Daenerys Targaryen returns for Game of Thrones season two, which means British actress Emilia Clarke will don the platinum wig and ride again. Clarke – who is a brunette away from set! – speaks about the Khaleesi's steps this season, the challenges (and pleasures) of working with dragons and about finally getting out of the mud.
Set the scene for your character Daenerys Targaryen at the beginning of season two.
When we last saw Dany she was in this borderline spiritual place. Season two sees her crashing back down to a very practical earth, and trying to deal with the realities that she’s been given. Everything for her is incredibly frustrating. It’s not only that she’s dealing with the fact that she is a woman in a man’s world – she’s a girl in a man’s world. That’s actually quite shocking when you think about all the things she has to deal with, because there’s no Drogo now, there’s no man that she can hide behind. Now it’s all down to her. Dany feels, for me, incredibly alone during this season and she begins to question everyone around her. So I think that she’s feeling a huge amount of pressure - heavy is the head that wears the crown.
You must be one of the only actors in the world whose co-stars include three dragons. How was that?
For the camera rehearsals we had these – well, I just can’t call them toys, because CGI could get really annoyed with me! Basically, there were these life-size models that I got to work with in the rehearsals. They were correctly weighted and they allowed me to get an eye line so that it would look right when the dragons you see were added in CGI. I got really weirdly maternal over them, I must say, really protective. And then when we were actually filming they weren’t there at all! That was good in a way because it tested my imagination.
Maternal over dragons?
Hugely. I mean I’ve had a season to build up to it. In Season one it’s sort of what I was working on the entire way - Dany has this weird pull towards them and then in the final scene, when the dragons appear, it was just like I’d given birth. So they are very much like my children. It’s all that Dany’s got, there’s no one else that she can truly, 100 percent, rely on and trust. They are kind of just an extension of her.
Introduce us to the dragons…
They’re Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal. Rhaegal is named after my eldest brother Rhaegar, who died at sea before I was even born and also who I named my unborn child after. Viserion is after my brother Viserys and Drogon is after my husband, Drogo. Drogon is the black one and the biggest, baddest one. If I need to bring out the big guns, then I bring him out. Viserion is green, a little bit sneakier and craftier. And then Rhaegal is the one I see as the baby: he’s the golden boy.
As they get bigger will the dragons become her weapons? Will we get to see some dragon-style ass-kicking?
Yes, definitely. And just as with the wolves throughout the rest of the show, the dragons are fiercely loyal, totally protective - they are as one.
How big do they get?
Fans who’ve read the books will know they get big enough to ride. It’s an exciting prospect for me, but we’re way away yet.
One season in, how has being in a huge hit like Game of Thrones changed your life?
Absolutely everything in my life has completely transformed. I’ve tried to not take too many steps back and view it as a whole. I just take each new day as it comes. Because I’m learning – it’s genuinely a new experience every single day of my life. All I’m trying to do is just stay true to myself and realise that any hype is all froth and bubble at the end of the day. The only thing that matters is that first and foremost I want to be an actor. I never look at the internet – I can barely even look at myself on the screen – so I keep a big distance from it, and if anyone ever says anything really, really lovely or something wonderful happens, someone will tell me. And then if someone says something bad, my mum will probably tell me first to warn me!
Have you read the books to find out what happens to your character?
I do read the books, but I only read up to where I can manage with what we’re about to start filming, so I can’t get too ahead of myself. I’m up to number four. Especially with Dany, every season she goes on another massive new arc, so I just couldn’t go too far ahead. Otherwise I’d forget where I was.
Does it help or hinder to have the books as a resource?
It helps completely – it’s like a cheat sheet. Every actor works differently, but I really like having that safety net. If I’m confused or unsure or not really seeing how we’re getting from A to B to C, I’ll just go back to the book and I’ll inevitably find the answer.
What do you think is Dany’s primary motivation?
The difference between Dany and the rest of the characters on the show is that her desire to get to where she wants to get to doesn’t come from an egotistical, selfish place. It’s her destiny and it’s something she has no control over. It’s something that she was born with, that she kind of ran away from for a really long time and then as soon as she acknowledges it, that’s it – she’s just got to carry on and deal with it as best she can. She knows that she is the right person to take the throne, basically. In that sense her ultimate want is to fulfil what she knows she has to do.
Is there any parallel between Dany’s path and your own?
Completely. 100 percent: it’s alarming how much we echo one another. I mean not literally: I don’t have any dragons. But we were both naïve, young individuals in the beginning of this whole experience and I feel like I’ve grown with her and learnt with her. It’s nice in that sense; you kind of feel like you’re not alone. That may make me sound like a completely pretentious actor but I can’t help it. It’s just completely true.
Where do you film your scenes?
All of my scenes were in Dubrovnik, pretty much, apart from the CGI stuff in Belfast. Croatia is staggering, beautiful, absolutely wonderful. I had a great, great time. Could have done with a few more days off to enjoy it…
How were the costumes this time round?
The fun thing about the costumes for this season is that I felt confident enough to be able to work in collaboration with our costume designer, as opposed to going, "Okay, cool, whatever you say." Because I kind of knew where she was going, Dany is getting into her own style, which is really cool.
How would you characterise her style?
It’s getting more practical in terms of realising that she’s a woman in a man’s world. Her costume very much echoes what she’s dealing with. So if she’s coming up against something, you sort of see her dressing practically to suit how she needs to behave. And then towards the end of the season she just goes, screw this, I’m doing it my way.
You spent a lot of season one daubed in mud. Do you get to wash this time?
Yes, that’s the nice thing about Season two: I’m clean for a lot of it. Although the mud is good for the complexion…
How do you find the more physical aspects of filming: the fighting, the riding and the action sequences?
I like getting my teeth in to stuff like that, so it’s good. I find that a lot of the good acting comes out when you’re physically being pushed: your brain turns off and just deals with the situation at hand. You get to a point where you’re exhausted at the end of the day, but I quite like that.
You’re really a brunette. How do you get your hair to that classic Targaryen platinum blonde?
It’s a wig. It takes two and a half hours each morning to conceal my real hair. It gets braided, kind of like corn rows, and then they sort of flatten it, and then you cut the bald cap and glue it on, and then you paint that. Then you put the wig on and then you glue, cut the lace, glue it and then dress the wig.
Do you feel transformed when you finally get to look at yourself in the mirror?
Definitely yes. I mean it’s a bugger when you’re getting sunstroke in ridiculous heat in a quarry in Croatia, but yes, it is wonderful to be able to just completely transform. It works on two levels – as an actor you can look in the mirror and not see yourself; and as a human-being being on the street it means no-one know who the hell you are!
How do you relate to the fans at events like Comic-Con?
That was… oh my God! It was genuinely feeling like a rock star. It was incredible, and insane and a complete head wrecker, because you’re there and people are so in love with the books and so in love with the character and it’s just joyous to hear and incredibly wonderful. But at the same time it’s a bit overwhelming. There were lots of people dressed as Dany there, I should add, and they looked wicked.
Finally, if this is a game, who’s going to win?
Oh my goodness! I don’t know. I was thinking about this last night: it’s almost like you watch a character, you see them play their cards and it’s about who strategically has got the best hand. Through a season you start to get into people’s heads and you start to see how they’re doing: like, "You’re going to slip up there," or, "No, you’ve got what it takes." It starts to question your own moral compass, because you’re looking at them and you’re thinking, "Well he failed and died because of these choices, and this guy is winning because of those choices." I think that’s another reason why people love Game of Thrones – it sets your mind racing and you can relate to it in so many ways.
This interview was supplied exclusively to Time Out by HBO.