Emilia Clarke opened up about her brain aneurysms: “I’m quite a resilient human being”

At 33, Emilia Clarke has already gained legendary status for her portrayal of Daenerys Targaryen (Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons, and all-around badass) in the HBO series Game of Thrones. But after writing an essay for the New Yorker in March 2019, Clarke’s heroism gained a new dimension when she revealed that she had survived two brain aneurysms: the first in 2011, after wrapping the first season of GoT and the second in 2013.


Now, Clarke tells The Guardian that she believes her experience—though grueling and terrifying—ultimately changed her perspective for the better.

She tells the outlet in a new interview:

“I’m at the point where I definitely think of the brain hemorrhage as a good thing...Because I was never destined to be the ‘young actor goes off the rails’ type, up and down the gossip columns. And having a brain hemorrhage that coincided precisely with the beginning of my career and the beginning of a show that became something quite meaty, it gave me a perspective that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.’

In 2016, Clarke’s world was rocked even further by the death of her father, who had been battling cancer. And at the same time, Game of Thrones became one of the most popular television shows of all time, and Clarke one of the most famous actors.

But for Clarke, the juxtaposition between her personal traumas and her professional success drove her to use her platform for good.

“I’m quite a resilient human being, so a parent dying and brain hemorrhages coinciding with success and people following you in the street and getting stalkers—you’re just, like, ‘Well let’s try and make something sensible of it,’ she says.

After Clarke’s recovery—which, along with her resilience, she says was made possible through her access to proper healthcare and the support of her family and friends—she founded the charity SameYou, which provides treatment for people recovering from traumatic brain injuries and strokes. Clarke decided to open up about her aneurysms only in order to publicize her charity. Before she had real reason to share her story, she worried that her medical condition would unfairly shape her public perception.

“It was nerve-racking to share it, to be honest, Clarke says of her decision to finally go public with her experience. “It always is, when you make yourself vulnerable." She waited so long to talk about it, because, "I didn’t want people to think of me as…sick."

Although she made a full recovery, Clarke still experiences panicked moments when she thinks she’s having another aneurysm. “There are still days on set when she will quietly pull aside the makeup person and say, ‘I think I’m having a brain hemorrhage’…It’s hard not to think the worst” she says.

But founding SameYou has helped Clarke in her post-recovery life just as much as it does the people for whom the charity provides neurorehabilitation services. “The charity evolves with me,” she tells The Guardian. “I use it. Here’s something else that I feel: maybe someone else feels the same way.”

You probably already know that the personal trauma Clarke underwent hasn’t stopped her from pursuing new projects. Currently, Clarke stars in the holiday rom-com Last Christmas, in which she plays a woman who’s just recovered from an illness. (“I was able to bring a lot to the role,” Clarke tells The Guardian.)

And in fact, Clarke’s newfound perspective has driven her to choose the projects she believes will make people feel better, even if only for the duration of a 103-minute movie.

“Escapism is what lots of people go to art for. So, if we can cherry-pick stories to tell people in a shitty time, I’d like to give them something really good,” she says. “It could make them feel better, or less alone, or make them realize there’s something outside of their front door that they should care about.”

And for that, we couldn’t love Clarke more.

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