilia to undergo six-hour training sessions and leaving her feeling like a squeezed-out lemon. “Sometimes I’ve asked myself,” she says, “what kind of career I want. I went back to Game of Thrones and it was like coming home. Just the smell of the hotel in Belfast made me feel safe,” she revealed. “I told myself, forget the big game plan; all I want is to do jobs that make me happy.”
In 2015 Esquire named Emilia the “sexiest woman in world”. When asked what she felt about this, Emilia joked, “My mum bribed them!” She has always had difficulty with women being treated as nothing more than sexual objects - and yet when she appeared naked in the role of Khaleesi, she seemed to be encouraging this stereotype. It was possibly this combination of opposites which nudged Emilia to declare herself a feminist. “It took me a long time to realize I was being treated differently just because I’m a woman. I wear mascara and I’m always a woman, but, you know what, none of that changes the fact that I have a fairly high IQ and I’m in no way inferior to my male colleagues.”
Everything comes to an end, and the eighth series of Game of Thrones will be the last. After spending seven months every year getting up at dawn to get into her hair and make up on time, Emilia will soon be free to try new roles. “Game of Thrones saved my ass in so many ways,” she says. “Soon the shooting will be over and there’s going to be a shake-up of my identity. Now every time I agree to do a new role, I’ll be thinking: maybe it’s a blank. But when I look back on my career, I want it to have been varied: I played one role for the prestige and another to pay the mortgage! There are so many talented people around me and I want to work with them. Maybe I'm naive, but I’m an optimist, and that’s my goal.” ♦