Emilia Isobel Euphemia Rose Clarke has been steadily building her Hollywood résumé for over a decade now. Of course, you know her as Emilia Clarke. Then again, perhaps the only name you know her by is that of probably her most famous character, Daenerys Targaryen. Or maybe you think of her as the Mother of Dragons. Whichever it is, Emilia Clarke’s star is still rising.
Emilia Clarke was born in London but grew up in Oxfordshire with her older brother, her father who was a theater sound engineer in the town of Wolverhampton and a mother who is a vice-president of marketing at a global management consulting firm.
Clarke discovered her affinity for acting at the very early age of 3 when she saw the musical Show Boat. But it wasn’t until she was ten-years-old that she got her first real taste of acting. Her father took her to an audition of the Neil Simon musical, The Goodbye Girl, and she knew from the start she was doomed.
Emilia Clarke wrote in The New Yorker, “When I got inside, I realized that every girl trying out for this part was singing a song from “Cats.” The only thing I could come up with was an English folk song, “Donkey Riding.” After listening rather patiently, someone asked, “How about something more . . . contemporary?” I sang the Spice Girls hit “Wannabe.” No, Emilia Clarke did not get the part.
Clarke was not discouraged. She eventually got parts in school productions playing Anita in West Side Story, Abigail in The Crucible and Viola in Twelfth Night. Still, though, Emilia decided to take some time off from the acting right after her secondary school. She worked as a waitress and then backpacked throughout Asia.
The acting bug never left in that year hiatus, so when she returned, she found herself enrolled at the Drama Centre London, going for her B.A. After graduating, Emilia Clarke wasn’t sure how long it would take but she did give herself a year of only going for roles that had promise. To make ends meet, Clarke worked in a pub, at a call center, and in a museum.
And then came that fateful call in 2010.
A CRAPPY GAME OF THRONES PILOT SAVES THE DAY
This was the break that almost never happened and Emilia Clarke can be grateful for an unbelievably horrible pilot episode of the Game of Thrones. This part of Clarke’s story began four years prior and Emilia Clarke wasn’t even remotely in the picture.
In 2006, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were determined to show HBO that George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (GoT) was ready for the world to see. HBO was intrigued but wasn’t greenlighting the project until they saw some proof. So, three years later and 7 months of overseas filming, they were ready to show their product. They first showed a few friends to get their honest feedback. The friends, fellow screenwriters, did just that with one, Craig Mazin, stating immediately after seeing it, “You guys have a massive problem.” That they did. 80-90% of that pilot was reshot. HBO was already on the hook for $10 million for that failed pilot but saw something in it.
Along with the reshoots, a different director was brought in, as were different actors. Emilia Clarke received a call from her agent. Her agent explained the part, which at the time, confused Clarke. She resembled nothing to what the part asked for. As she wrote in The New Yorker, “The part called for an otherworldly, bleached-blond woman of mystery. I’m a short, dark-haired, curvy Brit.” Emilia Clarke prepared for her audition, which she says were two scenes and read in a tiny studio in Soho. Four days later she got the call that she was to fly to Los Angeles for another reading in front of network executives.
Knowing what the executives were looking for in her character, Emilia Clarke began to work out madly before her trip to Los Angeles. They flew her out in business class. Her audition again consisted of two scenes. When she finished, not sure how well she did, she asked her small audience, “Can I do anything else?” It was Benoiff who answered her, “You can do a dance.” So, Clarke did just that. A funky chicken and robot later, she was leaving the auditorium when they ran to her, “Congratulations, Princess!”
EMILIA CLARKE‘S LIFE THREATENING SAH
Emilia Clarke was over the moon, as she should have been. Unfortunately for Clarke, the good times didn’t last. The stress of the first season (which we’ll talk about later) was big with Clarke, so she would let off steam and deal with the stress in the gym. She was at the gym one morning when she felt a terrible headache coming on. She tried to tough it out but couldn’t, telling her trainer she needed a break. She barely made it to the locker room, crawling. She made it to the toilet where she became violently ill. She remembers flashes of things after that, people talking to her, ambulance siren.
At the hospital, Emilia Clarke went in for an MRI and the results were not good for the young actress. The diagnosis was a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), which is a life-threatening type of stroke. Not only is that scary, but nearly one-third of SAH patients perish immediately or soon thereafter. The then 24-year old was in need of immediate brain surgery. And while this surgery was not fully invasive, it was traumatic enough.
When Emilia Clarke woke from her three-hour surgery, she was unable to fully speak. What came out her mouth was gibberish. Her condition was called aphasia. It took her a while, but this passed, and Clarke was able to fully talk again. One month later, she was out of the hospital, but not for the last time.
While in the hospital the first time and during her surgery, the doctors also found another smaller aneurysm on the other side of her brain. They couldn’t tell her if it would break but it was possible it would just remain dormant. Sadly, it didn’t. Emilia Clarke struggled through seasons 2 and 3 of Game of Thrones, dealing with her pain.
