Emilia Clarke's experience in Game of Thrones convinced her to turn down starring in Fifty Shades of Grey. Playing Daenerys Targaryen in the hit HBO show based on George R.R. Martin's fantastical novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, the actress has also dabbled in various roles on the big screen such as Terminator Genisys; romantic film Me Before You; and the Star Wars prequel spinoff Solo. But she could've also played Anastasia Steele in Sam Taylor-Johnson's adaptation of E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey had she not passed it up.
Hitting theatres in 2015, Grey is the first of the film adaptations of James' book trilogy succeeded by Fifty Shades Darker (2017) and Fifty Shades Freed (2018). Starring Jamie Dornan as billionaire and BDSM-enthusiast Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as his eventual lover, Ana, the threequel earned a decent profit for Universal Pictures but was slammed by critics and disliked by a significant chunk of the fans. Looking back at it now a few years after the first film came out, Clarke's happy she didn't sign up to play the female lead - not just because of the franchise's problems as a whole, but because it would've typecast her as an actress.
Sitting down with several other brilliant actresses for THR's Drama Actress Roundtable, Clarke was asked what project she "famously did not want to do," to which she candidly answered, Fifty Shades of Grey. She explained that "much of that decision was about a fear of being pigeonholed." Having done nudity in Game of Thrones and knowing that it's something it's always brought up during interviews, she didn't want to willingly do a project she knew upfront will heavily feature sex and nudity and shy away from talking about that long after it came out.
"Well, Sam [Taylor-Johnson, the director] is a magician. I love her, and I thought her vision was beautiful. But the last time that I was naked on camera on [Game of Thrones] was a long time ago, and yet it is the only question that I ever get asked because I am a woman. And it's annoying as hell and I'm sick and tired of it because I did it for the character — I didn't do it so some guy could check out my tits, for God's sake. So, that coming up, I was like, "I can't." I did a minimal amount and I'm pigeonholed for life, so me saying yes to that, where the entire thing is about sensuality and sex and being naked and all of that stuff, I was just like, "No way am I going to voluntarily walk into that situation and then never be able to look someone in the eye and be like, 'No, you can't keep asking me this question.'"
Taylor-Johnson went on record to say that she regrets doing the film. She also detailed on-set conflict with James who was very hands-on when it came to how her story gets translated into the big screen. She, on the other hand, wanted to deviate a bit from the source material to offer viewers something different. In hindsight, Taylor-Johnson attempted to depict Ana as a strong character, instead of pretty much a push-over in the Fifty Shades books.
Clarke did a considerable amount of nudity and sensual scenes in Game of Thrones, so chances are that she could have pulled off the demands of playing Ana in the Fifty Shades movies. But the difference between thee HBO series and the movie trilogy is how sex is used very differently in terms of their storytelling. Granted that Game of Thrones wasn't exactly a female-friendly series, the intimate sequences that Clarke did in the show played significantly in her journey as Dany. And until the last couple of episodes, the show continued her journey from being a naive young girl to a powerful figure in Westeros. Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequel, sadly, dumbed down Ana. She's supposed to be this intellectual, but for some reason, she was railroaded by her lover at almost every turn. And finally, while the films' sexual elements were selling points, they really weren't integral to the story.