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'Game of Thrones' star Emilia Clarke finds personal strength in playing Daenerys

The frenzy surrounding Game of Thrones continues to mount as Season 6 approaches. The epic HBO series based on novels by George R.R. Martin has become so popular that every minor leak or hint of a spoiler travels across cyberspace with unprecedented velocity, and the massive interest in questions like "Is Jon Snow really dead?" will surely push the series' audience past 20 million viewers this year.

And fans can be confident that Emilia Clarke's Daenerys Targaryen will continue to play an active part in the bloody mayhem that has turned the series into a cultural phenomenon. Clarke, as the exiled princess Daenerys (aka the "Mother of Dragons"), is arguably the cornerstone of the show. So can Clarke provide any insights into Season 6 for GoT's legions of fans?

"Hah, you know I can't reveal anything," Clarke says. "I can tell you that it's going to be an epic season and you're going to see some of the biggest moments that have ever been shown on television. Other seasons have been more centered around building up the story and evolving the characters and storylines. This season though is relentless. ... It's just go, go, go!"

Game of Thrones has defined 29-year-old Clarke's career. She's seen her life transformed from that of a disgruntled and "incompetent" call-center employee into a lead actor on a series that has changed the TV landscape and made her an international sex symbol. She's also ventured into film, turning down the role of Anastasia in Fifty Shades of Grey to play Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys last year. Later this year, she'll appear opposite Sam Clafin in Me Before You, a romantic drama that also partners her with former GoT co-star Charles Dance (who played Tywin Lannister).

Clarke was raised in Oxfordshire, England, and first became entranced by the world of show business when, as a toddler, her parents took her to a London production of Show Boat. She lives in London and was rumored to have briefly dated GoT's Kit Harington (Jon Snow) last year. But her GoT shooting commitments have led her to despair over her romantic life: "(Romantic relationships) are absolutely impossible. I'm soppy and I do like to believe that when the right person comes along, it will work, because you want to make it work. Everyone else seems to manage it."

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In the new season of "Game of Thrones," Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) must reclaim her throne and her dragons after being captured by Dothraki horselords. Photo: Macall B. Polay/HBO.

Emilia, how does it feel to be a central player in one of the greatest series in the history of television?

Sometimes it's difficult to for me to believe how lucky I've been. This series has given me the kind of role that every actress dreams of getting. I never imagined while I was working at this terrible call-center that I would get a part on Game of Thrones, much less get to play a major character. Even when I was told that I was going to play Daenerys, I had no idea it would turn out to be so important. I was just happy to be able to earn a living doing what I love.

Will Season 6 see Dany rebound after some of the harsh times she encountered last season?

She's going to move forward again. She's going to trust herself and her instincts more and then stand by her decisions. She won't make the same mistakes again. There's a lot of interesting things in store for her and the other characters. I don't think audiences will be disappointed. There's going to be something for everyone this season.

Apart from the work itself, what do you look forward to when you go back onto the set and get to put the blonde wig and costumes on again?

It's a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I think it compares to the feeling you have when you return to school after the summer holidays and you get to wear the uniform again and see all your friends whom you've missed while you've been away. And of course I have to wonder whether my dragons are going to devour me one day!

What's a typical day like, working on Game of Thrones?

It varies a lot, of course, depending on whether we're doing more intimate scenes or we need to do greenscreen (for the dragons).

Usually I'm up very early in the morning and I spend two-and-a-half hours in hair and makeup before I'm ready to go on set. Most of the time is spent getting the hair right. The wig is very big and it takes a lot of work. I'm very happy when I get to take it off because it's so hot and heavy.

Clarke's time working on "Game of Thrones" varies depending on whether or not she's acting opposite greenscreen sets depicting her dragons. Photo: HBO.

Clarke's time working on "Game of Thrones" varies depending on whether or not she's acting opposite greenscreen sets depicting her dragons. Photo: HBO.

You and Peter Dinklage were both nominated for Emmys this year. How did that feel?

It was such a great honor and I'm so happy for Peter (who won for best supporting actor in a dramatic series). He's such a charming and wonderful man and it was so great to finally get to work with him (in Season 5). He has such a superb sense of humor and everyone loves being around him on the set because he's so funny and clever.

Daenerys is a very powerful albeit lonely figure. How has your perspective on her changed as the character has evolved over the years?

It's been a revelation for me to be able to grow with her and watch her transform from a girl into a woman. She has great natural strength and self-assurance and I try to draw as much inspiration as I can from her willpower and determination in the face of great challenges.

I feel I've matured faster because playing Dany has forced me to think more seriously about my own life. It's been exciting for me to get to evolve along with my character.

You've often stated how you thrive on playing determined women like Dany and Sarah Connor.

I was very shy and awkward as a teenager but I always had an inner sense of determination and ambition. I aspire to playing strong women because that's how women are in real life even though that's not always portrayed in film or TV. George (R.R. Martin) has created very dynamic and empowering female characters who use their femininity and sexuality as well as their intelligence to make their mark in the world.

Do you hear from a lot of young women who feel inspired by your portrayal of Daenerys?

Yes. That's a wonderful part of my job. I enjoy being able to reach people through my work and maybe help give them confidence and empower them to achieve their dreams.

Self-confidence and self-belief are very important issues for young women and I am very proud that I have had the chance to play a woman who has transformed herself from a girl with low self-esteem into a much more powerful and confident young woman. She's a great example to young women, I think.

Is there a key to being both a smart and successful woman?

I think women need to embrace our strength as well as our vulnerability and sensitivity.

You're playing quite a different character in your upcoming film, Me Before You.

Yes. I'm playing a more goofy, awkward woman. She's kind of clumsy and insecure at times, more like the person my family and friends see in real life.   But thanks to playing Dany, I've become much bolder. At least I hope so.

Game of Thrones premieres April 24 on HBO. 

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