NEW YORK — As she considered the contrasts between her “Game of Thrones” princess Daenerys and her “Me Before You” character Lou, Emilia Clarke raised her amazing eyebrows in a very knowing look.
“You couldn’t find two characters more different that Daenerys and Lou,” she said. “But that, of course, what was so appealing about being Lou in this film. She’s so sweet — genuinely sweet — and kind and caring and devoted to her close-knit family. She’s the antithesis of Daenerys.
“Plus I don’t have all those dragons to contend with,” Clarke added with a laugh.
In the film (opening Friday), the actress plays a working-class young woman in an English village who has just lost her job in a bakery. Desperate to find a job to help support her financially strapped family, she gets herself hired by the wealthy mother of Sam Claflin’s character — a once-robust London banker forced to live on his parents’ estate, after becoming a quadriplegic in a motorcycle accident.
Claflin’s Will is one difficult, bitter man — who no longer sees any reason to live. Based on novel by Jojo Moyes (who also penned the film’s screenplay), the movie showcases the growing, unexpected relationship between patient and caregiver and raises questions about the right to die.
It’s clear from the outset that Will is planning to travel to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal.
“Everyone deals with these kinds of circumstances in very different ways,” Claflin said. “We were fortunate to meet a fair number of people along the way, both medical professionals and people who had been severely injured. Some people do not take to it and have a very difficult time adjusting and simply crumble — and that’s easy to understand, especially when you think about someone like Will in the film who was this amazing athlete.
“On the other hand, we met those people who were able to remain positive and become very inspiring to others around them.”
While the film was a deeply emotional experience for Clarke “which I will carry with me my entire life,” she was grateful for one small detail. “Though our names are spelled differently — I have an ‘e’ on my family name and Lou doesn’t — it was constantly easy to respond whenever Sam called me ‘Clark!’ ” the actress said with a laugh.
Lou is established as someone prone to bizarre fashion choices, the source of a favorite memory for Claflin. “There’s this big montage scene in the film — quick flashes of Emilia’s arrival at my house every day. The producers and wardrobe people were very strict and refused to let me see what Emilia would be wearing as Lou arrived every morning. They wanted me to react realistically, as Will would react.
“Of course, she’d come in wearing those ridiculous combinations of things — such hilarious outfits! It was so difficult for me to maintain a straight face and remain scowling and unpleasant when all I wanted to do was laugh right out loud.”
Asked how he learned to appear convincing in his motorized wheelchair, Claflin said, “I watched a lot of documentaries. We also had to establish exactly how damaged his body was by the accident. I spoke with a number of medical professionals who helped me create the physical Will — having my foot turn in and how to position my hands. We decided he would have a little movement in one finger and thumb so he could drive his own chair.”
Jojo Moyes, the author and screenwriter, stressed that, “If there is any particular message that we want people to take from this, it’s you cannot judge somebody until you’ve been in that position.
“When I heard the news story that inspired me to write the book, I felt instantly judgmental of the parents who had agreed to this — and support their son going to Switzerland to take his own life.
“But as you delve into all this, you actually look behind the superficial facts, learn their history and what their motivations were. You quickly come to the conclusion that life is never that simple. As I like to put it, the only people who think they have all the answers are those who have never been asked the questions.”