After season 3 wrapped, Clarke took a role on Broadway. While in New York, she had a few days left on her SAG (Screen Actors Guild) insurance so she went in for a brain scan. It showed the growth had doubled in size and the doctors need to do surgery again. They attempted the same procedure as before but it failed. Emilia Clarke woke up to screaming pain where the doctors said real surgery was necessary and quickly. They went through her skull to operate on her brain. This time they were successful.
EMILIA CLARKE’S NUDITY
Anyone who has seen Game of Thrones has seen Emilia Clarke… and the lack of clothes she employed from time to time. While the finished product looks convincing, Clarke recently spoke about how she felt pressured early on to do those nude scenes and who helped her get through some of the rough ones.
She spoke on Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert, “I took the job and then they sent me the scripts and I was reading them, and I was like, ‘Oh, there’s the catch!’”
As she explained though, “But I’d come fresh from drama school and I approached it as a job: if it’s in the script then it’s clearly needed. This is what this is and I’m going to make sense of it and that’s what I’m going to do and everything’s going to be cool.”
Emilia Clarke gives credit to her co-star Jason Momoa, who portrayed husband Khal Drogo on GoT, in helping her through. “He was crying more than I was,” Clarke replied. “It’s only now that I realize how fortunate I was with that because that could have gone many, many, many different ways,” she said. “Because Jason had experience – he was an experienced actor who had done a bunch of stuff before coming on to this – he was like, ‘Sweetie, this is how it’s meant to be, this is how it’s not meant to be, and I’m going to make sure that that’s the fucking gaze.’ He was always like, ‘Can we get her a fucking robe? She’s shivering!’ … He was so kind and considerate and cared about me as a human being.”
But as her star grew, so did her stance on nudity. She now knows her comfort level and just how nudity is required for a scene. “I’ve had fights on set before where I’m like, ‘No, the sheet stays up,’ and they’re like, ‘You don’t wanna disappoint your Game of Thrones fans.’ And I’m like, ‘Fuck you.’ ”
Which is why Emilia Clarke turned down the role of Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey. She couldn’t stand that because of the nudity she displayed in GoT that it was easy for her to continue on with it. She told the HuffPost, “And it’s annoying as hell and I’m sick and tired of it because I did it for the character,” she went on. “I didn’t do it so some guy could check out my tits, for God’s sake.”
FROM TERMINATOR TO STAR WARS
Emilia Clarke role in GoT no doubt helped her land the role of Sarah Conner in Terminator Genisys. While the movie itself was critically panned for the acting and plot, Clarke herself pulled in some good reviews for her performance.
Her upward trend in Hollywood continued as GoT continued. Emilia Clarke pulled in the role of Qi’ra in Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story that went through an enormous amount of production troubles that included a few script rewrites and the firing of directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. This had nothing to do with Clarke’s performance, which again was considered great.
END OF THE LINE
That infamous final season of Game of Thrones. The backlash the producers received. The unbelievable character turn Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen took. She remembers reading the script for the final episode. “I cried,” Clarke told EW. “And I went for a walk. I walked out of the house and took my keys and phone and walked back with blisters on my feet. I didn’t come back for five hours. I’m like, ‘How am I going to do this?’”
Emilia Clarke was on a plane sitting next to Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow in GoT, wanting to discuss the episode. But Harington refused to read it, he wanted to be able to experience the whole thing at the table read they were headed to. So, Clarke made the strategic decision to sit across from him during the table read so she could fully see his reaction.
Harington recalled as they got to their final scene together, “I looked at Emilia and there was a moment of me realizing, ‘No, no…’” For those of you who haven’t seen that last episode (how have you not?) nothing else will be said about it, other than “wow”.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR EMILIA CLARKE?
What is next for Emilia Clarke? After GoT finished, Clarke had two movie releases: Above Suspicion and Last Christmas. She doesn’t have another role in production yet, so her fans will be excited to see where she is headed.
One thing fans may not care for, though, if you happen to run into Emilia Clarke on the go, don’t ask her for a selfie because she more than likely won’t give you one.
Emilia Clarke tells the Table Manners with Jessica Ware podcast, it’s not because she doesn’t like selfies. “When someone’s asking me for a selfie, I want to be able to provide for them what it is they’re after. …When you do a signing thing, you can actually look into their eyes and have a proper real human thing. …I’ve just been trying to navigate how I can [interact with fans] without feeling like my soul is completely empty. Because they don’t really want to talk to you.” She prefers a rue conversation, even if it’s brief.
While Emilia Clarke is searching for her next role, she keeps herself busy with charitable organizations. She was named the ambassador to the Royal College of Nursing for her efforts raising awareness about the working conditions of nurses in the UK. In 2019, Clarke started her own charity called SameYou, in which she hopes to bring better neurorehabilitation access to young people after a stroke or serious brain injury.