This story first appeared in the April 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
For some reason, Emilia Clarke best remembers the fruit plate.
It was 2010, and the actress was standing before Game of Thrones' casting director and several of the show's producers. But all she could see was the produce. "There was a huge, incredible plateau of fruit," Clarke, 28, recalls in her chirpy British accent. "I was like, 'Wow, I've arrived. This is a serious audition.' "
Just one year out of the famed Drama Centre London (other alums include Colin Firth, Michael Fassbender and Tom Hardy), the self-described "country girl" who grew up in Berkshire near Oxford University (where her father is a theater sound engineer and her mom a marketing exec) was struck by the extravagance. But Clarke was auditioning for the role of a queen, Daenerys Targaryen, potential heir to the Iron Throne. And HBO was willing to spend like a Lannister — $8 million for the pilot, $50 million to $60 million for the first season — in order to build the series. The snacks better be good.
Of course, in the five years since, Game of Thrones has become the most successful show in HBO history, surpassing even The Sopranos, with an average 18.4 million viewers an episode across all platforms. The series has grown so big, it's being used as the cornerstone of HBO's new business model; it's no accident that HBO Now - a service that can bypass the cable companies and allows access to its programs via Apple TV for a monthly charge of $15 - is launching right before GOT's fifth-season premiere April 12.
"Never in a million years did I think Game of Thrones was going to take off like it did," says Clarke, settling into her chair at a Greenwich Village bistro with a cafe Americano (she lives in London but is in New York for the upcoming GOT publicity blitz). "It's taken me five years to catch up with it. I'm still not sure I'm there."
Oh, she's there. Game of Thrones is a kingdom teeming with ambitious actors hungry for a big break. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau took his shot last spring in the Cameron Diaz rom-com The Other Woman. Kit Harington had his chance playing a gladiator in February 2014's Pompeii. But Clarke is the only castmember who'll be stepping onto the big screen with better billing than Arnold Schwarzenegger, starring as no less a film icon than "Sarah Connor" - as Clarke refers to her - in Terminator: Genisys, Paramount and Skydance's $170 million reboot of the 31-year-old series (out July 1). She also was, presumably, the only GOT actor approached to play Dakota Johnson's role in Fifty Shades of Grey (unless Peter Dinklage is hiding something), which she ended up turning down. "No regrets," she says, sipping her coffee.
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