THE WILD CHILDEmilia Clarke
By Merle Ginsberg and Laurie Sandell
FOUR YEARS AGO, when Emilia Clarke was fresh out of drama school and "working six jobs to pay the rent," she got a call from her agent: She had 24 hours to prepare for an audition for a new HBO show called Game of Thrones. "I called in sick to my catering job and Wikipedia-ed the crap out of it," recalls the 27-year-old London-based actress, who landed the part of Daenerys "Dany" Targaryen four days later. "To be employed by HBO, I was like, 'I can die now.'" These days, she flies off to locales like Malta, Croatia, and Morocco to film the fantasy series, the fourth season of which just premiered. Though her rolea displaced, white-blonde queen with three dragons as chargesis arguably the most memorable in a show full of unforgettable characters, the Emmy-nominated Clarke herself goes unrecognized most of the time, thanks to her natural brown hair and decidedly contemporary wardrobe. Today, she's wearing white Topshop skinny jeans, a Helmut Lang tank top, and Tory Burch wedge sandals, a far cry from Daenerys' signature flowing togas.
But flying beneath the radar keeps her humble. Clarke's response to a recent AskMen survey that named her Most Desirable Woman of 2014? "I'm sure it was some member of my family clicking a thousand times," jokes Clarke. "Maybe one of those men could ask me out on a date." And should she ever fall prey to an inflated Tinseltown ego, her tiny hometown in Buckinghamshire in the south of England promises to keep her grounded. "I get to go home and walk the dog and no one really cares in the most glorious way," she says. "They're more intrigued about whether people are picking up the dog muck from the path."
Clarke might have inherited her down-to-earth genes from her parents. She recalls showing her father, a theater sound engineer, a gold necklace inscribed with her "Mother of Dragons" moniker, "MOD," given to her by Game of Thrones writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Upon inspecting the nameplate, her father asked with a furrowed brow, "Why on earth have you got 'Ministry of Defense' 'round your neck?"
In addition to her Game of Thrones role, Clarke has played Holly Golightly in the Broadway version of Breakfast at Tiffany's. She waxes exuberant equally about those she knows and respects (stage co-star Cory Michael Smith is "the love of my life...a fierce talent...a serious one to watch") and those she's never met and respects, like her "favorite person on the planet": Ryan Gosling. "I dont know him," she says. "I've just read this interview where I'm like, 'Okay, you're now officially beautiful and intelligent.'"
She's also done small British indies like 2012's Spike Island, for which she claims viewers will need subtitles to understand her Manchester accent, and the just-released Dom Hemingway, in which she plays a daughter estranged from her criminal father (Jude Law). And for her next huge break, she's currently training to play Sarah Connor in the next Terminator movie, set for 2015.
Though Clarke is just getting started, she already has her eye fixed firmly on the golden ring: "Personally, I'd like as many children as I can pop out, I reckon. You come from a happy family; you want to create a happy family. And in the same breath, I'd like to be on stage at England's National Theatre, doing Miller and Chekhov. Give me a Sam Mendes/Tennessee Williams combinationthat would be glorious. And to be making some Oscar-worthy movies with Scorsese. I'm always looking for the hard road. That way, you remain interested and interesting. Hopefully." Laurie Sandell
PROVENANCE/CURRENT RESIDENCE: London
BIG BREAK: HBO's Game of Thrones
SEE HER IN: Dom Hemingway, now playing
WHO KNEW? She backpacked throughout northern India when she was 16 to scatter the ashes of her Delhi-born grandmother.