Game Of Thrones has been without doubt a massive success for HBO, with the fantasy series not just becoming utterly mesmerising viewing, but also somewhat of a cultural phenomenon.
Despite being a massive part of the show, Emila Clarke's just as much in the dark and excited about what's going to happen as the rest of us.
With the show's second season about to hit DVD and Blu-ray the 'Mother Of Dragons' talked about having to film away from the rest of the gang, why she loves Daenerys and begging George R. R. Martin for answers.
Season two is safely in the bag. What was it like?
Oh my God, it was brilliant, really good. And any second album fears were quickly dispelled when I watched the first two episodes of season two – it’s wicked. It’s going to be really good.
Tell us where we find Daenerys in season two and some of the challenges that she faces…
When we left her in season one she had gone through what I can only describe as a spiritual change and season one had that epic finale and when you see her in season two it’s such a practical smack back down to earth.
You would think that having three dragons would make everything possible where in fact it doesn’t and you actually see her dealing with the hardships and the practicalities of having them and the fact is, she is completely alone. She is a widow and she has lost the child she was carrying.
So when you see her she is in a much more dismal place than you would have hoped for her. And throughout season two you see her being tested again. So it’s not like she has suddenly become this fierce, all knowing warrior Queen that she will end up being, she is still finding her strength and on a long journey.
Do the dragons represent that discovery of her strength? As they grow she will get stronger?
Yes, that’s exactly it. But in Season Two her dragons are still young and vulnerable and even though they represent power – or they will when they are grown – she has to protect them and keep them safe. And like her dragons, she is vulnerable.
The landscape for Daenerys’ journey is obviously a lot different from the other strands of the story. Where do you film?
In Dubrovnik in Croatia, which is different from season one, where we filmed in Malta. Croatia has been glorious - it’s so beautiful and I want to go back as often as I can. I loved it.
So do you see any of the other actors who play the main characters?
Hardly ever! Iain (Glen) and I have our own little gig going on. I feel like the weird one in the group who is left out a little bit – I feel terribly sorry for myself (laughs). Actually, it’s odd because after we watched episodes one and two (of Season Two) I was introducing myself to people that I’m in a show with! It’s mad.
But at the same time it makes watching the show even more enjoyable because I haven’t been around when all those other parts of the story has been filmed. Even though you’ve read the script it’s wonderful to see how it’s been brought to life.
How long were you filming for?
I was there for about two months. In Season Two the show filmed in Belfast, Iceland and Croatia and there were crews in each of them.
So when I came to do my green screen work at the end of the season I was there on wrap day and it was like ‘hi, nice to meet you...’ It was this bizarre thing of people wandering around and not really knowing each other even though we are all in the same show.
Was the character easier to play second time around?
I got the fear like you would not believe before we started filming season two. I just had this unprecedented fear that I had lost her, that she’d disappeared from me, but then it was fine. It was just like coming home and being reunited with family and it’s such a lovely environment. And that made me feel very confident and hopefully that shows.
So you were back into the character as soon as you put the costume on and dye your hair?
No, that’s a wig! That’s not me. But I put the wig on and that’s the first stage and then you put the clothes on and you get into character – you stand differently, you feel differently, somehow and you really are someone else for the duration of filming.
Actors talk about character arcs and with Daenerys you have a huge journey. She started as this meek, downtrodden young woman dominated by her brother and she turns into, as you say, a warrior Queen…
Dany is the most brilliant character and everything she comes up against – and she faces a lot of adversity - she survives and what I like about her is that she learns from every single mistake. I think the biggest thing about Dany is that she, unlike many of the other characters in the story, doesn’t have an egotistical desire to get the Iron Throne. It’s not like this need or obsessive desire, it’s her destiny and there’s no control over it.
It’s not like she had a choice, it’s not like she woke up one day and said, ‘Do you know what? I’m going to kill my brother and I’m going to become Queen...’ She probably wouldn’t do it if she hadn’t been pushed into it. And that’s what you see in season two, you see her being tested time and time again and it hurts that much more because she is a woman, because there is that maternal side to her that she has to ignore, or put aside, and I think that’s where you see, after being scorned and tested to her limits in season one, she puts everything into her dragons. Its like, ‘no one is messing with them..’ And that’s where she gets her iron will from.
The dragons are like her children?
Oh completely and you start to see that she is her brother’s sister, she comes from this strong family and it’s in her blood, it’s what she knows. And so this gut intuition that she has – that she is learning to listen to more and more every day – brings out this fierce ambition that can be seen as screwing someone over to get to where she needs to be. But actually it’s a matter of survival – heavy is the head that wears the crown and it’s those choices that she has to make to get the best outcome for herself and her people.
