Emilia Clarke goes public with brain aneurysm battles to help others
Game Of Thrones star struggled with brain aneurysms while working on HBO series
Instead of basking in the success of Season 1 of the global HBO hit Game Of Thrones (GOT), Emilia Clarke found herself in hospital battling a life-threatening condition.
Then only 24, the English actress had scored one of the prime roles of the decade on a TV show, that of powerful dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen.
What everyone expected would be a niche series on a cable channel became the most downloaded show in the world, bringing fame and fortune to its mostly unknown young cast, especially her.
But all she could think of for the first three years was, "Am I going to die?"
For seven years, Clarke - now 32 - kept the secret of her two brain aneurysms and multiple surgeries, before going public with her ordeal in a New Yorker article published last month.
At our interview last week for the upcoming eighth and final season of GOT at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York City, she explained why she broke her silence after so long.
"The main reason I said it was because of the charity that I've started. I truly believe I can help people because this is what brain injury looks like. Someone can see that and think, 'Oh, if the Mother of Dragons can do it, then so can I.'"
In 2011, after finishing the first season, Clarke was beset with crippling pain in her head.
A brain scan revealed a subarachnoid haemorrhage, a type of stroke caused by bleeding in the brain. Surgery was a success, but there were side effects such as memory loss that made her panic-stricken that she would lose her career.
She recovered, but a smaller aneurysm was discovered on the other side of her brain that had to be monitored. She started filming Season 2, what she called her "worst", using morphine to deal with the pain.
She got through Season 3 and took a job on Broadway. Five days before her health insurance ran out, she went for a brain scan and was advised to do more preventive surgery as the aneurysm had doubled in size.
Though it was supposed to be a simple procedure, it failed, and the surgeons had to drill through her skull to save her.
After a month in the hospital, battling pain and anxiety attacks, she recovered again, still struggling with debilitating headaches and fearing for her life.
But now, she wrote in the New Yorker article, she has "healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes" and is "at a hundred per cent".
Five years ago, she asked herself what she could do to help others, and decided to set up a charity called SameYou, to raise funds and help increase neuro-rehabilitation access after brain injury and stroke.
Clarke said: "In my experience, there was a huge gap between hospital and home. You spend a lot of your time in hospital where everyone is telling you you're ill, you're going to die, you should be scared.
"Then one day they let you go. You get home and you go, 'What if I die? You told me I was going to die and now I'm here, and I feel so unsafe and scared.' And for a brain injury in particular, that's heightened. The mind part of aftercare with brain injury I feel is most needed at the moment."
Just as Clarke - who got herself a dragon tattoo to commemorate GOT - survived and overcame her real-life challenges over the years, Daenerys did so too on the small screen.
GOT premieres on HBO (StarHub TV Ch 601/Singtel TV Ch 420) on April 15 at 9am, with a same-day encore at 10pm. It is also available on HBO Go and HBO On Demand.
The red carpet premiere happened the night before our interview at Radio City Music Hall, where most of the cast from all the seasons turned up and took a final bow before watching the first episode of Season 8 with the invited audience.
Clarke had the time of her life.
"It was a celebration to watch that and to hear the audience reaction, because you don't get that normally when you're watching the show by yourself or with your close friends. So seeing where the laughs landed and the shocks and screams, I found myself sitting in the audience going, 'This is it, this is the last time you'll hear that, this is the last time you'll be with this for that.' I just wanted to grab hold of every moment."
For now, she revels in the confidence GOT has given her.
"When you have to stand up in front of 800 extras and say a fake language and convince them that what you're saying is empowering, you've got to grow some balls to do that."
She started laughing as she recalled: "Knowing you're a part of a show that people respect, that's huge, that's absolutely mental. And to be able to play a woman who is downright badass does a lot for a girl's confidence in this industry for sure."
The writer is the president
of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a non-profit organisation of entertainment journalists that also organises the annual Golden Globe Awards.