Merchant, who starred in “The Tudors,” was the first actress to take on the now-iconic character in the HBO series for a 2009 taping of its original pilot. Now, over a decade later, she’s opening up about being recast by Clarke, who went on to score four Emmy nominations for the role.
33-year-old Merchant was just 21 when she shot the first pilot. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, she called the experience “a really great lesson.”
It turns out the young actress wanted out of the project from the start.
“It was an affirmation about listening to my instincts and following them, because I tried to back out of that situation and, during the contract process, I did back out. I was talked back into it by some persuasive people. Then I found myself naked and afraid in Morocco and riding a horse that was clearly much more excited to be there than I was,” Merchant recalled.
The scene she’s discussing was Daenerys’ wedding night in the pilot. Merchant’s version was more racy than the pilot “Game of Thrones” would see in 2011 starring Clarke.
Merchant explained that, in hindsight, her experience serves as a reminder to stick to her guts.
“It was a lesson that if my guts are telling me a story isn’t something I’m excited to tell, then I shouldn’t try to be excited just because other people are telling me that I should be excited,” she continued.
Merchant also claimed she “didn’t have any training” as an actress at that time.
“I only have my instincts. And what excites me and what drives me is a compelling story and a compelling character. So for me, ‘Game of Thrones’ was never that. I think it’s a testament to Emilia Clarke for making that role iconic — she was obviously excited to tell that story, and she was epic and excellent. But for me, it wasn’t in my herat to tell it,” she added.
According to EW, Merchant wasn’t the only actor to get replaced for parts in the series, which of course went on to become one of the most popular series in entertainment, dominating ratings.
She also discussed the irony of watching Clarke amass superstardom because of the role, despite her having been an established actress in other films and series before.
“It was kind of funny riding to auditions on buses with Emilia Clarke’s face on it,” she said. “It’s been a thing I felt like I watched unfold and it’s been fantastic for the film industry in Northern Ireland and Croatia, and that has been really great.”
The outlet also spoke to a source who detailed how difficult it was to deliver the news to Merchant that she had been recast as the Mother of Dragons. The insider claimed it was “the hardest phone call” producers had to make.
Merchant, who went on to join “Salem” as well as “Supergirl” and “Carnival Row,” said if it weren’t for being recast, she wouldn’t be the performer she is today.
“I think it would have taken me to a place far from the creative person that I am today,” she said.
She also claimed that not reaching the level of fame and financial worth that Clarke did from the role has allowed her to continue “expressing myself creatively,” something she said called “more important than any amount of riches that I could have gained from that part.”
“Game of Thrones” ended in May 2019 after eight seasons with quite a shocking series finale. The conclusion of the HBO show was one that didn’t particularly sit well with viewers, who reacted in a fury on social media.