Game Of Thrones' Emilia Clarke gets tough in Terminator

Emilia Clarke (right) fights to save the world as Sarah Conner (above) in Terminator Genisys.
Emilia Clarke (above) fights to save the world as Sarah Conner in Terminator Genisys.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Emilia Clarke (right) fights to save the world as Sarah Conner (above) in Terminator Genisys.
Emilia Clarke fights to save the world as Sarah Conner (above) in Terminator Genisys.PHOTO: UIP

Actress Emilia Clarke goes from commanding armies in Game Of Thrones to fighting cyborgs in Terminator Genisys

With her diminutive 1.57m frame and doll-like features, actress Emilia Clarke is not exactly your typical Hollywood bada**.

But that is one of the reasons her character on the hit television series Game Of Thrones - a timid girl who becomes a charismatic leader commanding armies and dragons - is so beloved.

For her first leading role in a major movie, the 28-year-old Briton plays another formidable woman: the gun-toting Sarah Connor, who fights to save the world from evil cyborgs in Terminator Genisys, which is showing in Singapore cinemas.

Speaking to Life in Los Angeles, the actress says she is trying not to worry about how fans of Game Of Thrones - a pop-culture phenomenon that has made her one of the biggest names on television - will react to her new role.

"Yeah, I try not to think about that too much. All I'd ever wanted is that they're happy. It's not really my nature to look at comments about myself on the Internet. One would hope that there are lovely things being said," she says with a smile.

Similarly, she is tuning out any reaction from fans of the four earlier Terminator films (1984 - 2009) - in particular, any comparisons between her performance and those of Linda Hamilton, who played Connor in the first two, and best, instalments.

Clarke decided not to re-watch those films when she learnt she had landed the part.

"I grew up watching the movies, so I feel like I had a good grasp on who Sarah Connor was, thanks to the amazing Linda Hamilton. But it was only when I got the script that I realised I couldn't go back and watch it because it was going to cloud the new beginnings that we have within this script."

The new film imagines a slightly different trajectory for Connor, who in the first instalment was a defenceless waitress targeted for assassination by time-travelling cyborgs because she was to eventually give birth to the leader of the rebellion against them.

In Terminator Genisys, which co-stars Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke and Arnold Schwarzenegger reprising his iconic role, Connor has known about the cyborg threat since she was nine years old and has been training for it since.

Clarke says: "The Sarah Connor in this film has quite a different experience from the Sarah Connor we've seen before. She's had over a decade of knowing what her fate is and the result of that really has to be quite a different character.

"So it gave me the space to put my own stamp on it."

On top of that, the actress had to hold her own on a testosterone- filled set with male co-stars and stuntmen who were in peak physical condition.

"Yeah, so many boys," she says, grinning. "Bless them - they were very sweet, but I didn't let them treat me too differently."

She got through the demanding shoot by channelling the competitiveness she had acquired growing up with an older brother, she says. "It's like, this is going to be hard, the guns and training. So what can I do? I'm going to beat the boys - I made that my mission. I just wanted to turn up and feel so confident in my skill set that I can do whatever."

But she stopped short of trying to work out at the gym with Schwarz- enegger, who, at 67, is still "in crazy shape". "Uh, no. No, no, no. I would need like a week off after working out with Arnold."

What she ended up learning a lot from him was "not a chin-up".

"It was more about how to lead a cast, lead a set and be a consummate professional and also a really down-to-earth, lovely guy. Those are the things I myself wanted to learn from him."

In an industry where there has long been a dearth of strong female roles, she knows she is fortunate to have been able to play not one, but two, kick-butt women.

It is because her agents know exactly what she looks for in scripts, which are "roles that inspire me".

"Regardless of shape, size, colour, genre, I will do it as long as it's something that makes me feel like I could spend a year of my life doing it, or the writing is such that I feel I could get my teeth into it," she says.

"I just want to keep pushing myself as an actor and try as many things as possible on for size and have as varied and chameleon-like a career as possible."

Despite having spent four years and five seasons on Game Of Thrones - which earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama in 2013 - she says she will not rule out signing on to another project in the fantasy genre.

But she is also keen to diversify, which is why she will appear as the lead in Me Before You, a romantic comedy-drama due out next year.

While she will not brandish any guns or fire-breathing dragons, her character in that film is just as steely as the other women she has played.

"Her role in life isn't to save the world, but she has the most beautiful growth and story and is strong - just in a different way," says Clarke, comparing the role to the heroine of the Bridget Jones movies (2001 - 2004).

"I think that strength of character in being a woman comes in so many different shapes and forms, both in life and in the make-believe world that we're pretending to be in."

The stage-trained performer also hopes to put her theatrical and musical background to good use some day.

"The ability to sing in a movie is something I've never done before and I'd love to do it because music is something that really excites me."

If her goal is to not be defined by any one genre or role - even the one that has made her an international superstar - it helps that she seems able to shake off her Game Of Thrones character Daenerys Targaryen as soon as she takes off her long blonde wig.

Even diehard fans among the show's large and loyal following - the June season finale was watched by a record 8.1 million people in the United States, where it was also named the most illegally downloaded show for the third year running last year - can fail to recognise the Mother of Dragons when she is standing in front of them.

Clarke cannot resist having a bit of fun with those who almost make the connection but do not quite get there.

She says: "I get the whole, 'Did anyone ever tell you you look a lot like that girl, that blonde dragon chick?' I sometimes mess with them and say, 'Oh yeah, I heard she's an absolute nightmare. What a terrible actress.'"

Overall, her encounters with admirers of the series have been positive. "My interactions with fans have been gorgeous and lovely, nothing weird.

"I've been very lucky," she says.

•Terminator Genisys is showing in theatres.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2015, with the headline 'Game to get tough'. Print Edition | Subscribe