‘Game of Thrones’: Emilia Clarke on Season 4 secrets, ‘bad-ass’ Sarah Connor

April 06, 2014 | 12:57 p.m.

English actress Emilia Clarke describes her role as Daenerys Targaryen on HBO’s epic fantasy “Game of Thrones” as her first “proper job,” which is a rather remarkable fact considering the commanding power of her performance as the mother of dragons. But it’s true that Clarke was fresh out of drama school when she entered the cutthroat world conjured by author George R.R. Martin in his “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels, which show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss translated for the screen to considerable acclaim. (Clarke herself was nominated for a supporting actress Emmy for her work on the show.)

As Season 4 opens Sunday, Daenerys finds herself far away from the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, having conquered many of the great cities of Slaver’s Bay with the help of her army of Unsullied. While the newly freed hail her arrival, the greedy slave owners react much differently, and Daenerys is confronted by political threats and treachery, even as she’s about to be installed in some swell new digs.

Hero Complex caught up with Clarke as she was preparing to play a very different woman warrior, Sarah Connor, in director Alan Taylor’s “Terminator: Genesis,” due in theaters next year.

In the hit HBO series "Game of Thrones," Emilia Clarke plays Daenerys Targaryen, an exiled princess and last remaining heir in a long line of kings and queens of Westeros. Dany is the widow of horselord Khal Drogo and is often called "the mother of dragons," for her three flying beasts. (HBO; Victoria Will / Associated Press).

In the hit HBO series “Game of Thrones,” Emilia Clarke plays Daenerys Targaryen, an exiled princess and last remaining heir in a long line of kings and queens of Westeros. Dany is the widow of horselord Khal Drogo and is often called “the mother of dragons,” for her three flying beasts. (HBO; Victoria Will / Associated Press).

Hero Complex: Could you have imagined that you’d find yourself playing not just one but two iconically strong women in fantasy and science fiction?

Emilia Clarke: Never, not in a million years did I ever think I would be here getting to do both of them. “Game of Thrones,” when I got the call for the audition, I was over the moon to be in front of HBO, and when I got the role … [I was just] very happy to be employed by HBO. I had no idea it was going to be what it’s turned out to be. It’s a testimony to David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the writers and show runners, that they’ve managed to take a beloved book and turn it into a beloved series. I think that’s the hardest task. Getting to have such a diverse group of characters and complex plots with well-rounded, realized characters alongside the fantasy is difficult to find that marriage, to make fantasy sound like reality.

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HC: Daenerys is this fascinating character — a young girl who wills herself into a monarch and a maternal figure. How’s the experience been for you as an actor to chart her growth and maturity?

EC: It’s been wonderful. This is my first proper job, so I’ve been growing with her, which is the exciting part. Man, she’s got more strength than I have, that’s for sure. Getting to be with her throughout this growth process is so exciting as an actor. While she’s pushing herself, I get to push myself and my acting every season.

HC: How has your approach toward playing her evolved as the series has gone on? Do you relate to her in a different way than you did initially?

EC: I relate to her more and more, oddly enough. Every season I find more depth to her as a character and, within that, finding more depth in myself. She’s definitely grown and continues to grow from a girl into a woman, and me too, so we’re in it together.

HC: How difficult is it to master High Valyrian?

EC: Oh, my goodness, you should see the outtakes. I’m always amazed when I watch the show. I’m like, “They edited that really well! They made me sound like I knew what I was doing.” It’s definitely tricky. Valyrian is oddly easier than Dothraki. It’s got a more lyrical flow to it that feels more familiar to the way I speak. That makes it slightly easier. But, yeah, I have Tourette’s when I’m doing the Valyrian scenes. The rest of the crew is always quite funny. It’s like, “OK, we’ll go back to the bit where … what are you saying? Just go from the top.” No one quite knows what you’re talking about, which is quite funny.

HC: How do you learn those lines? Do you translate them to English to determine where to put the emphasis?

EC: Yeah, exactly. What I do is map the English onto the Valyrian so you can see how you yourself would say it. Throughout the seasons I’ve kind of begun to figure out the repetition of particular words and phrases and have got to sort of see what I believe they might mean and go directly into English, just trying to make it flow. If you speak it as you would your own language, then it reads so much better. That’s why we can watch Hitler speaking and you get what he’s talking about even though you don’t speak German. I can’t believe I just compared Daenerys to Hitler. I did not mean that at all.

