Emilia Clarke: Capote's Call Girl

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Shot by Gavin Bond at Cherry in the Dream Downtown NYC

" 'Everybody couldn’t help but think I was a dyke myself, and of course I was—everyone is a bit,' " says Emilia Clark, quoting Holly Golightly, the manic heroine of Truman Capote’s 1958 novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Golightly has been cemented into the American pop cultural canon since Audrey Hepburn’s film portrayal of her in 1961, but the young British actress is preparing to make the ostentatious gadabout her own this season at Broadway’s Cort Theatre.

From the novella, the quote is one of those deliciously haughty affirmations that Golightly puffs out faster than the “esoteric cigarettes” she smokes. It’s also a taste of the real appeal her bawdy character holds, beyond the sublime sight of Hepburn, bibbed in pearls and clad in the littlest black dress, swanning up and down Fifth Avenue.

According to Clarke, those only familiar with the film’s tidy rom-com conventions -- the fledgling writer Paul (played by George Peppard), whom Holly insists on calling Fred, tries, and succeeds, in taming his downstairs neighbor Holly’s wild heart -- will discover a richer, darker, and perhaps swishier story in the play. “The movie kind of glossed over a lot of stuff,” says Clarke. “I just think they missed the depth the novella offers, and the subtext and what it’s saying about the time and sexuality.”

For starters, Capote’s original Fred, played by Corey Michael Smith, is a bit more precious on the page than onscreen. (In the stage adaptation, Golightly refers to him as one of the “young boys with limited means and unlimited confusion.”) Though admittedly obsessed with Golightly, Fred seems less ruled by a desire to have her than to be her. And, asks Clarke, who wouldn’t be?

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“She’s a good-time girl,” she says. “For me, archetypal good-time girls always have a tragic story. There’s something fascinating about them—it’s this quality that people want, but you can’t quite grab hold of it or contain it, because it’s forever transient.”

Clarke, who’s 25 and recently graduated from the Drama Centre in London, is approaching the role with a rapt diligence, given that it’s her first stage gig. There’s a hint of Golightly bubbling up in her. She has a vampy tendency to refer to things as “fabulous” and people as “dahhhling.” Upon appraising a selection of challenging shoes for our photo shoot that day, she remarks blithely, “Me and heels are very good friends.” Later, she adds, “I’m always the person that’s just slightly overdressed,” before breaking into laughter. “Hopefully in a good way!”

The 1940s gowns and, in her words, “yaaaaards of chiffon” being designed for Tiffany’s won’t be the first period pieces to hang elegantly on Clarke’s petite frame. As Daenerys Targaryen -- a.k.a. Khaleesi, Mother of Dragons -- on HBO’s Game of Thrones, her midriff-bearing tribal ensembles seem to have been exquisitely torn and sewn by the Alexander McQueen of Westeros.

The role of Khaleesi—the young virgin who is sold by her brother to the king of a barbaric clan of nomads and later becomes their merciless leader -- was one of the first the actress landed. Now entering her third season at the end of March, Clarke has made the dragon-lording queen one of the series’ most compelling characters, due to a combination of exotic beauty, strength, and some of the goriest scenes on the show, including one in which Khaleesi must eat an entire horse’s heart in front of her husband’s followers.

“They had 25 horse hearts,” she says. “And I ate so many of them. It was really disgusting. They were basically just Jell-O covered in bleach. All the outtakes are of me genuinely retching into a bucket. It was in no way glamorous.” And a far cry from Holly Golightly nibbling on a croissant in the reflection of a jewelry store window in Manhattan.

Tags: Television