Emilia Clarke played Daenerys Targaryen for eight seasons on Game of Thrones, and no matter what she goes on to do in her career, she’s probably never going to stop getting questions about it. For instance, The Guardian sat down with Clarke to talk about her new role in a new production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. She talks plenty about the play, which is on now at the Harold Pinter Theater in London, but also plenty about her long stint in Westeros.
“I look back on Game of Thrones like anyone else would look back on high school,” Clarke said. “It was my entire education: it informed my understanding of the industry, I learned about press, I learned about work. It gave me my bedrock of understanding of what it means to be an actor…I got my crew from there. The fondness I feel for everyone is something that will never go away. Rose Leslie (Ygritte) is someone I speak to every week. And Kit [Harington], obviously. We’re very, very close.”
The Guardian proved the truth of this statement by talking to some of Clarke’s coworkers, who had nothing but glowing things to say about her. “Emilia has no idea how good she is,” said Iain Glen, who played Daenerys’ right-hand man Jorah Mormont. “She really is very innocent of how wonderful she is. And that’s a lovely quality. But you have to be careful it doesn’t undo you, that it doesn’t stop you from having conviction.”
She’s an incredibly generous, kind person. It’s very easy for actors to get somewhat self-absorbed, particularly when they’re taking on such a big thing. But she was always the one who was looking after people, getting cast meals together – that really binds a group of actors.
Showrunner David Benioff also weighed in, recalling how actors auditioning for Daenerys had to read two scenes: one at the beginning of the season when Dany was a scared young girl; and one at the end, when she’d become the Mother of Dragons.
“Many were good at the first scene. A few were good at the second. Only Emilia made both work,” Benioff remembered. “And she made them work far better than the words on the page. It was impossible to imagine anyone else in the role: she was our one true queen. And frankly, she just has that mysterious quality that makes an actor special, that makes you want to watch them. When you find someone who matches that star quality with serious acting chops… well, you hire them.”
And thank goodness.
Emilia Clarke remembers learning how Daenerys Targaryen’s story would end
Clarke also discussed the controversial ending to Game of Thrones season 8, which whipped the fandom into a frenzy when it aired back in 2019. Daenerys was at the center of that controversy; after seasons of trying to become a queen people could love, she torched the people of King’s Landing in a bout of tyrannical fury. Lest she keep it up, Jon Snow killed her.
“It was definitely a challenge,” Clarke said of reading the final scripts. “I walked out my door, took my keys, forgot my phone and just kept walking.”
I totally understand and respect why they did it. There’s a depressing reality of how it ended that actually feels based in truth, which no one wants for their favourite fantasy show. I’m not sure in what other direction she could have gone.
Clarke now sees the extreme reactions among fans as “the ultimate flattery – no matter what we did, we would have upset people because it was ending.”
Clarke also isn’t a stranger to having people push back against her work; critics disparaged her holiday comedy Last Christmas. “Honestly, it boils down to – I shouldn’t be saying this, but fuck ’em,” Clarke said. “I’m not living and dying by what a reviewer I’ve never met thinks about a film or a TV show I was in.”
But at the same time…”Of course it’s always heartbreaking when that happens, because find me an actor whose entire purpose in life isn’t to be liked.” Still, at least Last Christmas ended up being a hit with audiences, if not critics. “It’s kind of the ultimate ‘fuck you,’” Clarke said. “Art is meant to divide – I’d much rather do something that people either loved or hated than were like, [Larry David voice] ‘Eh – sure, didn’t really hate it, didn’t really love it.’”
Clarke thinks she’s “done” playing Daenerys Targaryen onscreen, but she does intend to watch the upcoming spinoff(s). On stage, she’s appearing in The Seagull through September. You can find ticket information here.