HC: Have you read all of George R.R. Martin’s novels, and if so, at what point did you read them? How did they help you shape your interpretation of the character?

EC: I encroach closer to the last books with every season that goes by, so I will have read the relevant book for the season prior to filming whatever season we might be about to film. But it’s getting to the point where that line is being blurred, so I’m just going to go ahead and read everything. It’s funny, as I myself grow in confidence within the Daenerys that we’ve created for the show — it’s not that they’re two different characters because they’re really not at all, but you start to kind of … I know in Season 1, my first book was battered and bruised. I had every note you could imagine possible on it and took it everywhere with me, it was dog-eared and noted and everything. I really leant on it to really discover Daenerys. As I’m growing with her, I’m finding I’m taking more confidence within the character that we’ve created.

HC: Were there other inspiration points for you in shaping Dany’s evolution?

EC: Always. With every season she gets more and more complicated, but fundamentally she is a leader and a survivor, and the beautiful difference between Daenerys and the rest of the cast is her ultimate goal is pure. Her ultimate goal is entirely selfless. It feels much more of a bigger idea than simply I want to sit on the throne because I want to sit on the throne. She would like to rule and create an equal world. With that, every season, there are more and more similarities to be found between Daenerys and politics, Daenerys and the pitfalls of being a leader. There’s so many sources to turn to for that. Then you add that she’s a woman, then you add that she looks like 12 years old, it ends up being a number of different things that I like to draw from. Season 2 I remember I watched “Lawrence of Arabia” a couple of times. “Elizabeth” is something I’ve looked to a lot for a strong female leader.

HC: It’s fascinating to compare the way she navigates the world as opposed to, say, Cersei Lannister.

EC: That’s kind of the beauty of being a woman. I think the reason why strong women have such a powerful impact is that you’ve got the strength of a man with the heart and sensitivity of a woman. I think that is where Daenerys could go to, but, my God, she’s still learning. This season is a very interesting one because her situation and her surroundings betray a more secure position than the reality of where she’s actually at.

HC: What’s the experience of shooting like for you? When you put on the wig, do you feel like you’re reuniting with an old friend?

EC: Definitely, I do. It’s so funny as the filming continues, every night the wig comes off, you’re like, “Aww.” I can feel my energy going. She gives me a lot of energy.

Emilia Clarke in "Game of Thrones. (HBO)

Emilia Clarke in “Game of Thrones. (HBO)

HC: Viewers think of signature moments with Daenerys — do you have your own signature moments with Dany, scenes or sequences where she took great strides, or scenes that were especially gratifying to play?

EC: They’re probably very, very similar, and there maybe are some that are different for different reasons. Season 1, there were so many — the golden crown was huge … everything with Jason Momoa. The ultimate bad-ass moment though? The Dracarys scene from Season 3. There were just so many of the actual supporting artists there, I, Emilia, had to overcome my own lack of confidence to shout at a lot of Moroccan men in a made-up language, confident that at the end of the pole that I was holding on the day there will be a CGI dragon doing some stuff. There was this huge kind of crescendo and then, “Cut.” “OK, thanks, guys, appreciate it. Don’t want to kill you, I promise. Everything’s going to be fine.” It’s those moments when you’re so in it, you’re really feeling it, then they yell, “Cut,” and you realize where you actually are, those moments are always quite fun.

HC: At this point in the life of the show and the character, what do you find most challenging about this role?

EC: Every day there brings a new challenge and a new reward. There are some moments where I’m like, “Lighten up, honey!” Where the reality of a situation might make you want to take a breather. The challenges are namely the physical aspects of being under the baking sun in a desert in Morocco with a wig on feeling very hot. But there’s just so much that’s wonderful about getting to play her — everyone is lovely, everyone wants to be there, it’s a beautiful camaraderie. It makes those days when you’re a little bit tired that much easier.

HC: What’s ahead for her in Season 4? She’s clearly struggling with her leadership role.

EC: Yeah, that’s out there. I think the dark places that we go to in Season 4 are unlike any other season so far. It’s on so many levels. It’s not just blood, it’s bigger than that. Both the characters and hopefully the audience are so invested in the plots and the characters at this stage that the revelations you’ll see really just take it up a notch and somewhere even darker.

HC: And what might audiences expect from your incarnation of Sarah Connor?

EC: They can expect a bad-ass. There are differences that I believe will surprise and hopefully excite fans and people who aren’t so familiar.

— Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex


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