She’s made her name as This Mother of Dragons in Game of Thrones, but in Me Before You, Emilia Clarke gives an altogether more sentimental performance.
She’s the fiery Mother of Dragons who, in her spare time, fights deadly killing machines alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But today Emilia Clarke peels back her battle armour to reveal her soft, mushy centre in romantic drama, Me Before You.
“I’m acting in all the other stuff but, in this, I just giggled and smiled a lot. It’s not too far from the real me,” laughs Emilia, 29, otherwise known as Game of Thrones’ formidable Daenerys Targaryen or time-twisting Sarah Connor in the Terminator Genisys re-boot.
“For sure, I can be Khaleesi, don’t you worry! I’ve got that part down but this role is much closer to who I am; the girl who likes to have fun and laugh and giggle and move her face and just enjoy.”
She lives dangerously in front of the camera, but the real Emilila loves to snuggle in PJs and cry over romantic comedies like Sleepless In Seattle and When Harry Met Sally.
“I am bold when necessary. I take my clothes off and set stuff alight. I make a point of trying to live in the uncomfortable part as much as possible and then, afterwards, I go live my life which is rather quiet in comparison,” confesses the British beauty who recently moved to Los Angeles.
“Obviously the job requires you to be in LA so much and there’s so many things that you have to do there so I’m like alright! I need to make a home here as opposed to living in a hotel. But I’ll always call London home.”
If audiences have grown to love and admire her kick-ass Khaleesi - spawning an industry of Mother of Dragons T-shirts - then Clarke sits on the fence between action and chick-flick.
“I like both really. Sometimes I’m like give me a gun! Or a dragon! and then, with Me Before You, it was just nice to play the happy-go-lucky girl who’s content with her life."
If she really did have dragons, she has no doubt over their uses. “If I had them, we’d be chilling out in Hawaii, for sure.”
But after all the action and attention that Game of Thrones has thrust upon her, it was Jojo Moyes’ best-selling romantic novel Me Before You which ignited her passion; a quiet story about a small-town girl who finds love with a wheelchair-bound man, her life beginning as his ends.
“My agent sent me the book before he sent me the script and I read it and thought, that’s so much a part of who I am. I grabbed it with both hands. I haven’t been this excited about a role in so long.”
Director Thea Sharrock held exhaustive auditions, seeing hundreds of actors to play Me Before You’s star-crossed lovers, Will Traynor and Louisa Clark.
But only Clarke and Sam Claflin created the requisite magical chemistry.
“I met three or four times with Thea in an audition room and then we had the chemistry tests,” recalls Sam.
“Emilia and I had nearly worked together a few times but it never worked out, but this seemed to be the perfect timing, the perfect project and, literally the perfect co-star.”
“And then we just had boozy dinners. Creative dinners!” Emili says.
As Sam spent time with disabled men to research his role, Emilia likewise met with care-givers.
“I went on a lot of chat forums to read what care-givers were saying about their day-to-day issues which was incredibly eye-opening. It definitely takes the blinkers off and allows you to see more of what that life is like.”
Readers fell in love with Me Before You’s characters of Will Traynor and Louisa Clark, both at opposite ends of the social ladder, and yet unexpectedly finding joy together. Novelist Jojo Moyes brought an additional authenticity to her story after experiencing members of her own family live lives defined by disability and making end-of-life decisions.
“I think the beautiful thing about watching these two characters fall in love is that Louisa doesn’t realise it's happening. Will starts to see something in her that he’s drawn to while, only later, Lou realises that her actions are that of someone who is in love and cares deeply." Emilia says.
“And I think she falls for him for a million reasons. He gives her a new outlook and looks at her in a way that no-one else has looked at her in her life. He sees her potential to grow into something so much bigger, and the fulfillment that maybe she's sacrificed because she wants to stay close to her family and care for them. He shows her that this is actually possible and that it's her right to fulfill it.”
After making the film, she discovered so much more empathy. “I think you learn how deep your love for someone is when you take care of them; when all you want to do is take the pain away and make them comfortable or make them smile - just the little things that can lift someone from illness.”
While Emilia gets to wear quirky colourful outfits and wacky thrift-shop shoes, Sam endured a rigorous weight-loss regime, dropping 40lbs to play a young man suddenly confined to a wheelchair at the peak of his physical fitness.
“I thought it was important that Will looked a little more frail than I do normally. It was a must for the character so there was a lot of hard days and a very strict diet but I was well supported by experts.”
Navigating the wheelchair, he found was surprisingly difficult. “I got really good at it but it was all my own work - I didn’t have a stunt driver! I thought it would be easy but it was really quite difficult to maneuver, especially navigating through narrow corridors and doorways and there was only one accident where my hand scraped along the wall.”
But it was a couple of days after finishing the film, that he finally had his aha moment.
“I remember being in a restaurant and there was a wheelchair user coming through and I was watching him trying to navigate around tables so I got up and helped move all these chairs and tables in order to make it easier for him and he said thank you although I would never be so crass to tell him that I’d just spent the past three months in a wheelchair for a role.”
For Emilia, the film inspired her to never take life for granted.
I ask what gets her up in the morning, she giggles, “The alarm! Someone prodding me!
“I live an incredibly fortunate life. Not only have I got a really exciting career with the jobs I’ve been able to do but I’ve got a really tight group of friends and family so I feel there’s a lot to get me awake in the morning.” PL
Me Before You is released June 16.