Had you read the books when you were cast?
I hadn’t when I had my first audition but when the second audition came around I had read the books and I became an official geek and got so into the story. With season one I read the first book several times but I resisted going on to the next one, even though I really wanted to read it.
Every fibre in your being says that you want to pick up the second book immediately but I just couldn’t because I had to be with the character and just concentrate on that book. But then for season two I read book 2 and book 3 and then once we wrapped on season two I celebrated by picking up book 4 and I’m now working my way through that.
Do you want to know what happens to her in the end?
Yes, absolutely! I care passionately about what happens to her. How could I not?
And presumably you use the books as a reference guide?
Yes, completely. If I’ve ever got any questions about Dany, as an actor if I ask myself, ‘why is she doing this? What’s her motivation?’ and for whatever reason I can’t get there, I’ll turn to the books and I know I’ll find the answer. And you know, Dany goes to so many different places and she has such a big arc overall that I let myself get to the very end until its right because you don’t know where you are going in life. So I’ll take this journey with her.
Have you met George R.R. Martin?
Yes. He’s absolutely incredible.
So have you ever been tempted to ask, ‘who wins the throne?’
Oh completely! I’ve said to George ‘come on; tell me who wins, please!’ And he thinks I’m joking and I say, ‘no, no, I’m deadly serious!’ (laughs). But his lips are sealed. I’m sure that David (Benioff) and Dan (Weiss) know but they don’t tell anyone – and I’ve got them drunk and they still wouldn’t tell me. I’ve been pleading with them, ‘tell me who wins!’ And they won’t say a word. They’re under lock and key.
How physically demanding is it to play this role?
I think it’s hugely physically demanding. I’m fresh out of drama school and I’m a little kid, I still take it very much to heart and I take it very seriously. And I’m trying to learn to separate myself a little bit more because otherwise you’ll go mad with it. But I enjoy it.
I enjoy that exhaustion at the end of the day where it feels like you’ve been grafting hard, you feel like you’ve worked for it, and I get a sense of satisfaction out of that and I feel like I’ve done Dany proud if I’ve done that. I feel that as an actor, if you are tested like that, you often produce your best work. And because I know her so well, if I trust my best instincts as an actor inevitably I’ll find the right thing for Dany.
When you say it’s physically exhausting, what do you mean?
Well, I don’t get much studio stuff. I’m usually on location and I know that some people think that acting is so glamorous but believe me, it’s not! [Laughs] And so what you see is what you get – you see Dany out in the desert and that’s the reality of what we are filming.
Is she daunting to play at times? Because there is violence and nudity in the story?
Yes, but I take each show as it comes. And it’s been like that right from the beginning. Because when I started the show I think if I’d stepped back and thought about Game of Thrones and what it could do for my life, the prospect was just so frightening that I might have lost my bottle.
So I take each day as it comes, I take each page of the script as it comes and each scene as it comes and I just try so hard to stay true to how she would respond and how she would react. And that’s why it can be so tiring because I’ll try to put myself exactly where she is to try and get the most amount of truth out of it. And that’s exhausting because it’s physically demanding and mentally demanding.
How long out of drama school were you when you won the part?
I was about a year out of drama school. I handed up resigning from all three jobs that I had at the same time so that I could do this.
Yes. You have to do whatever jobs you can to pay the rent. Living in London as a student is tough. And my heart goes out to every single drama student in London because as an actor it’s a creative process that you are taking on and if you don’t get to do it every day it hurts. And you try and put it into your call centre job or your waitressing job or bar work or whatever but it’s not the same, obviously (laughs).
Were those the jobs you had?
Yes! And it’s almost impossible. And so I never in a million years dreamed I would be where I am now, with this fantastic role on Game of Thrones and I try very hard to continually count my blessings and not take any of it for granted. I absolutely adore it. I couldn’t be happier.
What did you sell at the call centre?
I was selling charities. It pays well but it’s a bit soul destroying. I physically couldn’t do it. My friends will laugh if they ever read this and they’ll say ‘you didn’t work for any length of time at all!’ But I remember one day I broke down during a phone call to someone as I was trying to ask them to give a bit more money for this charity that I was working for. They broke down and I broke down.
But actually the bar job was the worst. I’m not a nocturnal person and I worked at a bar in Hoxton and on a Thursday night the bar would be 8 or 9 people deep and if you work behind a bar as a young girl you are asking for it. And that was something that I couldn’t handle.
