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From Mother of Dragons and Breaker of Chains to Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea and the Unburnt, Emilia Clarke is used to playing a character with a multitude of names. Well, now the Game of Thrones and Solo: A Star Wars Story star has a new title of her own: comic book creator. On July 21, the first issue of Clarke’s comic book, M.O.M.: Mother of Madness, hits shelves via Image Comics, and her concise elevator pitch describes the three-issue miniseries as “Deadpool meets Fleabag.” Mother of Madness follows Maya, a single mother, chemical engineer and superhero whose powers derive from her menstrual cycle. If you’re wondering whether Mother of Madness is a tribute to Daenerys Targaryen, the nod was very much by design.
“It didn’t come out of nowhere. I wanted Maya to be a single mother; I wanted that first and foremost,” Clarke tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So I’m not going to say I’m Jenny from the Block, but it’s an acknowledgment of how I’m able to give this beautiful fanbase this other thing that I did because they supported me and gave me the props when I was doing [Game of Thrones].”
Clarke is currently preparing for her upcoming role in Marvel Studios’ Secret Invasion for Disney+, and after playing Daenerys for nearly a decade, she’s excited by what could be her next long-term character.
“I mean, I should be so lucky is what I’ll say to that,” Clark shares. “Everyone I know and everyone I’ve spoken to who is a part of the Marvel universe — and actors talk! Everyone has only the highest praise to offer. There’s a reason why actors stay in it. They’re so loved because they’re having loads of fun. So I’m down for that.”
Clarke is also looking back at 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, which trended last month on its 3-year anniversary as part of an effort by fans to see that story continue. But as much as she’d love to return to the role of Qi’ra, Clarke has yet to hear anything about a possible Disney+ future for her fan-favorite character.
“She’s the one that has the most unfinished business,” Clarke explains. “I really had pages about what her life was and what it would be afterwards. But I’m afraid I’ve heard nothing of [Disney+] being the case, so maybe I’ll just write it and send it to them. I’ll be like, ‘Hey guys, I’ve got a few ideas.'”
And of course she’s seen the recent photos of the newest Targaryens from HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon.
“It’s very surreal. I mean, I’ve been prepped for this because Miguel [Sapochnik], who’s the co-showrunner, is a really dear friend of mine,” Clarke says. “But yeah, it’s crazy! Those pictures came out and I was like, ‘Whoa! Whoa!’ I was on my own last time. I didn’t know I had pals. I could’ve had a bunch of friends to hang out with, but yes, it’s mildly surreal to be seeing all of that again. But good luck to them is what I would say. I really mean that.“
In a recent conversation with THR, Clarke dives deep into Mother of Madness and why she wanted to try the comic book medium. She also looks back at the final season of Game of Thrones and how she’s made peace with the outcome of Dany’s arc. She even offers a bit of advice to House of the Dragon‘s Targaryen actors, Matt Smith and Emma D’Arcy.
Emilia, M.O.M.: Mother of Madness is really well done.
Oh, thank you! It’s so weird to have made something, and then when someone says they like it, you’re like, “Oh my goodness!” So I really feel that. Whereas when you’re just a part of something as an actor, it’s very difficult to take that compliment because you’re like, “Whoa, there’s 700,000 other people that are the reason why this thing is good.” (Laughs.)
So when I saw the first headline related to you and Mother of Madness, I did a double take like a lot of other people probably did. It was not on my 2021 bingo card as they say.
So for the uninitiated, what got the ball rolling on this project?
Well, the very literal version is having a funny conversation in the car with friends on the way to a Florence and the Machine gig, and we were looking at all the billboards with superheroes around us. So we joked about it, like, “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a superhero that was very relatable and with a little bit more comedy? And wouldn’t that be a fun thing to do?” And then the idea just stuck with me. So then I started honing in on it, and I was like, “There’s a reason why I’m thinking that.” And the thing that people do know is that my career has been largely viewed in the halls of comic cons. I’ve been a part of some insanely massive franchise movies and television shows, and I’ve had incredible experiences with fans in a way that I do believe is quite unique. So I feel very at home in that community, and as a kid, not only was I reading comics, but I was reading fantasy literature as well. When Game of Thrones came about, I was like, “Yeah, this is the kind of book I would pick up and read myself.”
