After plotting world domination for eight seasons on Game of Thrones, Clarke reflects on her own quieter sense of ambition, rooted in the “sustainable and real,” she says. Meanwhile, a new role as Clinique’s ambassador, announced today, puts her back on the global stage.
VANITY FAIR – Call it auspicious, to sit down with a former queen on the eve of a nail-biting election. It was a clear December morning in London, a day before Britons cast their fate (and Brexit’s) with Boris Johnson, and the Protector of the Realm—to use one of Emilia Clarke’s many titles on Game of Thrones—was assessing the political landscape. “Is it a full moon?” the actor said, interest piqued. (An Instagram astrologer had told me so.) “Maybe that will kick the . . . —no,” she interrupted herself with a weary laugh. “It will just soften the patriarchy ever so lightly.”
Clarke, whose now-departed character was known to scorch entire neighborhoods with one dragonic exhale, leads with a comparatively light hand. In a November post about the UK’s voter-registration deadline, she delivered a message (“You have a voice. Use it!”) with a silent procession of cue cards. Last March, when she first revealed her tumultuous medical history—a pair of brain aneurysms in the show’s early days—she did so with a lyrical, unsparing essay on the New Yorker’s website. She isn’t much for peddling influence; instead, she reps sweatshirts for Same You, the charity she founded to support neurorehabilitation for young patients. After the GOT series finale and its torrent of press, she has kept things earnest and under-the-radar—however much someone with 26 million followers can slip into incognito mode.
That makes Clarke’s latest role—the first global ambassador for the beauty company Clinique—at once a like-minded alliance and a return to the spotlight. “You’ve got your spidey senses,” explained the actor, sitting on a gray velvet sofa (a softer iron throne) at the Edition hotel. “My gut was like, ‘You’re going to enjoy this!’ ” At a time when authentic is a buzzword on every brand’s bingo card, she manages a kind of translucent candor. (The way Clarke described the brand’s longstanding image—“completely universal, totally relatable, totally modern”—sounds like the elevator pitch for tapping the 33-year-old as a spokesperson.) A sunbeam slipped across the room, igniting her lagoon-colored eyes. I found myself lilting precipitously off the sofa, like a wayward houseplant, to avoid casting a shadow.
Clinique, founded a half-century ago as a prescient, dermatologist-backed skin-care line, didn’t set out to sell miracles. The 1967 Vogue article that helped spark the company—titled “Can Great Skin Be Created?”—laid out a practical, yes-it-can mission. Back then (and for generations of beauty inductees since), demystification arrived by way of a streamlined three-step system: cleansing bar, exfoliating toner, familiar yellow moisturizer. In lieu of the smiling perfection of beauty ads, Irving Penn photographed heroic still lifes, making saints of ho-hum bathroom essentials.
Now, in an age of algorithm-generated everything, customization is the operative word. Clinique iD, which launched last year, riffs on that original moisturizer by targeting a cross-section of skin needs: four hydrating bases, five potent mix-ins, 20 different permutations. “You have options because we all change all the time,” said Clarke, who—to echo that classic Hair Club for Men slogan—is not only the face, she’s also a client. “I used the products, and my skin got better! I’m like, ‘Yes! I don’t need to lie!’ ” she added with a laugh. “It’s all true.”