INTERVIEW: Emilia Clarke on Me Before You and Game of Thrones

The new film Me Before You (now in theaters) marks a bit of a change of pace for Emilia Clarke after the action her antics of last summer's franchise opus Terminator Genisys. The romantic drama, based on the best-seller of the same name by Jojo Moyes, Emilia is Louella "Lou" Clarke, a free-spirited young woman tasked with taking care of Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a recent victim of a motorcycle accident that has left him quadriplegic.

For the actress, the project was a switch from her famed role as the Mother of Dragons on HBO's hugely-successful Game of Thrones. I had a chance to talk to her recently about why Me Before You so appealed to her, how she responds to those that think it puts forth a negative message about the disabled, and more. Read on for some highlights, including her response when I confessed that I've never actually seen Game of Thrones.

This film is kind of a break from the characters that you're used to playing. Was it a deliberate choice on your part?

I don't really make too many choices, in terms of strategic planning. That doesn't happen with the way that I like to work. I just read a script, and I'm moved by a character or a story, and this was that times a million. I got incredibly moved by it, and it was just, as soon as I started reading it, I just knew: this is a side of who I am so I have to play it.

What is it specifically about the character that appealed to you?

So much. It was her warmth and her empathy and her sensitivity, and then her joy and funniness and wanting to help, and wanting to kind of be bright and refreshing. And my god, we've got so much swampy darkness that we have on everything, on all kind of media, and it seems like that's what is the most, kind of, interesting choice. And this just seemed to me that you had this breath of fresh air with this incredibly topical, political point at the heart of it, and then a love story on top. That's just kind of an interesting concoction I hadn't read before.

Do you worry that people will perceive this as a pro-suicide film, simplifying something that's much more complicated than that?

Well, I think it was something we were incredibly delicate about and very sensitive about, and we all...obviously, Jojo herself did a huge amount of research, and that's her story with the book to get to this idea. But then we, as a cast -- especially me, Sam, and Thea, the director -- did a huge amount, met a lot of people. And I, individually, did my own work. Sam did his own work.

There was an adviser who worked in a hospital with quadriplegics every day on set every day to make sure that everything was as it should be, so there was no false...we weren't showing anything Hollywood-y. It was as accurate as it could. But I also think that the beauty of what we've done is, because the heart of it really is a love story, it's really simple, and we just sort of painted the landscape.

And I hope what we did is show that it's a choice that people have, and I think one of the things we were very aware of was needing for each opinion to have a voice. So, you've got my mum, who's dismayed and disgusted by the idea. So, that's being said, that's being put up there, and people are listening to it and being affected by it. And then you've got the parent who hated the idea at first and then having to come to terms with it. And then you've got Lou who is horrified at first and then...

Lou is the nexus for both of those points of view to sort of come to fruition.

Exactly. That's exactly what she's dealing with. She's got both sides on her shoulder of what it is, and then, on a sort of human level, the horror of what that first instinct of: why would you do that? And then the reality of the situation, and then the understanding of her love, and her understanding that he has a choice.

Can you talk about working with Sam?

It was really wonderful because there was just -- this goes for the whole cast and crew, but especially for Sam and I -- we both had so much respect for each other and for the story, and we just both wanted to be there very much. So, we wanted to elevate this to its highest level and kind of be as sensitive and as professional as we could about it. And everything that he brought just made my job easier, and hopefully, I did the same for him.

Well, certainly, you can feel the character's heartbreak in that moment at the beach, without spoiling anything.

That was the hardest day filming ever, was that one. Also because I'd broken my hip.

So the pain was real.

The pain was so real! I couldn't even get on the damn...his lap. There was just too much pain! (laughs)

When we look at a film like this and we contrast it with something like Terminator last year, what is it that makes you draw on these different characters? Because I'm figuring, with your TV schedule, you probably have a limited window. You may get like, one project a year that you can do.

Yeah, there's a kind of short hiatus. I'm trying to squeeze two in this year, but, yeah, there's a short-ish hiatus.

So, that means that your time is precious. What drove you to Terminator?

With everything, it's like, how do you decide who's going to be your friend? How do you decide who's going to be your boyfriend or your girlfriend, your wife, your husband, whatever it is? You just, you're in that frame of mind at that moment and someone goes, "How about this?" and you're like, oh, you know, this kind of feels...yeah, it feels good. Let's do that today.

I try very much to not have a plan as such and to just kind of...I have the safety of Game of Thrones, which is the incredibly lucky thing that I have in that it is incredible. And I get to go back and reeducate myself every time and be with sort of a family that teaches me a huge amount. So, then the hiatus, I'm just like, I feel like trying this on.

Because that's my end goal, thinking about the scope of my career, is to just do as many different things as possible. I just want to push myself in every direction. So, I was like, yeah, give me a gun! Let's do this. Give me a fucking grenade launcher! And then, this came at just the right time.

I'm sure there was some comfort working with [Terminator and Game of Thrones director] Alan Taylor.

Exactly. It was lovely. Exactly, but I was reading this while filming that. So, it was hilarious, me clutching a gun and crying into my book.

