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Emilia Clarke & Holly Golightly: The Sci-Fi Star Talks Playing One Of America's Iconic Heroines

Emilia Clarke Holly Golightly

MARK KENNEDY   03/19/13 05:16 PM ET EDT  AP

NEW YORK — Emilia Clarke was auditioning to play one of America's most iconic heroines and wanted to impress. Her first scene required her to bite an apple.

"I was like, `Oh, yeah. I'm going to go all Daniel Day-Lewis on them. I'm going to bring my own apple!" the British actress recently recalled.

Everything was going well in the London rehearsal room until the character takes a bite. "I took this almighty hunk. I literally took half the apple in this one mouthful," she says, laughing.

As her scene partner and the director watched, stunned, Clarke kept going, despite a mouthful of fruit. "I remember being, `Well, I guess I have to kind of go there.'"

Whether it was due to her exuberance or sheer commitment, or a mixture of both, Clarke won the part, and what a part it is: Holly Golightly in a stage adaptation of Truman Capote's classic 1958 novella, "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

"I still don't think I really do realize the enormity of it," says Clarke, who will be making her Broadway debut – actually, her first professional stage debut – in the role made famous in film by Audrey Hepburn.

"It's funny, a lot of actors I've spoken to have sort of said, `Oh, it's really brave that you're doing it,'" she says. "I'm like, `What? Are you kidding me?' This would never have been a choice. It's a 100 percent yes. You don't say `maybe' to that."

Clarke, a petite, stunning brunette with a wide smile, has come to the role from what seems like the other side of the galaxy. For the past few years she's been playing the platinum-haired Daenerys Targaryen in the fantasy adventure saga "Game of Thrones," a series adapted from George R.R. Martin's novel series "A Song of Ice and Fire."

Last year, viewership climbed to rank as HBO's third most popular show of all time, averaging 11.6 million viewers weekly across all the company's platforms. Season three begins at the end of the month. Playing Daenerys has helped propel the 25-year-old Clarke, who is known on the show as The Mother of Dragons, into a star.

"She's the reason why I'm doing `Breakfast at Tiffany's'!" says Clarke. "I don't know how they connect and I don't know how I've fooled these people into thinking I can do both of them. But it's been – and continues to be – the most incredible roller coaster."

Fans of the Blake Edwards film will find this Golightly is very different from the one that made Hepburn a fashion icon, with her ball gowns, long gloves, elaborate pearl chokers and trademark cigarette holder.

The play's creative team returned to the time period that author Capote originally set his story, meaning during World War II, not the more glamorous 1960s of the movie. Playwright Richard Greenberg has made it truer to the grittier subject of the novella, which is more explicit in its exploration of the relationship between a gay man and a straight call girl.

"I almost think that `Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of those films that people know for the image and are unaware of the history and are unaware of the subtext of it as well. We don't shy away from that in the play. That's the beauty of it, I think," she says.

"In among the dirt is where you'll find the hope. It can only shine out in the glorious way that it does in the play if it's surrounded in murky waters."

Making things even harder is that Clarke is a huge Hepburn fan, who recalls watching her in "My Fair Lady" multiple times. And even though she has built her own Golightly, she still feels Hepburn's shadow.

"Audrey Hepburn inspired me, Emilia Clarke. That's something that's in my blood, that I can't ever get rid of. So whenever I approach a part, I'm taking my own history with me, I'm taking my own experiences with me."

Her co-star, Cory Michael Smith, who is making his Broadway debut in the role of Fred, says Clarke makes the role her own: "She's so marvelous and bright. You don't even see the shadow. The shadow's gone."

Clarke, a 2009 graduate of the Drama Centre School in London, grew up on a TV diet of "I Love Lucy" and "Cheers." She stays fit with yoga and Pilates, and unwinds by listening to "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" audio book.

One thing that Golightly and her "Game of Thrones" characters share is intensity – and that includes some nudity, something Clarke says in both cases isn't gratuitous.

With "Game of Thrones," Clarke says being stripped down is necessary to understand her character's pain and heartbreak. In "Breakfast at Tiffany's," Golightly jumps into a bath with Fred. ("My dad has seen it maybe three times now and every time, he's like, `I don't see anything!'")

"The last thing I want to be known as is That-Chick-Who-Gets-Her-Clothes-Off. That's the very last thing I'd like anyone to ever say about me," she says. "I would hope – I would so, from the bottom of my heart, hope – that people wouldn't come and see the play just to cop a look at a young girl stepping into a bath."

Clarke's other acting credits include a guest spot on the British TV series "Doctors" and a role in a Jurassic Park-esque TV movie for Syfy called "Triassic Attack."

She got word that she'd landed the Golightly role a few days after that apple-filled audition. She was at a vegetarian restaurant in London when her agent called. "I freaked out, spilled the smoothie everywhere," she says, still giddy at the memory. "Genuinely, probably, the happiest day of my life so far."




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