The Once And Future Queen: Empire's Emilia Clarke Interview

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Game Of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke takes on the mantle of action-heroine icon Sarah Connor for upcoming sci-fi blockbuster reboot Terminator Genisys. She also takes on Empire's Ian Nathan for an interview in this month's magazine, now available to read here online.

This is but one small part of the extensive Terminator Genisys and Game Of Thrones coverage that can be found in the lastest issue of Empire, on sale now. For more details on what else can be found in issue 311 and to make sure you never miss an issue, click here to subscribe.

Growing up in England’s leafy Home Counties, Emilia Clarke wasn’t really into sci-fi or fantasy. “You’d think I would have been, wouldn’t you?” she says apologetically. The absence of platinum blonde locks gives her a worldlier, classy appearance. You’re reminded she actually belongs to Earth in the 21st century. The effect is mildly disorientating.

If she can’t claim to have been born a geek, she has certainly had geekhood thrust upon her. “I just love the idea of this kind of acting and this kind of entertainment being an escape for people,” she avows. “And for myself.” Clarke, of course, is well established in our hearts as Daenerys Targaryen, the heroic if naive queen-in-waiting for the Iron Throne of Westeros, one of the most beloved characters in the violent tapestry that is Game Of Thrones, commencing its fifth season with due fanfare. More significantly, she has now exponentially increased her Comic-Con caché by taking charge of the role of Sarah Connor in the latest reconfiguration of the Terminator saga.

“This script gives Sarah a new history,” Clarke explains of a movie which sends her along a whole new timeline. “Her upbringing has been entirely different, but she still has the essence of the character that James Cameron wrote.”

Shot in the downtime between seasons of Thrones with former Thrones director Alan Taylor, Terminator Genisys has been a rude awakening to the physical demands of the high-octane action movie. Despite playing midwife to three irascible dragons, it is fair to say that Daenerys has been more observer than participant in Thrones’ complex brand of mayhem. Terminator movies, though, are essentially modelled as one intricately orchestrated and exhausting chase sequence.

“You’re firing some serious guns, and you’re running really fast,” she gasps. “When you watch a big action movie it all comes across as so easy. When you start doing it, it’s very much, ‘Oh crap, buggins! This is serious!’ Especially with Sarah, who is a complete badass.”

The character of Sarah Connor, Clarke says proudly, helped establish women as leads in action movies. A fact re-enforced in the new story, where we should look more for Linda Hamilton’s hardened soldier of T2 rather than her frail waitress of the original. “She is pretty damned determined when we
meet her,” Clarke insists.

"As for Arnie, well, he was a complete dream. Just to go to work every day and look at him was something in itself." He mucks in, she reports. "And is ever so charming." What we know of the new plot positions Schwarzenegger’s latest deployment of his classic T-800, whose exterior tissue has noticeably aged, as a father figure to Sarah.

Curiously, Thrones already boasted a resident Sarah Connor in its ranks. Lena Headey played another rebooted variation of the Terminator heroine in the short-lived television series The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Having two verifiable Sarah Connors caused much geek merriment for Thrones show-runners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss.

Clarke adopts a tone of weary tolerance. “David and Dan are like, ‘We’re going to make you guys fight.’” She raises an eyebrow, and smiles sweetly. “Sure you are.” By any account, the last five years
have been a wild ride for Clarke. But true to her British reserve, she is a little self-conscious about her sudden success.

"What can you say? A singular TV event transforms you into the girl of the moment, and then the blockbusters come rolling in. Yep, I’ve been lucky. I’m pinching myself. It’s über-surreal..." To be fair, she’s putting the work in. As established as she is in the part of Daenerys, Thrones is always a challenge. “It’s only this season that I’ve relaxed into what it is,” she admits.

Clarke has also found the time to make Italy-based ghost story Voice From The Stone (“That’s got a big arc for the character”), and will shortly step into what could be construed as reality in an adaptation of the Jojo Moyes novel Me Before You, playing a small-town girl she happily describes in House Trotter nomenclature as “a complete plonker”. The Mother Of Dragons is keen to display her versatility.

Clarke had been intent upon acting since “maybe five or something”, when she beat her friend Jessica to the lead in the school play. That felt wicked. Forgetting her lines, not so much. “I was like a sucker from then on,” she laughs. “It was like, ‘That is what I’ll do with my life.’” Although her father worked as a theatre sound engineer, her parents were initially perplexed. "Acting? Really?" They suggested more sensible careers, but she was not to be swayed. After leaving school in Oxford, Clarke studied at the Drama Centre in London’s King’s Cross, and from there was posted to Westeros (the grasslands of the Dothraki, to be exact) to take over from Tamzin Merchant, who played Daenerys in the mythical abandoned pilot.

Were her parents ever perturbed by the nudity? The first season of Thrones, her first significant acting job, found Clarke more often bereft of her already slender costume than wearing it. It was chiefly through her encounters with Jason Momoa’s meaty horse lord Khal Drogo that the term ‘sexposition’ was coined. There’s another slight wince at the question. Her dad hadn’t been entirely prepared. “We sort of didn’t talk for a minute during Season 1,” she admits.

“I was like, ‘You don’t need to watch the first six episodes.’ I think he is happy that my clothes have kind of remained on for most of the rest.” These days both her parents are “incredibly proud”. Indeed, her mother likes to introduce herself as “Grandmother Of Dragons”.

There is time for one last question. So, returning to a Terminator wavelength, let’s make it about time. If she could slip back through the years and give her younger self a piece of advice, what might it be? “Oh, probably when I was about 13,” she replies, at 28 wise beyond her years. “And it would be, ‘Put the vodka down, Emilia...’ I had a couple of messy nights. But otherwise I think I’ll leave it as it is.” And who could blame her?

Terminator Genisys is out on July 3. Game Of Thrones: Season 5 airs on Sky Atlantic from April 13.