So, then, your Terminator experience fed into this experience.

It really did. It really did. It's also really script-dependent. The amazing Ryan Gosling, I read, once said -- he described choosing roles like listening to songs on the radio. One just makes you want to dance. So, it literally is just that. Sometimes the one that makes you want to dance isn't number one, and that's okay, and others, you just can't help it; you have to do it. And, I must admit, this is the strongest I've ever felt about a character, is Me Before You.

On a performance level, it's so engrossing. You've got the characters who, you know they can't be together, and that's the heartbreaking aspect of it.

Hugely. It's this kind of star-crossed lovers element to it, exactly. And I feel like now we're in a much more evolved place than, "My dad doesn't like you so we're not allowed to get married." If you go back to kind of original storytelling and you're looking at Cinderella or whatever it is, now I feel like there's this wave of these tear-jerkers where there's a kind of incredibly sad heart to it. That's now a reality that people are talking about and giving a voice to. That kind of "we can't be together" as opposed to...

As opposed to Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, because society has, thankfully, moved past stuff like that.

Exactly. Obviously, Western society, to a point, has. Everyone's individual, but I just think that the drama of that love is kind of affecting to an audience.

So, I have a confession to make, and it's an embarrassing confession, and I'm giving this to you because when I told people I was talking to you, they said, "Ask her about what happened on Game of Thrones yesterday!"

And you don't watch Game of Thrones. (laughs)

It's not that I choose not to.

You have a life and time and people you want to spend your time with as opposed to watching the TV? (laughs) I get it.

This is the problem, right? That's a show that I cannot watch with children in the house.

No! Yeah, people say that to me, I'm like, what? Take the five-year-old out of the room! What are you doing?

I have four boys. So, by the time they go to sleep...I'm asleep. It's one of those things.

Yeah, damn straight.

So, we've reached a point in Game of Thrones' life where I was like, "I'm going to catch up! I'm going to catch up! I'm...going to wait until it's done."

"I'm going to wait until it's done and watch the whole thing." I did that with Breaking Bad. I would walk out of conversations, and then it got to the point where I was like, "Everything's spoiled for me now!" And when it was over, I did the whole however many seasons there were. I did the whole thing. Same with The Wire. I was, like, a decade late on that one. I hear you.

So, that's kind of the thing. Game of Thrones has been completely spoiled for me, and I'm still looking forward to experiencing it, but...

Yeah. And, heck, you may not like it! And that's okay.

I don't doubt that I will, but again, it's like...

It's a commitment.

That's the thing, you know?

It's a commitment.

It's like, do I want to enter into this marriage right now, or do I want to date a little right now?

Exactly. I've just started watching Orange is the New Black.

Oh, wow, okay.

Like, just.

So you feel my pain, okay.

It's so much effort! It's a have to wait until you get sick, and then you're like, there's nothing better to do. I'm now going to take it on. (laughs)

So, this is a Game of Thrones question on behalf of my partner: Do you find it challenging to speak these made-up languages and to find truth in that?

So, Game of Thrones was my first job, pretty much. Like, right out of the gate, it was...I was just eager as all hell and just happy to be employed. Truly, that was the heart of it. The fact that it was HBO was ridiculous, and the fact that it did well was, like, what? But so, learning Dothraki, which is one of the made-up languages that I speak, in season one, I was just like, this is what actors do. This is just what happens.

Sometimes you have to do this stuff. I mean, I'd been to drama school, but this was very different. And then, when it rolls around in season six, you're like, dude, please! Like, a week of back-to-back Dothraki. Oh, my goodness. And it's beginning to get harder, but then, when you...and I suppose it's just because I'm becoming a bit more -- I'm doing other things, so I'm like, come on, I just want to speak English! But then, when you do manage to harness that power -- because normally I'm saying something really badass in that language and doing something really strong in it, so it makes it helpful. I do it to my kitchen.

But it goes out of your mind really quickly. So, I'll be rehearsing it in my kitchen, and my oven will get it, like, get the whole thing. And there's something about having the protection, when you have an accent, when I put on an accent like I'm doing for this movie I'm filming right now, it allows me to be a whole other person, and I get to say all the stuff in my head that I'm like, filter, don't say that! But in the accent, I'm like, this is an accent; it's totally fine. So, Dothraki, the made-up language, is the same thing.

It's an accent.

It's an accent. So, I get to just unleash another aspect of myself that I'd be too afraid to in real life.

Do you have a word-by-word translation so you know what the heck you're saying? Or, it's like, "This is the gist"?

So, "The cat sat on the mat," that's the English line, and then it'll be their translation. So, it won't be "The cat sat on the mat." It'll be, "Yeath cateth sat mat onith did it"...something, and then it'll be the Dothraki whatever, and I have my mp3 player, and I just, by rote, over and over and over and over. Twenty minute working, ten-minute break, do something active, twenty minute working, ten-minute break, do something active.

And it's effective, so there you go.

Thank you!


Big thanks to the delightful Emilia Clarke for her time. Me Before You is now playing everywhere. For the audio of this interview, check out the latest episode of the MovieFilm Podcast at this link or via the embed below: