Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen began Game of Thrones a shy, silver-haired beauty living under the thumb of her brother and then the Dothraki warlord he married her off to, Kahl Drogo. But as the season progressed, she turned into Drogo’s confidante and a horse-heart-eating khaleesi, well on her way to being the character beloved by fans of the books. On the heels of the shocking penultimate episode, we spoke to the 24-year-old Clarke about going straight from drama school in London to a hit show on HBO, the rape scene that wasn’t really in the book, and how that heart tasted.
This is one of your first jobs as an actor. How has your life changed since the show started?
I mean, enormously in so many ways, and in so many ways, not at all. Obviously the interview I’m doing with you right now — all of the press and stuff — that’s the scary stuff. The acting is what I got trained to do, but this is something quite different. Hopefully the experience of filming has made me more professional, it’s made me more ready for the rest of my career. It seems like everything I’m doing at the moment is for the first time, so there’s a lot to take on. But at the same time, I still wake up every day, have my cup of tea.
Before filming, did you know how seriously people take these books?
I genuinely had no idea. At all. Stuff would start to seep in as I would film or people would be like, “Hey, you know this is one of the top downloaded books on Amazon?” And you’re like, “Oh! Wow! Okay.” It’s an amazing book, but my God.
[SPOILER ALERT for those who haven’t seen last week’s episode.] Sean Bean’s Ned is now gone, and you two never got to shoot a scene together. Since Dany’s story is so separate from the rest of the ensemble’s, did you ever feel you were missing out on the fun?
I know what you mean. We kind of did the first read-through as a whole cast and you make your friends and you all go out and it’s all good fun — and then I left [laughs]. And everyone else got to stay. But we had our fun.
How were you at riding horses before this series?
Well, I can ride. Not incredibly, but I felt reasonably competent. But it is so different when they put a camera in front of your horse. You suddenly get such a fear of breaking all of this really expensive equipment and mowing down the director. So I would get quite nervous and then the horse would get very nervous. Yeah, it was a nightmare. I almost got knocked off in the first day when it was raining in Belfast, and I think from then on that’s what sort of set off my fear of riding on-camera. Yes, my horse got quite spooked and there are a lot of scenes where people you can’t see out of the shot are kind of holding on to the horse. And I’m about to fall off.
In the book, during the wedding scene with Dany and Khal Drogo, Dany seems to be enjoying the intimacy with Khal. In the series, that scene was presented more as rape. Why was that changed?
It was something that we discussed in great depth. As an actor, for me, it was a really important part of Dany’s journey that I kind of wanted us to get right. Just with regards to the book, when you’re adapting a book into screen, you don’t have the narrative. When you’re reading the book, you have it all there: You have their thoughts, you have their motivations, you have their background, you have their childhood. Putting it onscreen, that’s not there. So you need to make things clearer, I think. With the book, it just seems too sudden. It just seems that she’s introduced to this guy who’s the most fearsome person she’s ever come across and, within one moment, that’s it. It’s done. What we kind of wanted to show, we wanted to track the real growth of the relationship; I don’t think it would have made too much sense to instantly go into that. It wouldn’t have let Dany’s journey really kind of blossom. I don’t know, we kind of thought it needed to take more than that to crack Drogo, you know? Because in the book it kind of happens instantly and we thought it was important to show, I don’t know — a bit more reality. And I think it helped the progression of Dany and Drogo.
Did you know going into the show how much nudity there would be?
Of course. Of course when you audition for the part, they let you know that you’re auditioning for a part that will include some nudity. That’s kind of the process, so, you know, if that’s not something that you’re prepared to do, then that kind of happens quite early on. But, yeah, obviously, I’m reading the books and I’m like, Oh, there is going to be a certain amount of nude scenes, and all that kind of stuff. It’s not what I was looking forward to doing and it’s not something I was excited about filming. It was definitely tricky. And hard, as a young actress filming an HBO series — it’s daunting enough as it is without having that thrown in. But it’s integral for the character. It’s integral for her growth and I think it’s an important thing to show. I don’t think you could have done Dany justice without showing that. And, so, as an actor, I kind have my own ways of how to deal with it. It was throwing myself into the acting side of things that kind of made it all much easier.
What about the scene where you’re eating the horse’s heart? What was that actually made out of?
That was one of those amazing scenes that you get as an actor that there’s just no acting required — at all. It was disgusting! They promised me that it would taste similar to a gummy bear and it definitely didn’t. It was kind of like … the best way to describe it is sort of a congealed jam kind of thing. On the outtakes, there will be me heaving into a bucket. It’s such a reflex, when you taste something that’s just so revolting, you kind of instantly just want to get rid of it. It’s safe to say that I didn’t eat lunch that day.