Ahead of the game

Ahead of the game

With a hit TV show and a summer blockbuster, Emilia Clarke's Hollywood future is looking set

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Emilia Clarke doesn't need three dragons to kick ass.
Emilia Clarke doesn't need three dragons to kick ass.
Photo: Paramount Pictures

This interview begins with Emilia Clarke hobbling into the room on crutches. "Look what's happened to me," she cries. The British actress - better known to millions as "Mother of Dragons" Daenerys Targaryen from the pop culture phenomenon  Game of Thrones - has fractured her hip.

"It's so boring," she says of her injury tale. "I was literally running and I fell over." 

Given we're here to talk about her first big movie, Terminator Genisys - one that sees Clarke running, jumping, falling and firing - it's understandable that she considers this accident "embarrassing". While many actresses might have cancelled press engagements after such an incident, the 28-year-old Clarke is made of sterner stuff. 

The first time we met was in a tent near Manchester, when she was filming  Spike Island, a love story set around the legendary Stone Roses concert. There she was, in sub-zero temperatures, holding her own with her testosterone-fuelled male co-stars. As glamorous as she looks today, dolled up in Dolce & Gabbana, there's still something tomboyish about her. Her ideal day?"A trip to the pub to watch rugby with my mates."

It wouldn't be an action thriller if people weren't falling off of things ... Photo: Paramount Pictures

 

So perhaps it's no surprise she's been cast as Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys, the fifth movie in the popular sci-fi franchise. Alongside Ellen Ripley from the Alien movies, Connor became one of cinema's most iconic female action heroines. Originally played by Linda Hamilton, her battles with killer cyborgs sent back in time to kill her proved that women were just as capable of kicking ass on screen as men.

With this latest instalment set in an alternate timeline to the original movies (a standard trope of time travelling films), Clarke felt she had no need to replicate Hamilton's performance, as her Sarah is at odds with her previous self. Nor did she discuss the role with her Thrones co-star Lena Headey, who played the character in the television spin-off  The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

 "What we're doing is so very different," she says. "And what Sarah Connor Chronicles were was so different to the movies themselves anyway. We're playing different versions of the same character."

Working from a dense, twist-heavy script, Clarke was happy with a story that takes some puzzling out. "It's something I'm all too familiar with in Game of Thrones. You need to give the new audiences, who haven't seen any of the Terminators before, an all-encompassing movie. But at the same time, it's got such a following, you need to respect the franchise so much. You need to give the people who do know it very well, and very intimately, what they want. And that is forcing people to use their minds. Which, as a Terminator fan myself, was what I liked."

Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises his signature role as the Terminator. Photo: Paramount Pictures

At 1.6-metres tall, more miniature than muscular, Clarke doesn't exactly look action-ready. And so making Genisys meant beefing herself up. "The big eye-opener for me doing a blockbuster - you really run, you really fire those weapons. So I needed practical strength, which at that point I didn't have much of. So all of the training that I did was so I could actually hold a grenade launcher, peg it down the street and fire it." 

To her credit, on screen, in her leather jacket and boots, she gives Hamilton a run for her money. 

Clarke admits she was blown away by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who returns to his signature role after being absent from 2009's  Terminator Salvation. "When you meet an idol, and there's a little bit of you that's expecting to be a little bit disappointed - like, 'Oh, you're a normal person'. But with Arnold, he's everything you expect and more. And he maintained that the whole way through, putting everyone at ease. He was a gorgeous presence to have with you, and it reminds you of what you're doing. I was like, 'Yeah, we're making Terminator!'"

Whether the film will change her life remains to be seen. To date, Clarke has been largely left untroubled by fame - not least because, with her brunette locks, she looks very different from her Thrones character. "I get to fly very much under the radar with Daenerys because I ain't blonde, and it makes such a difference," she says. "I've been incredibly lucky. I've got to digest my change of circumstance at my own pace. There's no paparazzi following me. I get recognised every once in a while - my friends find it hilarious. My family find it even funnier."

Admittedly, her folks should've expected nothing less. "I'm a classic girl," she says. "I came out of my mum's stomach going 'I want to be an actor!'" 

Well, almost. When she was three, her mother took her to see a production of Show Boat that her father, a theatre sound engineer, was working on. "My dad is one of the reasons why I realised acting was something I could do," she says. "He would bring a dose of realism to my big hopes and dreams and aspirations, which was all done with such love."

Jason Clarke and Jai Courtney as John Connor and Kyle Reese. Photo: Paramount Pictures

 

Raised in Berkshire and schooled in Oxford, Clarke enrolled in London's Drama Centre when she was 18. Even before she graduated, she'd won a one-off part in TV show  Doctors, followed by television movie,  Triassic Attack. But these soon paled when she landed Thrones, replacing Tamzin Merchant, who had shot the pilot episode. 

The success of the show took her by enormous surprise. "This year, really, has been the first year I've come to terms with it," she says. "I spent a lot of time going, 'What? No! How? But. Hmm.' But I've realised if you just accept where it is, and be grateful, and then carry on as normal, then everything else falls into place without it being too weird."

Clarke is certainly not afraid of hard work. She went from shooting Genisys last year to immediately filming the fifth season of Thrones before making a low-budget indie, Voices From The Stone - a 1950s Italian tale that she describes as part  Pan's Labyrinth, part Hitchcock's Rebecca. "It was a big year, a long year," she smiles. "Christmas was [spent] mainly asleep. Turkey, sleep."

This year, she's just shot Me Before You, a romantic drama about a caregiver and a quadriplegic, based on the hit book by JoJo Moyes. 

Silver seems to be the look movie villains are going for this year. Photo: Paramount Pictures

Factor in her Broadway debut, playing the role of Holly Golightly, made famous by Audrey Hepburn, in a 2013 production of Breakfast at Tiffany's, and it's been a real eclectic career so far, full of gear changes. "I would like to do as much varied work as possible," she says. "Because I feel so lucky to be where I am. I'm like, 'Right, let's try a bit of everything. Literally.' I just want to see where I land with it. I'm enjoying everything so much. I'm like, 'Cool - what's next? Let's try something totally different'." 

Now she's raring to get back to Thrones, which starts shooting its sixth season in August. Before I even ask for any tidbits about the upcoming series, after the fifth ended in a bloodbath, Clarke intervenes. "They haven't shown me anything. I don't know anything that's going on," she claims. "I'm desperate for scripts of season six, too." 

The fangirl is still alive in Clarke, it seems. As is the girl that goes down the pub and occasionally falls over. "As of yet, I've got no cause for changing who I am - at all," she says. "I've always wanted to be an actor. That's not changed. I still manage to spend as much time as is humanly possible with my mates and my family." 

While she was said to have dated  Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, she is not spending all her time in Hollywood. "I wish I could say I'm living this fabulous, mental celebrity lifestyle. I don't have a swimming pool in LA." She smiles. "I just love what I do."

Terminator Genisys opens on July 2

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