But the comics were a huge part of me, and I’ve watched the movies and loved them. I grew up with Wonder Woman, but now, you’ve got Brie Larson nailing it as Captain Marvel. So I started to see this incredible change, but the thing that I wanted to make was something a little more Deadpool meets Fleabag. Because I love Deadpool. Like, I love it. When that came along, my mind was blown. I was like, “Whoa, comics can now do this?” I didn’t read Deadpool as a kid, but I watched it and absolutely adored it. Also, I’m a part of the change that you’re seeing in Hollywood with women’s stories being told and being told more authentically, truthfully and relatably. And now you’ve got Fleabag. So I was like, “Well, what if the comic is that? What if the comic knows the lineage of female superheroes, but makes her truly relatable?” So I wanted Maya to have a super suit that she could pee in and undo the fly of when she had a big pizza for lunch. I wanted that to be there and all of the things that are truthful. I wanted her to be funny because people think only boys can be funny and that’s just not true. So I wanted to see Deadpool and then move that conversation into a more female perspective.
The comic that I hope we’ve reached, which I sure as hell didn’t do on my own, is this mix of the comedy, but there’s also the emotional truth within it because Maya doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing. I also wanted that because the relatable and modern way of looking at heroes is that they are like us. They do have the same issues. So I approached it with this 2020 perspective because the world that we’re living in now is incredibly different to 2, 3 or 5 years ago. So I wanted the comic to feel now and current. But that’s an incredibly long-winded answer to a very simple question. (Laughs.)
And your fellow creatives are all women, right?
Yes, I wanted everyone who takes part in the creation of this comic to be female because we’re telling a very female story, so that makes complete sense. And I got [comic book writer] Marguerite Bennett, who’s just incredible. She’s been my guru and has guided me. Whilst I’ve lived a lot in the comic book world, I don’t know how to make one. Hell no. (Laughs.) So I needed someone to come along and be like, “Here’s all the stuff you don’t see.” And since she’s got the American sense of humor and I’ve got the British sense of humor, we tried to mash those together to make something that was funny for both sets, and for the world. I dare to even dream that this comic will reach everybody in the world. (Laughs.) But I wanted to test the edges of both of those funny bits to make sure that everybody was able to be with us on the journey.
As you mentioned, the last decade has been a whirlwind for you. You starred on the biggest show ever; you made huge movies during your off-seasons; and you did all of this while dealing with something unimaginable. So as dreadful as the pandemic has been, was getting the chance to slow down the one silver lining of it all?
I never would’ve done it without it. I’m saying this now. I mean, my pandemic was still quite busy, but I’m not someone who sits idle very well. So to say it’s been enjoyable would really be pushing the boundaries of that word. (Laughs.) But it has been profoundly insightful for me. I’ve figured out a lot of stuff that I didn’t realize the extent to how much I needed to figure out, and it’s been a journey. Global pandemic and everything that is horrific about that aside, yeah, it’s been interesting.
When I was growing up, I vividly remember how guys would refer to certain girls as “crazy” if they ever got upset or emotional. But if we ever got upset or emotional, we were “passionate” and “fiery.” Was that double standard a major building block for your comic?
Oh massively! Massively! Between me and the team that made it, there was a lot of, like, “I just read this. I just got reminded of this. I just overheard this conversation at the bus stop.” So it was a lot of that, where you’re like, “Oh my God, we can fit that in! We can put that in and this talking point and this conversation.” I don’t know if this translates to America, but one of the biggest bugbears [source of fear or anxiety] that I think a lot of women have is if you’re not smiling and a man asks you to crack a smile. And if you want to see the rage… But we’re also not allowed to be angry. If I can call it this, we’re using the vehicle of the menstrual cycle, hormones and periods as a vessel with which to describe, “I am a human, I have feelings, I am told to feel bad about those feelings, which makes me feel worse, and now here I am.” So we’re attaching superpowers to those feelings, to those emotions and to those things that we hate about ourselves, and we actually see that they are unique and beautiful. And they should be acknowledged, accepted and reveled in. Whilst this is an inherently female comic, part of it is talking about shame, emotions, and all the stuff we hate, so we can try to loosen our grip on them and see them as something that shouldn’t be shamed. They’re something to be celebrated.
