Game of Thrones: Emilia Clarke on her strength and vulnerability

Actress Emilia Clarke talks about her archetypal role in Game Of Thrones, how Daenerys Targaryen inspires her – and the life-threatening stroke that prompted the creation of her charity

by Psychologies

Emilia Clarke

6 minute read

Funny and fearless are two adjectives that would best be applied to Emilia Clarke. She recently broke her silence about suffering a potentially fatal brain haemorrhage eight years ago before having surgery that left her unable to remember her own name. She had another surgery in 2013 after a bleed on the brain and has made a full recovery. To support others, Clarke has launched the charity SameYou. ‘I am determined to help,’ she told The New Yorker.

There’s also a sense of sadness that comes with the fact that her journey of self-discovery playing one of Game Of Thrones’ most intriguing and beloved characters, Daenerys Targaryen, has come to a close. ‘I’m happy to be here to see the end of this story and the beginning of whatever comes next,’ she says.

Clarke is experiencing the inevitable emotional fallout accompanying the end of an era. She says filming the final six episodes made ‘everything feel more intense’ and ‘only now am I beginning to understand what this past decade has meant’.

She parachuted into the role having just graduated from Drama Centre London. Yet, within a year, she had emerged as one of Game Of Thrones leading players. She has been nominated for an Emmy three times and starred in Me Before You, with Sam Claflin and Jenna Coleman, Terminator Genisys and Solo: A Star Wars Story, alongside Alden Ehrenreich. But it’s Daenerys who has shaped her the most.

She feels profoundly empowered by her time on the show, and how she has evolved as a person. ‘It’s an iconic role that has been incredibly inspiring,’ says Clarke. ‘At first, Dany was facing a submissive life and it’s been so beautiful to watch her evolve into a fighter and symbol of female strength. She’s a leader and survivor. One of the most compelling aspects to her is that she combines the physical strength of a man with the sensitivity of a woman.’

The interview

Do you think Daenerys will always be a part of your identity? Yes, we’ve grown up together. We were two helpless girls at the beginning – and then she evolved into a warrior and I’ve evolved into an established actress. I did a lot of self-exploration through Daenerys. She was pushed to extreme limits as a woman and I’ve been through a similar process – facing up to my insecurities in order to overcome them. It’s been such an engrossing process. I would sometimes wake up at three in the morning and still be living the part. I don’t think I’ll ever completely cut myself off from her. Game Of Thrones has meant a lot to me and to stop doing it means no longer being around the people who have been part of it, and who have become like a family to me.

It’s like the feeling you get when you finish school. There’s a sadness to it but, at the same time, you’ve always known that it will one day come to an end, and you will have to move on to the next chapter of your life. I’m also enjoying being able to spend time with my friends in London, who I haven’t really been able to see that much over the last 10 years.

Has all the travelling and shooting in distant locations, on Game Of Thrones and Solo: A Star Wars Story, been difficult for you at times? Yes, definitely. There was a time when I was becoming homesick and crying a lot. It was a reaction to the sense of not having a steady life and not feeling attached to anything apart from work. But then you get over that and learn to appreciate all the good things about this kind of job, and how lucky you are to have these opportunities.

When I’ve been working on other projects, apart from Game Of Thrones, and I’m away for long periods, I try to bring family and friends with me. That makes it so much more fun. It creates a kind of expanded nest around me, in which I feel more grounded and supported. It helps a lot.

One time, when I was shooting in Egypt, I took my mum and my brother with me. They came for a short while initially and then they came back to visit me while I was working. It was a beautiful and comforting experience to have them there by my side.

How do you feel about playing a leading character in one of the most ambitious productions in TV history? Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to believe how lucky I’ve been. This series has given me the kind of role that every actress dreams of getting. I never imagined, while I was working at a call centre [Clarke’s job, in addition to waitressing and bartending, after graduating from drama school], that I would get a part on Game Of Thrones, much less get to play a lead. Even when I was told that I was going to play Daenerys, I had no idea it would turn out to be so important.

What did your parents say when you told them you wanted to be an actress? [Clarke’s father was a theatre sound engineer and her mother is a businesswoman.] My father was honest and direct. He said: ‘Ah yes. OK. You can do what you want. But you should be aware that very few actors are able to make a living from it. If you understand that and you are willing to stick to it, we support you.’

I always knew I would be able to succeed somehow. My parents knew I was serious about acting. When they found out I was going to be working on Game Of Thrones, they said: ‘Fantastic! She found a job!’ They had no idea what the job was or what the production was about. Hollywood was an alien world.

What’s the best thing about your success? Not having to work as a waitress and bartender, for a start! Working late nights was terrible because I like getting up early. But I was lucky because I had finished drama school for only a year when I got the role. I also hated working in that call centre and my first thought was how thrilled I was that I didn’t have to do that any more.

Are many of your fans young women who are inspired by your portrayal of Daenerys? Yes! And that’s a wonderful part of my job. I enjoy being able to reach people through my work and maybe help give them confidence and empower them to achieve their dreams. Self-confidence and self-belief are important issues for young women, and I am proud that I have had the chance to play a woman who has transformed herself from a girl with low self-esteem into a powerful and confi dent human being. I think Daenerys is a great example to young women.

In your opinion, what is the secret to being an accomplished and empowered woman? I think women need to embrace our strength, as well as our vulnerability and sensitivity.

How would you compare your personality with that of Daenerys? I try to embrace as much of Dany’s fearlessness and her sense of purpose as I can but, deep down, that’s not my true nature. I have an easy-going and vulnerable side and that will always be who I really am. But I’m much better at asserting myself these days. I feel that things are going so well for me, and I’m able to enjoy everything about my life now more than ever.

Words: Viva Press

Photograph: Koury Angelo/Contour by Getty Images

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