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The untold truth of Emilia Clarke

Thanks to her starring role in HBO's massive hit series Game of Thrones, which is airing its final season in the spring of 2019, Emilia Clarke has become one of the most recognizable faces in television, despite modest beginnings and a fast rise from a relative unknown to the face of one of the biggest television series of all time. Clarke has appeared in other high-profile roles, including turns in films like Solo: A Star Wars Story and Terminator Genisys, but her most significant part is still her role as Daenerys Targaryen (also known as Khaleesi), the Mother of Dragons, who remains a major contender for the Iron Throne as the story of Westeros enters its endgame.

Even with all the publicity Clarke has gotten since Thrones premiered in 2011, there are still plenty of fun facts and discoveries to make about this engaging, talented actor with an extraordinary future ahead of her. Here are just a few of the untold truths about Emilia Clarke's life and career.

She got into theater at a young age

Clarke was seemingly born to be an actor, considering that her father worked in the theater community in London as a sound engineer. As a child, the first show that Clarke ever saw was a production of Showboat, where her father was working at the time. She was enthralled, falling in love with the theater right then and there.

Her father was less than enthusiastic about her goals, taking her to a real audition in the West End specifically to dissuade her. She bombed completely by showing up unprepared with a folk song. Clarke once said that her father's only advice to her as she continued to pursue her dream was to be aware of the pitfalls of her desired career, reminding her that actors rarely make any money and that the only line she would ever need would be "do you want fries with that?" Though her father only had the best intentions, both Game of Thrones and audiences across the world are lucky Clarke kept at it until she succeeded, eventually attending the prestigious Drama Centre London.

She has a dramatic family history

As Daenerys Targaryen, Clarke has excelled at bringing a complex and layered character to life seamlessly over her years on Game of Thrones. A character with a complicated and storied family history, Daenerys comes from a long line of royals known for their formidable tempers, their pet dragons, and their infamous love lives (specifically, her brother Rhaegar's apparent affair with the king's beloved, which led to a war). Though she usually tries to keep a cooler head than her predecessors, especially her father (who was known as the Mad King), she sometimes falters.

Clarke's family history isn't nearly as fantastical as all that, but she does have drama further back in her lineage, thanks to an affair that her maternal great-grandmother had with an Indian man while the country was still a part of the British empire. Her child, Emilia's grandmother, was forced to lighten her skin with makeup to avoid suspicion in England. "The fact that [my grandmother] had to hide her skin color, essentially, and try desperately to fit in with everyone else must've been incredibly difficult," said Clarke, describing her family as "fighters," something they certainly share in common with Khaleesi.

She had several jobs before she got her big break

After appearing in numerous plays during her education at the Drama Centre London, Clarke's acting career got off to a quiet start after her graduation, with a few bit parts in commercials and appearances on British shows like Doctors and a SyFy original movie. Screen International named her as one of the "UK Stars of Tomorrow" in 2010. They were right on the money, as her audition for Daenerys came shortly after.

However, she had to make sure her bills were paid, and when the call came from HBO, she says she was working six jobs, including as a real estate agent during the summers while she studied at university. Realizing the importance of this particular audition, she called in sick to her catering job so she could attend. Her efforts were clearly worth it, as she booked the role of a lifetime, quickly becoming one of the most celebrated young actresses in the industry.

She wasn't the first actress to play Daenerys Targaryen

The fact that Clarke even got the chance to audition for Game of Thrones is extraordinary, as the pilot had already been shot by the time she got that fateful call from her agent. However, in a story that is now Game of Thrones legend, the original pilot for Thrones was a complete failure, according to creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. The pair said that between "overwrought" death scenes, faulty casting, and unclear storytelling, they were soundly unhappy with their first attempt, and eventually re-shot about 90% of the episode.

The creators have politely declined to discuss why they eventually decided to recast the role of Daenerys, which was originally played by Tamzin Merchant (known for roles like Catherine Howard on The Tudors) in the never-seen pilot. By now, at any rate, it's hard to imagine anyone but Clarke as Daenerys — over the course of seven seasons, she has been nominated for several Emmy awards and has made the role completely her own. She will likely be referred to as the "Mother of Dragons" for many more years to come, even if, without her signature platinum tresses, she's often unrecognizable out in public.