Maya’s powers change based on how she’s feeling during menstruation. Was each power a logical extension of each menstrual symptom?
That’s exactly what it was. When I feel scared, I want to disappear, so Maya should. When I feel happy, my laugh follows me around like a foghorn. And it’s also this idea about loud women, so I wanted her laugh to break glass. I wanted to hone in on the idea that when you’re angry, you get super strong. You hear about those moms who, to save their child, have superhuman strength and can lift a car themselves. And it’s this weird phenomenon that happens, so I was like, “That’s logical. That makes complete sense.” And when you’re happy you just feel light and wibbly and wobbly. I love Elastigirl [from The Incredibles]. I absolutely adore her, and I’ve always thought that elasticity is so cool. So that power made logical sense for when Maya is happy. So those are the main hitters. Ultimately, I wanted it to all be very logical, so the reader can go, “Yeah, I get that.”
The comic is well-versed in pop culture. The social media personality who calls her fans “Advokaties” is a prime example of that. While you mentioned your love of comics and fantasy novels, are you also keen on pop culture in a grander sense?
Yeah, massively. I mean, I do it from a safe distance because I don’t like pop culture that includes me. But yeah, I try and stay aware of it, but I’m a granny in a lot of respects. TikTok done passed me by, do you know what I mean? (Laughs.) So there’s plenty of stuff that I’m missing. But I think it’s important, as a creator, to keep abreast of what the temperature is out there and to not live in an echo chamber and to be aware of all the stuff. Game of Thrones, Star Wars and Terminator all live there. So having an awareness of how your work is going to be consumed by what other people are living in amongst is important when you’re creating something. If that isn’t making pop culture sound too pompous… (Laughs.)
One of my favorite lines in the comic is when Maya says, “You did twenty-two Marvel movies; you can give me five pages of expositional backstorying.” And sure enough, now you’re working for Marvel Studios.
(Laughs.) Yeah, that joke was definitely put in before I got the job. (Laughs.) 100 percent.
I presume you read the Secret Invasion comics to prepare for your next character, but did you find yourself reading them from the perspective of an actor, as well as a newly-minted comic book creator?
It’s now difficult to unsee it. It’s just like when you make your first anything on screen. Game of Thrones was the first thing, and I’ll never forget going to the cinema for the first time after making it and being like, “Why I am wondering what take that is? Why am I wondering where they are filming? Oh no, I can see that they did this.” With every new medium, you learn a lot about it just by making something in it, and then you view that medium in a different way. And I grew to tell the calibre of what I was watching if I was just fully engrossed in the story. And I think the same thing will happen with comics when I’m reading them. You can’t turn off the bit that’s like, “Ah, OK. I know what all the technical terms are now. I know what this splash page means.” So forever and a day, when I read a comic, I think I will have that awareness in my head, which is glorious. Learning new stuff is always brilliant, I think.
In 2007, Paul Bettany did a voice role for an upcoming movie called Iron Man, and 14 years later, Marvel Studios has kept him rather busy to say the least. With the MCU still at the height of its powers, have you prepared yourself for the possibility that this role could be the next decade of your life?
I mean, I should be so lucky is what I’ll say to that. Everyone I know and everyone I’ve spoken to who is a part of the Marvel universe — and actors talk! Everyone has only the highest praise to offer. There’s a reason why actors stay in it. They’re so loved because they’re having loads of fun. So I’m down for that. Sure! (Laughs.)
There’s probably going to come a point where some studio executive tells you that they love Mother of Madness and want to adapt it into a movie or series. If they insist that you play Maya, what do you think you would say to that?
Well, for the record, I really have to state that that isn’t why I made the comic. I made it for all the reasons that I’ve said, but let’s just cross that bridge if and when we come to it. (Laughs.) The reason why I chose comic books as a medium to tell this story is because anything and everything is possible here in this world. And from a storytelling point of view, that allows your brain to just go, “OK cool, we can do anything.” And so when thinking of the movie side of what this is, it just wraps me up in knots, because then I’m like, “Well, what could you actually even do?” So then I stop thinking about it. (Laughs.)
