Me before you: Q&A with Emilia Clarke

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In playing Lou, were you looking to play a contemporary character in the midst of your extraordinary run as Daenarys Targaryen in Game of Thrones?

It was more that I got sent it and thought, ‘There’s not a world where I’m not doing this part.  There’s not a world where I’m not fighting tooth-and-nail to play Lou.’  So, it wasn’t so much that I was looking for it, but it found me.  And it was just so joyful.  It’s funny.  Everything I’m known for on-screen is so different from who I am, but with Me Before You, in between takes, I would be no different off-camera.  Everything just bled into it, so it was effortless and brilliant.

So, for you, was it quite a straightforward shoot?

Yeah.  I just got to do all the things that I always want to do.  Thea was like, ‘Do it!  More!  More!’  I’m like, ‘What? Yes!  I get to really crack people up!’  It was brilliant; it was so good.  I’ve just never done it before on camera.  I’ve never been able to do it before.  I just loved it.

Can you explain why Lou takes on this job, becoming a caregiver to Will Traynor, played by Sam Claflin?

She gets this job because her family needs money and she loses her job at the beginning of the movie, though she loves working at The Buttered Bun.  Everything in her life is very happy.  It’s very quiet; it’s very small, and she’s content with where her life is.  And then she gets this job to be a caregiver, with no skills.  Has no idea what she’s walking into.  And she just struggles to deal with him.  He brings out the strength in her and he brings out the intelligence that’s been hiding under an assortment of clothes and shoes for quite some time.

Me before you
What attracted you to Lou?

This is just such a beautiful opportunity to play a large part of who I am – the clumsy idiot!  She’s clumsy and talks a lot and doesn’t think before any of those sentences come out; wears her heart on her sleeve; couldn’t hide a single thing emotionally that was going through her mind, so she just says it.  And there’s something hopefully endearing about that, and so polar opposite to everything she’s thrown into with Will Traynor, played by Sam, and his whole storyline.  So, as good love stories should do, she brings out parts of him that he didn’t know, especially in this circumstance in which we find him.  And then he brings out a huge part of her that is the springboard for the rest of her life, when the movie ends.

While Will is confined to a wheelchair, do you think Lou is dealing with issues of her own?

She has this chronic lack of self-belief, to the point where she’s just denied that part of herself.  She had an opportunity to go and, for want of a better phrase, make something of herself – an opportunity to study fashion in Manchester – and for every reason she could find, she didn’t go.  She’s very happy being safe and Will forces her to push boundaries within her own world, and push the intelligence and personality that she does have and realize the – Lou hates this word and it gets thrown about in the script a lot, but there’s no better word for it – potential that she has.  She finally realizes it at the end.

How did you find working with Sam Claflin?

Just dreamboat:  super, super good! I feel like on movie sets, leads either hate each other or love each other – and happily we were in the ‘love each other’ category! He’s a dude.  We got on really well.  It’s been beautiful.

On this film you worked with Thea Sharrock.  Is this the first time you’ve been directed by a woman?

No, Michelle MacLaren did a couple of episodes in Thrones, but in terms of film, yes.  It’s so good! I’m not going to say Thea’s brilliant because she’s a woman and got a pair of boobs.  It’s so much more than that.  I couldn’t gush more about Thea Sharrock! She is the best director I’ve ever worked with, and probably will, I think.  I think she’s a genius.

Me before you
Does it help that Thea comes from a theatre background?

Yes, that’s the joy.  It’s so rare, as an actor, to find a director who is truly invested in the actors.  There are other directors who are more aesthetic.  And film is an aesthetic medium, so you understand it, but with Thea, she cares so deeply about the emotional landscape of the movie and thereby invests so much of her time and energy into the actors, and, selfishly, that has unlocked a lot of doors for me, genuinely, in my own acting and what possibilities there are.  And it’s thanks to her.

Was it nice with Me Before You to make a British movie?

Yeah, I got to sleep in my own bed! We filmed it in London – it was so dreamy.  I’m never desperately searching for that one thing and I’ll only wait until I get that script.  It’s just finding the right character that I love and want desperately, more than life itself, to bring it to life.  But, yes, it was getting to be really weird – people were like, ‘I didn’t realize you were British!’  What?!  Some people would say that.  So I’ll be very happy when people realize I’m proper English!

How did you find shooting the ‘holiday’ sequence in Mallorca?

That was gorgeous! That was like a summer holiday.  I was like, ‘This isn’t work! We’re not working.  We’re splashing about going diving, having loads of fun.’

You broke your hip last year.  Did that affect filming?