I remember one night one of my friends came in and said, ‘I’ve never seen you scowl so much…’ It’s not good. But it’s the same for every young actor out there, and my heart goes out to them, because there’s very little (acting) work and so you take some poorly paid jobs to get by and I think it’s important to remember that.
You must have been delighted when you won the role in Game of Thrones…
You’ve no idea! (laughs). I think I was drunk for about two weeks. It was incredible. I remember on the plane on the way to LA to do the screen test it was the first time I’d ever been to LA and they flew me business class – which was wonderful. I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to nick all the tea!’ Because I never thought I would be going back and doing it again. You know, it was like, ‘I’ll steal all the biscuits…’ (laughs).
Where did you grow up?
And where did the acting come from?
I have no idea where the acting comes from (laughs). My Dad is involved in the theatre, he’s a sound designer and I went to watch lots of shows when I was a kid so I was around that world. I said I wanted to be an actor roughly from the age of three and at that age obviously I had no idea what I was saying.
Up until I was 18 I had no real idea of what I was saying. Like Dany, I had this thing where it was a bit like destiny, it was, ‘that’s it, I want to be an actor..’ And my parents kind of tested it in terms of I didn’t go to stage school, they wanted me to go to a traditional school and they wanted me to concentrate on my education. And I worked really hard and got good grades and my parents said, ‘OK, cool, now go on and do whatever it is you want to do..’
And I think they are just incredibly happy that I am here now because I think they found it heartbreaking to see me want it so much and to see it not happen at the beginning. And I know in the grand scheme of things I’ve been incredibly fortunate and I only struggled for a year or so, but even if you experience it for a year you wonder if it’s ever going to happen for you. Believe me, I’m so happy that it has and to be a part of a fantastic show like this is just so special. I know how lucky I am.
Had you acted much during that year?
When I was at drama school in my third year I did one episode of Doctors and I did an advert for The Samaritans (a UK charity) and that was the best thing I’d ever experienced prior to Game of Thrones. It was wicked. It was 14 hours on a council estate in Hackney and I worked with these incredible people and I think The Samaritans is such a brilliant organisation. I really enjoyed doing that. And I did a TV movie for the Sci-Fi Channel in Bulgaria, which I’ve never watched. So that was a good experience to have had.
How much of your time does Game of Thrones take? And are you able to do other things?
It takes up about a quarter of my year so I am able to do other things, which is great. It’s just finding the right things to slot into that time frame.
At the moment I’m in Manchester making a film called Spike Island, which is about The Stone Roses and I’m really enjoying it. It’s about a group of lads who idolise The Stone Roses and it’s centred around the band’s seminal gig in Spike Island and it takes place in the three days leading up to the gig and I play the lead guy’s love interest, Sally.
It’s directed by Mat Whitecross who directed Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. It’s a cool little film. For me it’s about finding a brilliant script and that’s why I appreciate Game of Thrones so much because I know that brilliant scripts don’t come along that often. And because I love Game of Thrones so much I’m so hesitant to take anything that I don’t love as much. So it’s been difficult in terms of finding the right script in the right period of time and then, of course, getting the part!
Have you been back to LA since that first trip?
Yes, I have.
And what do you make of it there?
Well, the first time I hated it, the second time I was petrified and the third time, which was the last time I’ve been there, I loved it. I’ve been over for Game of Thrones and for some general meetings. And on the third time I found some friends there and that makes a big difference.
I think the first couple of times I was just petrified and that was it – you hate it because you are scared because you don’t know it. And by the end, it was lovely – it was sunny all the time and there are wonderful beaches. And by the last visit the first season of Game of Thrones had come out so people could see something that I’d actually done and that made a difference, too.
But London is still home?
Yes, it is. My parents live in the country outside of Oxford, in Buckinghamshire.
What’s it like for your family seeing you in Game of Thrones?
It's crazy (laughs). Christmas was interesting!
Are you committed to Game of Thrones for a long time?
I hope so. I love playing Dany and I love the show and as long as they will hopefully keep making more I will be delighted to carry on. I’m already thinking of season 3 because I know what she has to do and I just can’t wait. Season 2 is wicked but season 3 has some fantastic stuff happening and we’ll start filming that in June and I can’t wait.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I cook; I hang out with my friends, go to the theatre, go and see bands. I spend time with my family. I’m still trying to find that thing I do when I’m not acting but I’m acting so much its really hard. But that’s great – it’s what I love to do.
Game Of Thrones is out on DVD and Blu-ray from Monday March 4th.