So what would you say to those who think Mother of Madness is an homage to a previous character [Daenerys Targaryen] of yours?
(Laughs.) I would applaud it. It didn’t come out of nowhere. I wanted Maya to be a single mother; I wanted that first and foremost. And I like coming up with names; I name everything. It’s like a weird twitch. My car is called Tallulah, and it’s an alliteration. So I was thinking about it, and then I suddenly was like, “(Gasps.) That’s it! Oh my God, and M.O.M. stands for… (Gasps.) Oh yeah!” So I’m not going to say I’m Jenny from the Block, but it’s an acknowledgment of how I’m able to give this beautiful fanbase this other thing that I did because they supported me and gave me the props when I was doing [Game of Thrones]. And also, David [Benioff] and Dan [D.B Weiss] made me a necklace once for surviving a brain hemorrhage, if I’m really remembering this correctly. (Laughs.) Anyway, it said “M.O.D” on it, and my dad forever was like, “Why are you wearing a Ministry of Defense necklace?” He just couldn’t get his head around it. (Laughs.) So there’s a bunch of reasons why Mother of Madness made sense, but when I was coming up with ideas, I jokingly was like, “Well, I mean, it could be…” And then I was like, “Do you know what? Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s have that be it.”
Besides being a single mom and a chemical engineer, Maya is also a part-time online sex worker, which is quite relevant right now since a lot of people made ends meet this way during the height of the pandemic. This character detail actually reminded me of this New York paramedic who was outed by the New York Post for doing exactly that.
Oh my God, I did not hear that. That’s horrific. Well, it’s a female story. “I can’t afford my tuition fees. I can’t afford to put food on the table. I’m a paramedic saving lives, and I can’t afford to live. I can’t afford to support my family.” And so what is there? That is there. Yeah, I really wanted to go to a bunch of different places with this and all the nods to it. It’s also a nod to the incredible social media world that we live in and the way you can have a complete other life online and be profitable from it. So there’s a bunch of other little details that you’ll see if the comics go on that I think is the modernity that I’m speaking of. I didn’t only want Maya to be relatable; I wanted the world to be familiar for people.
I remain intrigued by your Solo: A Star Wars Story character, Qi’ra, and I have to run a theory by you if you don’t mind.
So there’s a train heist that Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and Beckett (Woody Harrelson) tried to pull off, only it was upended by Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman). And Beckett was shocked since he and Dryden (Paul Bettany) were supposed to be the only ones who knew about the train shipment.
Han and Beckett then made their way to Dryden’s yacht, where Han reuinites with Qi’ra. And shortly thereafter, Qi’ra is caught off guard once she realizes that Han and Beckett were there together. The camera really focuses on her as she’s doing the math of the situation.
So then they all talk with Dryden, and Beckett again mentions that they were supposed to be the only ones knew. And since Qi’ra is Dryden’s most trusted adviser, I’ve long believed that she was the one who leaked the train intel to Enfys Nest in order to get Dryden out of her hair, and to strengthen this emerging rebellion that might even free her someday.
So when she first realized that Han and Beckett were working together, she also recognized that she put Han in jeopardy by divulging secrets to Enfys Nest. Anyway, do you think Qi’ra was undermining Dryden and Crimson Dawn all along?
Oh my goodness! That’s a really, really juicy one. I wrote pages about Qi’ra — behind-the-scenes Qi’ra — and all of the other stuff that was going on. But I think it is only when she sees Han that she realizes that there is a way out. That’s what I was playing. That’s definitely where I was at. I don’t think she felt herself to be strong enough at that point to go on and escape Dryden’s grip. I think that Han is the slap around the face that made her go, “(Gasps.) I was a whole person. I was this other thing. Where have the last 3 years gone?” So it was that kind of thing, but I think your theory is very good. (Laughs.)
I really appreciated that she loved Han enough to leave him behind for his own safety.
Yeah, the ultimate sacrifice.
As much as I love the film and understand the following creative decision, I have to admit that I wasn’t crazy about Maul’s appearance because it took attention away from Qi’ra’s earlier decision to leave Han. It even led some viewers to think that she left Han behind because of Maul’s ominous threats towards her. At any rate, did you play her final decision regarding Han as one she made long before Maul’s transmission?