No, the editor of this movie said he had no idea I’d broken my hip!  When I watched the movie, I only saw it in one scene.  In the beach scene, when I walk away, I’m literally walking away hobbling! It probably added about two hours [to the shoot].  There was this one curb that I had to get up over, and just physically…I couldn’t!  But they cut it together beautifully and I walked across that bloody bridge without hobbling.  I don’t know how.  It was insane.

Thea said that she’s never lost an actress more to the costume department during rehearsals.  Is that right?

Oh my God!  Every single day, for a month, we would have four hours a day of costumes, just trying to figure them all out.  I had 70 at one point, but then it got whittled down to 52.  We never used the same outfit twice.  I loved her wardrobe!  She only lives in a little box-room…she can’t fit all those clothes in there.  So her shoes, she hung them on the walls with a bit of skirting board.  Just boards hammered up.  I was so over the moon when I walked into Lou’s room.

Did you get to keep any of the outfits?

I tried! There were hundreds and hundreds…I got given the tights, the bumblebee tights.  My amazing hair and make-up lady got some of the leftover fabric of the wedding dress and made me a Loudoll!

Lou has a very tight-knit family.  Did you relate to that?

Hugely, yeah.  I’m really, really tight with my family – really close – and I think it can really shape a person.  And so to read a character which also has that, I just knew it.  I just instinctively knew what she needed.  I knew how best to get those aspects of her personality out.

Thea was very definitive that Me Before You is a love story.  What did you feel?

Yeah, it’s the backbone of the whole story.  The story to tell is the story of their love.  It defines who they become and defines the choices that they make.  Also, if it’s possible for that choice to be heightened, it is – you feel the love and you see the love.  That then clears away a path for placing the importance on that choice.

Are you a big romantic movie watcher? What are your favourites?

When Harry Met Sally is the ultimate for me, the absolute ultimate – I know it all off by heart!  Anything – because of the age that I am – with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in it: Sleepless In Seattle, You’ve Got Mail…I love all of those.  Then Four Weddings and a Funeral! Yes, big time.  Notting Hill.  They’re all shameless – proper stay-at-home-on-a-Sunday with a box of Kleenex.

Where do you think Me Before You fits in?

It’s difficult.  I brought my best friend to see it, and I remember the credits rolled and she turned round, sobbing, and said, ‘You told me it was a rom-com!’ And she burst into tears.  I also was talking to Matt Lewis [who plays Patrick, Lou’s boyfriend], who brought all of his rugby team with him, and he said, ‘Mate, you made twelve grown men cry!’ So many people are like, ‘It’s not a rom-com – it’s too sad to be a rom-com!’ It’s a romantic drama, but it has funny elements in it.

Me before you
Did you find it strange that your character is called ‘Clark’ throughout much of the film?

Yes, my mate – who has known me for 11, 12 years – was like, ‘It’s you!’ That was the biggest thing.  When I read it, it was like ‘Someone has written me down.  They’ve even got my surname and I need this role.  I know exactly what this role needs.  I have to do it.’

Are you an unashamed romantic?

Er…yeah! I have this theory…it might fall flat.  But I watched Cinderella the other day, because my mate Richard [Madden] is in it.  And it’s really good! It’s so beautifully done.  I was watching it and it just reminded that, as a kid, I grew up watching Disney and you grow up believing in magic, and the happily ever after of it all, and I feel like the essence of all the Disney movies is that they are just folk stories, which people have been saying forever.  And as a kid, I truly believed in the magic of it all, and as adults we just find new words for that:  yoga, meditation, green juice.  We’re all just trying to find magical aspects to elevate the mundane day-to-day life.  And I think that movies like this have that little sprinkling.  Rom-coms, they make you feel safe.  They make you feel like there’s hope.  Don’t get me wrong – I loved American History X! I’m an artist who went to drama school and I’m about to do a really dark role, but I do have that unashamed love of romantic comedies.  These things just tap into a universal truth.  There’s a little bit of you that wants the hope, and wants the optimism and wants the magic.  Call it Disney, call it folk stories, call it rom-coms…there’s just something magical about it. And Jojo’s [author/screenwriter Jojo Moyes] book and this movie has that.

Are you a big subtitled movie watcher, unlike Lou?

I am.  Especially now – when you’ve got subtitles on telly.  We’re watching Swedish dramas with subtitles.  It’s becoming so much more of a common thing.  It took me a while though.  I do remember the day when I was like, ‘It’s all subtitles – I don’t want to watch it’, and then it was the best thing I’d ever watched.  I’m trying to remember what it was – it was probably something really obvious like Amélie, but you’ve got to start somewhere.  Subtitles would never put me off.  I went to see Hamlet in Russian!  They had subtitles up.  It was on at the Barbican. 

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