| November 20, 2019 05:51 PM
Emilia Clarke didn’t want to be nude.
When she joined the cast of Game of Thrones, Clarke was a no-name actress who had some experience in theater and could boast a couple of TV appearances. She had landed her big break: a spot as Daenerys Targaryen on the show, which ended this year and had become famous for its gratuitous, SNL-parodied nudity.
“Oh, there’s the catch,” Clarke recalls thinking when she first got ahold of the script, looking at the “f— ton of nudity” and sex scenes. Clarke told Dax Shepard on the Armchair Expert podcast this week that she would find herself crying in the bathroom because of nude scenes, but she felt like she couldn’t say no.
“I have no idea what I’m doing. I have no idea what any of this is. I’ve never been on a film set like this before. I’d been on a film set twice before then. And now I’m on a film set completely naked with all of these people,” she said, explaining that she felt “impostor syndrome.”
“And I don’t know what I’m meant to do and I don’t know what’s expected of me and I don’t know what you want and I don’t know what I want,” she added. “Regardless of whether there had been nudity or not, I would’ve spent that first season thinking I’m not worthy of requiring anything.”
Luckily, Clarke said she had a friend on set: co-star Jason Momoa. “He took care of me too in an environment where I didn’t know I needed to be taken care of,” she explained. He would tell her, “No, sweetie, this isn’t okay.”
Like many other young women in Hollywood, Clarke says it took a long time before she was willing to stand up for herself.
“I have had fights on set before when I am like, ‘No, sheet stays up.’ And they are like, ‘You don’t want to disappoint your Game of Thrones fans.’ And I’m like, ‘F— you,’” she said.
Clarke says if the first season of Game of Thrones was filmed today, it would look different. But even though the show began before the #MeToo movement and the revelations that Harvey Weinstein wasn’t the only one sexually coercing women under the guise of art, the tide will turn slowly — if at all.
In the New York Times feature “Harvey Weinstein Is My Monster Too,” Salma Hayek described how the disgraced Hollywood producer threatened to shut down the film Frida unless Hayek displayed full-frontal nudity and appeared in a sex scene with another woman.
Actresses from Sarah Jessica Parker to Debra Messing have faced similar pressure. Last year, the Washington Post ran a feature on the many young actresses who “get pressured into ‘creepy’ nude scenes.” Loan Dang, a partner at a Los Angeles-based entertainment law firm, told the Washington Post that the problem is widespread.
“It happens to everyone,” Dang said. “The actor gets pressured into doing something they don’t feel comfortable with. Everyone says, ‘You’re holding stuff up, can you make a decision?’ You’re with these people on set, you work with them, so then you think, ‘Oh God, how do I say no?’”
Many years after Clarke launched into the industry through Game of Thrones, she says, “I’m a lot more savvy about what I’m comfortable with.”
Other women are demanding more support on set, according to Harper’s Bazaar. But if each individual actress must wait until she’s powerful enough to resist the pressure to appear in scenes with which she’s not comfortable, the problem will just continue, and actresses can only hope to age out of it.
Pressure to produce sexual content is sadly common in Hollywood, and the trend likely won’t improve much post-Weinstein and post-#MeToo unless more film producers stop demanding that vulnerable women strip down for viewers.
That doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. After all, the demand is still there.