100 percent. She had to have a plan before, you know what I mean? She had to go into that situation with her own agenda and with her own plan, that the audience then catches up with after the fact.
All she wanted was her own ship and to not have to answer to anyone, and while Dryden’s yacht is now hers, she’s under a much worse thumb. It’s tragic.
I know. There’s always someone.
Well, I really hope she makes her way into the Disney+ universe at the very least. A woman crime boss who’s secretly helping the rebellion to atone for all the suffering she’s caused is just too tantalizing to ignore.
Oh, I know, and I agree. I really had pages about what her life was and what it would be afterwards. But I’m afraid I’ve heard nothing of [Disney+] being the case, so maybe I’ll just write it and send it to them. I’ll be like, “Hey guys, I’ve got a few ideas.” (Laughs.)
Of all your past characters, is Qi’ra the one you’d most like to revisit?
She’s the one that has the most unfinished business. So I would agree with that.
So is it bizarre to see new Targaryens already?
It’s very surreal. I mean, I’ve been prepped for this because Miguel [Sapochnik], who’s the co-showrunner, is a really dear friend of mine. So I’ve been chatting to him about it for a while. So I was prepped. But yeah, it’s crazy! Those pictures came out and I was like, “Whoa! Whoa!” I was on my own last time. I didn’t know I had pals. (Laughs.) I could’ve had a bunch of friends to hang out with, but yes, it’s mildly surreal to be seeing all of that again. But good luck to them is what I would say. I really mean that.
You bleached your hair blonde for the final season. Is that something you’d recommend to the House of the Dragon actors if at all possible? Or is it not worth the damage?
No, it is not worth it. I’m speaking from the other side, and it’s not worth it. I literally cut off all my hair because I killed it with a load of bleach. (Laughs.) If you like your hair, keep it your natural color. That goes for everyone. (Laughs.)
Ahead of the final season, I remember you talking about the long walks you used to go on as you tried to reconcile Daenerys’ conclusion. Now that you’re 2-plus years removed from the series finale, have you been able to make peace with everything?
I really have. I really, really, really have. I think it’ll take me to my 90s to be able to objectively see what Game of Thrones was, because there’s just too much me in it. (Laughs.) I have too many emotional reactions for what Emilia, herself, was experiencing at that moment in time when we were filming it. You know what I mean? I watch a scene and I go, “Oh, that was when [such and such] happened,” which you didn’t see on screen. And I think there’s something timely about the prequels and the continuation of the Game of Thrones story coming about now. I look at it and I’m like, “Wow, yeah.” So I see it with only peace. I’m still friends with people from the show, and I know I will be friends with these people until the day I die. So it’s had a lasting impact on my life, and it starts to become, like, “Hey guys, remember when we were in college?” Hey, remember the fourth grade?” (Laughs.) You start to see it from that point of view. Daenerys has a part of my heart. She is in there, and I’ll never forget. I can’t remember who I was talking to, but they were like, “Oh my God, when you say ‘she,’ you’re talking about Daenerys.” (Laughs.) And I was like, “Yeah! Because she’s a whole person. She’s got her own life that I explore.” So I think that there’s the show, the impact of the show, the impact of the show on me, personally and professionally, and the zeitgeist-iness of it. And then there’s Daenerys. So that’s my own private little space that I don’t need to make peace with because it’s just a beautiful memory. It’s just a beautiful memory.
You created an amazing Valley girl character named Callie. Are you interested in doing something with her on screen? Has anyone approached you about it?
(Clarke breaks into her ‘Callie from the Valley’ character.) Oh my God, thank you! (Laughs.) I think about this, like, all the time. Um, I’m, like, always waiting for when, like, someone’s going to come up to me and be, like, “Oh my God, I’m ready for you to be a Valley girl. It’s going to be so rad.” (Clarke breaks character.) Yeah, 100 percent [interested]. The comic has been such a release of creativity that I relished because I really love doing accents, characters and character stuff. But I’m just not at a point where anyone else agrees to the point where they’ll hire me to be this whole other person. But yeah, I would love to do a stupid, silly comedy about Callie from the Valley. I think that would be excellent.
The M.O.M.: Mother of Madness three-issue miniseries releases on July 21 and is now available for pre-order from Image Comics.
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