Her audition for Daenerys was somewhat unconventional

Even though Clarke ended up getting the role, she's the first to admit that her audition ended up taking a slightly odd turn. Before she even entered the audition room, she spent hours scouring Wikipedia to learn more about A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin's book series on which Game of Thrones is based and with which she says she was utterly unfamiliar. 

From there, the story gets much weirder. As she once told Jimmy Fallon, after she was finished reading the lines required of her, showrunners Benioff and Weiss asked if she could do anything else, and suggested that she try a dance. The future Khaleesi broke out into the Funky Chicken, following it up with the robot. Even after eliciting a few laughs, she didn't have high hopes, but was offered the part of Daenerys shortly thereafter.

As far as Benioff and Weiss are concerned, they made the right choice, no matter how offbeat Clarke's audition was. Weiss, in particular, once noted that the two, as well as assorted HBO executives, ultimately saw hundreds of people audition for the role. They were looking for a specific "messianic" quality, and only one actress had that in spades. Clarke may have gotten giggles out of the showrunners during her audition, but they could still see the trademark intensity she brings to Thrones lurking just under the surface.

She once backpacked through India

As Daenerys, Clarke is no stranger to traveling through foreign lands, often on foot. At the beginning of Thrones, she begins a long journey from the native land of the Dothraki warrior clan, located across the Narrow Sea from Westeros, in order to finally take back the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. She gets turned around several times over, ending up in Slaver's Bay and subsequently taking control of several slave cities before finally ending up in Westeros in the seventh season. Thanks to this storyline, Clarke herself has gotten to travel to several exotic filming locations over the years, including Croatia, Malta, Ireland, Iceland, and Spain, since Thrones is known for its international production and use of naturally beautiful filming locations.

Like her character, Clarke became a world traveler at a young age in real life. At just 16, she embarked on a backpacking trip through Northern India, continuing into Tibet, having made the journey to scatter the ashes of her Delhi-born grandmother. A few years later, she made a similar journey through Southeast Asia as well as South Africa, proving that she is just as adventurous as her signature character.

Her first theater role was a bit risqué

Thanks to her role on Thrones — a show notorious for plenty of nudity — Clarke isn't exactly a novice to nude scenes, even racking up a few during the show's first season. Clarke has said she doesn't regret her nude scenes thus far, despite a few awkward moments, including one where she inadvertently sat down for an episode with her family that featured her in the buff quite prominently.

As such, the bold actress had no qualms about appearing nude on stage (following in the footsteps of other franchise leaders like Daniel Radcliffe's starring turn in Equus) in a production of Breakfast at Tiffany's, which premiered at New York's Cort Theater in 2013. Naturally, a big name like Clarke drew crowds, including some pretty disturbing patrons who took extremely creepy photos of Clarke during her nude scenes. Unfortunately, the show closed after only 38 performances, thanks to ultimately dismal reviews of its overall direction. Though it's a shame that Clarke's first theatrical outing was blighted by weird audience members and bad reviews, she has a Broadway credit to her name, with likely more to come in the future.

She said no to Fifty Shades of Grey

After her breakout role on Thrones, Clarke was inundated with film offers, with one big franchise standing out from the pack. Reportedly, Clarke was offered the lead role of Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey, the first in a trilogy of soft-core-for-moms that took the world by storm when the original book series hit shelves in 2011. A film adaptation was all but inevitable considering the books' enormous sales, and casting both Steele and the titular dominant, Christian Grey, was certainly the most important part of the equation. Ultimately, Clarke turned the role down, and it famously went to Dakota Johnson, who starred alongside British actor Jamie Dornan for the entirety of the series.

Since then, Clarke has opened up about her reasoning behind this decision. Fifty Shades could have gained her even more exposure as an actor, but it simply wasn't the exposure she wanted. After her history of nude scenes on both screen and stage, Clarke didn't want to be labeled as any specific type of performer. She made what she believes was the right decision for her, stating that she has "no regrets" whatsoever about turning down this infamous role. Clarke certainly has other big roles in her future, and especially considering the bleak critical reception the trilogy ultimately received, this seems like a solid choice on her part.

