There’s something strikingly unusual about Emilia Clarke alongside Sam Claflin in the romantic comedy Me Before You — her disarming smile.
That’s something just not seen with her battle-ready screen alter egos, Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones and Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys.
“Literally, Daenerys doesn’t smile, Sarah Connor doesn’t smile,” says Clarke. “But here it was like, ‘Can you smile more? Can you have a good time?’ I’m not trying to kill anyone, no one is trying to kill me. It’s fun.”
In Me Before You (in theaters June 3, with a trailer arriving Wednesday on usatoday.com), Clarke, 29, plays Louisa Clark, a British small-town working-class girl who loses her café job. She’s compelled to take the first available employment, despite being woefully unqualified — caretaking for a quadriplegic.
Her charge turns out to be the upper-class William Traynor (Claflin), injured after being struck by a motorcycle while crossing the street. Things start off rocky because of Traynor’s anger and despondence, but Louisa’s effervescence eventually breaks through and romance blossoms.
Clarke says she devoured Jojo Moyes’ best-selling love story while on the set of Genisys, “with bombs exploding around me.” She was moved to tears and knew she had to convince director Thea Sharrock to get the part for the film adaptation.
“Actors cannot invest too much in auditions. It’s too heartbreaking if you don’t get it,” says Clarke. “But this one I was like, ‘I’m doing it.’ I was madly into it. Every fiber of me felt like someone had written me down.”
Despite her more hardcore screen personalities, Clarke says she’s far more like the goofy, regular-girl Louisa in real life.
“It’s funny with these strong female roles,” says Clarke. “I’m really quite clumsy, say the wrong thing all the time and am awkward at the best of times. My friends and family have seen this other person every single day.”
Me Before You features a genre-covering swath of British stars, including Doctor Who’s Jenna Coleman (as Louisa’s sister), Harry Potter’s Matthew Lewis (as Louisa’s longtime boyfriend) and Game of Thrones star Charles Dance (as Traynor’s father).
Sharrock says the movie captures the tone of Moyes’ novel, with the author writing the screenplay that includes the “heartbreaking” twist of Traynor seeking to end his life in dignity.
After physical roles such as Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games and Philip Swift in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, “Sam literally plays the part with no movement below the neck. All he had really was facial movements,” says Sharrock. “That was a challenge.”
Clarke says the duo’s chemistry and banter was real, with the two engaging in on-set pranks and bragging about whose action figure would win in battle. (“Obviously, Khaleesi wins all the time,” says Clarke of her GOT Mother of Dragons character. “Dragons trump everything.”)
But not an ounce of blood was drawn, even in a scene where Louisa shaves her charge’s beard. A razor in the wrong hands can be lethal.
“Sam was actually petrified when we shot that,” Clarke says. “There was a lot of trust there. But I didn’t nick him even once.”