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July 2015 / People / by Liz Skone James

Exclusive Interview: Emilia Clarke

Girl On Fire.

From The Mother of Dragons to the mother of John Connor in the new Terminator film, Emilia Clarke is flying high. Natalie Denton catches up with the Londoner to talk heroines, hair and Hollywood.

Most actresses would give their right arm for a role to make their own, and Emilia Clarke has done just that as ethereal blonde beauty Daenerys Targaryen in HBO’s sensation Game of Thrones. With the fifth series drawing to a close last month, the Khaleesi’s future is more uncertain than ever.

“You never know who’s going to get killed!” the 28-year-old Londoner laughs. “It’s part of the intrigue. You get very caught up in the sense of menace. It’s a dangerous world she lives in – constantly providing audiences with all sorts of shocks.”

For those who have yet to sample the delights of the magical, mediaeval world of Game of Thrones, the starlet attempts to put it in a nutshell: “I like to tell people it’s all about dragons and boobs and blood! Dany’s a survivor, a woman who has taken on overwhelming adversity and always finds a way to go forward. She learns from every mistake and she has this natural instinct when it comes to her destiny. She’s a magical figure who’s been put through the most severe tests and she’s transformed herself from a girl with low self-esteem into a formidable woman who has gained the confidence to take on the world.”

The world around the actress who plays her is ever-changing, based around her foundations in London, where she was born, before moving to Oxford and then back again to the Capital for drama school.

On screen we may know her as the platinum-blonde bombshell, but off screen Emilia’s natural brunette locks offer the perfect way to disguise her identity, especially when she’s out roaming London’s streets, hanging out with the boys from GoT who are also based in the Capital. “I enjoy being able to fly under the radar, and even when people do recognise me they’re very friendly and appreciative, but I don’t get recognised as much as you might think.

“It’s lovely to remain as normal as possible. In London I can still go about my life without people staring at me. I remember a moment when we were filming in Croatia and there were a couple of fans outside my trailer. I walked in wearing the wig and Dany’s costume, and then inside I took the wig off and walked out and they had no idea who I was!”

Emilia’s path to fame has been uncommonly short; after graduating from Drama Centre London in 2009, she made an appearance in an episode of medical daytime drama Doctors and Syfy’s 2010 TV film Triassic Attack, which quickly saw her named as one of Screen International’s “UK Stars of Tomorrow”.

Emilia Clarke - Game of Thrones

It wasn’t long before the actress auditioned to replace fellow Brit Tamzin Merchant (The Tudors, Pride & Prejudice) as Daenerys. “I was lucky because it was only a year after I had finished drama school when I auditioned and was given the role. I hated working in a call centre and I remember how thrilled I was that I didn’t have to do that job any more.”

As Emilia describes it, the show is probably as much adored for its climactic storylines and larger-than-life characters as it is for the volume of nude scenes. But getting naked isn’t something that fazes the Home Counties girl, having repeatedly disrobed not only as Daenerys, but also for her Broadway debut as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where cheeky audience members were reported to have regularly reached for their smartphones to capture her entering the bathtub naked.

It’s this brazen body-confidence and fabulous physique that saw Emilia in the running for the part of Anastasia in Fifty Shades of Grey. But according to reports, she politely declined the offer as she had already been so closely identified with her naked appearances in GoT and didn’t want to be “labelled for doing it again”.

However, one iconic role she couldn’t turn down was that of Sarah Connor in the upcoming summer blockbuster, Terminator Genisys – rebooting the franchise co-starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jai Courtney. “It’s very daunting in a way, but also very exciting,” she grins. “This is the kind of iconic story that everyone grows up watching and ever since I was a little girl I’ve dreamed about making films like this.

“I did a lot of weapons training and you need to be strong to lift those guns and everything. I also did a lot of weightlifting and kickboxing that got me into the best shape of my life. I may not be as tough as my character, but at least I felt that I could handle the physical demands of working on the film.”

While the lithe yet petite beauty makes it sound quite gruelling, we’re pretty sure the pay-off will be worth it, as the role is already being touted as Emilia’s passport to Hollywood stardom. “This is such an amazing project and I’m proud to become part of the legend that is already in place, and to be able to create something new,” she grins. “Every day I’m like, ‘OK. It can’t get any more insane, or big, or epic, or exciting’ – but it does!”

Terminator Genisys is in cinemas this month