She endured a huge tragedy during filming

Despite her personal successes, 2016 was quite a difficult year for the young star, between political struggles and family tragedies. In the aftermath of Brexit, an issue near and dear to Clarke's heart as a Londoner (she publicly expressed her support for Britain to remain a part of the European Union), she lost a family member shortly after the vote, and both situations set her adrift personally and professionally.

Clarke's father had suffered from cancer for years and succumbed to his illness in July of 2016, but heartbreakingly, she couldn't be there during his final days. As he declined, she was filming a movie in Kentucky, and even though she cut filming short as quickly as possible, she arrived at the airport in London only to learn that he had already passed away. This realization was understandably devastating for Clarke, but just three weeks later, she was due back on the set of Thrones. 

Clarke told Rolling Stone that, when forced to re-evaluate who she was, she came out stronger in the end. Since her father's death, she has soundly praised the nurses who cared for him, vowing to wholeheartedly support the medical community in England going forward. In 2018, she became an ambassador for London's Royal College of Nursing, joining in the school's ongoing campaign for financial support from the British government and the NHS.

She's close friends with her castmates

When a cast of actors is sworn to secrecy while filming one of the world's hottest shows in far-flung locations, it's only natural that many of them would become close friends, and Clarke is no exception. Daenerys started off the series with a wedding to Khal Drogo (played by future Aquaman star Jason Momoa), and since the two of them were quartered in Morocco together, they became fast friends. Though Drogo was dead by the end of the first season, Momoa and Clarke have remained close, often still referring to each other as "the moon of my life" and "my sun and stars." Momoa is one of Clarke's most supportive fans (and they both post plenty of adoring social media messages), and fans are always delighted by their reunions, which have taken place at major award shows as well as Comic-Con, where Momoa surprised Clarke completely.

Now, as the show ends, Clarke will almost certainly be closing out her character's storyline alongside Kit Harington. Harington plays the brooding Jon Snow, the presumed bastard who is actually Daenerys' royal nephew as well as her new lover (yikes). Luckily, she and Harington seem to be having a great time together on set, especially when they're joking around after love scenes. The pair have been friends since the first season, and each of them is likely excited to finish the series with a friend by their side. Their off-screen antics make that fairly clear.

She suffered a brain aneurysm during Thrones

Though Clarke has been quite public throughout her career, there was one period of her life she kept quiet until recently, when she published an extremely moving personal essay in The New Yorker about a health scare. Clarke, who began filming Thrones at the age of 24, suffered a debilitating brain aneurysm during a session with her personal trainer. Told that only a third of patients survive the specific type of bleed that she suffered, Clarke also learned after a minimally invasive form of brain surgery that she had a smaller aneurysm elsewhere in her brain that could also "pop." Shaky, exhausted, and partially reliant on morphine, Clarke bravely went back to work and continued filming Thrones until 2013, when the second aneurysm burst, requiring a much more invasive surgery that left her with an incredibly difficult recovery.

Clarke is now, per her essay, at "one hundred percent," and has started a charity called SameYou to help patients suffering from strokes and other brain injuries. As a professional actress and public figure, Clarke's brave decision to speak out about the most difficult period of her life to date — and her decision to help others going through the same — speaks volumes about her character, and will hopefully inspire anyone suffering from a similar condition.

She has a few significant tattoos

It's hardly uncommon for stars to get tattoos commemorating roles that they've played that are of major importance to them. The Lord of the Rings cast famously got the Elvish symbol for "nine" to celebrate the Fellowship, and five out of six original Avengers had a similar idea. Clarke's first celebratory tattoo was of a bumblebee dedicated to her role in Me Before You, where she played a big-hearted caretaker who also has a tattoo of a bumblebee, with Clarke placing hers on her pinky finger.

Naturally, Clarke needed to get a Thrones tattoo once she wrapped filming as Daenerys Targaryen. While her fellow castmates chose to mark the day they were cast on the show as a tribute, Clarke went with (what else?) three dragons on her wrist for each of Daenerys' "children." No matter what roles Clarke goes on to play, she will likely forever be remembered as the Mother of Dragons, and she certainly seems happy with that fate.