LAST SEEN AS “THE MOTHER OF DRAGONS,” DAENERYS TARGARYEN, IN HBO’S GAME OF THRONES, THIS BRITISH ACTRESS CHOOSES A CLASSIC HOLIDAY ROMANCE AS HER NEXT PROJECT THOUGH ONE WITH AN EDGE
BY MATT SCANLON
It must have been a daunting proposition how to follow up a starring role in the highest-rated HBO series ever one that amassed a record 161 Emmy Award nominations over its 73 episodes, as well as five Golden Globe nominations for Best Television Series Drama. Listing Game of Thrones’ critical praise and trophies would take far more words than this article has space for. Suffice it to say that it altered the career trajectories of every one of its cast members, perhaps most notably Emilia Clarke, who received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for her portrayal of Daenerys Targaryen, “The Mother of Dragons.”
Born in London in 1986, Emilia Isobel Euphemia Rose Clarke studied at the Drama Centre London and appeared in a number of stage productions afterwards, including a 2009 Company of Angels performance of Sense. That same year, she nabbed a part in the short film, Drop the Dog, then made a first TV appearance in an episode of Doctors, a BBC One soap opera. Syfy channel offered her a part in its 2010 flick, Triassic Attack, which, though savaged by critics, got her name around, including among Game of Thrones producers. Production began on the medieval fantasy epic that same year, and wrapped in 2018 after eight seasons. In September, Daenerys acolytes, including legions of Twitter fans, showered Clarke with expressions of sympathy and outrage when she was yet again denied a Primetime Emmy (she’d been up for the honor four times). “If you don’t succeed, laugh until you do,” she responded in part in a September 22 tweet.
Clarke last movie-starred in the 2018 Ron Howard-directed Solo: A Star Wars Story, and it would be tempting to segue from such a sweeping and era-altering production as Game of Thrones to a comparably grand production, but Clarke instead opted for something lighter, and in keeping both with Hollywood’s holiday film tradition and its relentless appetite for comedic romance scripts.
In Last Christmas, she plays Kate, who suffers through her job as an elf in the year-round Christmas shop, Yuletide Wonderful, which has the effect of making her feel decidedly uninterested in merrymaking generally. Then she meets Tom, played by Henry Golding (Host of BBC’s The Travel Show, and who played Nick Young in Crazy Rich Asians), who enters her life unexpectedly and begins the arduous process of burrowing through her weltschmerz.
Directed by Paul Feig (2016’s Ghostbusters and Spy) and with a screenplay by Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings, the film was released (November 8) on the 35th anniversary of Wham!’s hit song, “Last Christmas,” which is featured in the production and which partially inspired both Producer David Livingstone (who began the development of a romantic comedy based on the George Michael-written song more than 10 years ago) and Thompson’s writing process. The soundtrack also includes previously unreleased material by the late Wham! band member and solo artist.
Thompson actually had a conversation with Michael several years ago the two discussing concepts she’d hoped to embrace with his music as inspiration.
“I had a wonderful afternoon with him; this was at least two years before he died [in 2016],” Thompson said in a Universal Pictures interview. “He was a very kind man who loved the idea of the story… [particularly] elements of it that were socially conscious, because he was always very involved in that. I loved him, and I thought I’d love to work with him and be part of this.”
The resulting script, Thompson added, has light-hearted components, to be sure, but is also an unvarnished look at its setting: London in 2017, the year after the Brexit vote and with much uncertainty and anxiety in the air.
“Everything I ever wanted to write about is in this story,” she explained. “How we behave, how we look after each other, how to love, and how to live in a modern world where it’s so hard for people not to get sidetracked.” In addition to her screenplay responsibilities, Thompson took the part of Kate’s old-world mother, Petra, who, with her husband, brought Kate and her sister to England from 1990s war-torn Yugoslavia. The entire family is marked by that experience its effects including steering sister Marta (Lydia Leonard) into a life of buttoned-up expectation, while Kate often not so gently falls to pieces.
“Kate is a young woman who’s a bit confused, lost and anchorless,” Clarke said, also in a Universal Pictures interview. “As the story develops, the turbulent journey that she’s been through becomes clear. Although there were a few boulders along the way, she ultimately meets someone who helps her see a new perspective of life.”
“Emma wrote this story with such care and truth,” added Clarke. “She understands the complexity of human nature and has intertwined that knowledge throughout. is story celebrates the uncertainties, scary moments, and beauties of being a human being. [It is] a love letter to anyone who has ever felt confused or lost at times in their lives. It lends a hopeful message that it’s all right to feel this way and that you’ll soon come to know yourself.”
In classic attraction-of-opposites idiom, Clarke’s and Golding characters seem, at least initially, to be destined for conflict.
“Tom embodies someone who just has it together,” said Clarke. “Kate is quite the opposite constantly drunk, hungover…falling over and breaking things. She is, as my best friend would say, a ‘spiller.’ You don’t give a spiller a glass of red wine when you’ve just put new carpets in,” adding that part of the script messaging had a hint of life imitating art about it. As a child, she recalled her grandfather. As Daenerys Targaryen, “The Mother of Dragons,” in Game of Thrones their reminding her to “look up,” to see the world so many take for granted.
“One of the central themes of this lm is that idea of ‘looking up,’” Clarke said. “It speaks to the importance of opening up, being aware of your surroundings and taking a moment to smell the roses of the world you’re living in.”
“[Kate] manages to be this slightly frustrated and frustrating character, but she does it with such charm that you can’t help but love her,” observed David Livingstone. “Emilia will make you cry and make you laugh; I can’t imagine anyone else playing this role.”
Currently residing in London, Clarke will likely be seen next in the thriller, Above Suspicion, which was actually completed in 2016 but is still awaiting a release date, despite being widely praised by screener critics.