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Emilia Clarke and Daniel Monks
Photograph: Marc Brenner

‘This shit will fuck you up’: Emilia Clarke and Daniel Monks on ‘The Seagull’

She’s a global star looking to open a post-dragon chapter in her career. He’s a little-known Australian actor who stunned critics with his UK stage debut. Together, they’re tackling Chekhov

By Andrzej Lukowski
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‘Oh my GOD,’ roars Emilia Clarke in faux horror, after I tell her I’ve never watched ‘Game of Thrones’.

‘I should say I haven’t seen “Game of Thrones” either,’ ventures Daniel Monks, who’s co-starring with her in super-director Jamie Lloyd’s new production of Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’.

‘I’m SURROUNDED!’ bellows the erstwhile dragon queen. ‘You’ve not even seen my FUCKING SHOW!’

‘But,’ interjects Monks, ‘I have seen every episode of Jonathan Van Ness’s “Gay of Thrones” [a video series in which the “Queer Eye” star recaps each episode of the fantasy show]. I know everything!’

‘It’s fine,’ Clarke sighs. ‘None of my friends have seen all of it either.’

‘She’s very good in this play and I’m sure she’s very good in “Game of Thrones”,’ affirms Monks.

The pair are clearly getting on like a house on fire – allies in what is a West End debut for both of them. But it’s astonishing what different journeys they’ve taken to be here, in the London Bridge rehearsal room of super-director Jamie Lloyd, preparing to play Nina and Konstantin, the damaged couple at the heart of Chekhov’s classic play ‘The Seagull’.

You probably know who Emilia Clarke is. Fresh out of drama school, she was snapped up to play Daenerys Targaryen in “Game of Thrones”, a role that swallowed the next decade of her life and made the motormouthed, swear-happy Brit a global superstar. If she hadn’t got that gig, she thinks she’d probably have ‘gone on to do six plays in theatres above a pub’.

Instead she’s been on a wild ride – in which ‘all my successes and failures have been on a huge scale’ – frantically cramming high-profile feature films (‘Terminator Genisys’, ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’, ‘Last Christmas’) into the gaps between shooting the TV mega-show. She did do one Broadway play, a production of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ that she describes as ‘slightly catastrophic’. But that chapter is closed. Now, she has a production company and is looking to parlay her star power into more personal projects. She wants to do more theatre: ‘It’s something I care really deeply about, because it’s fucking acting, it’s proper!’

You probably won’t know who the slyly funny, quietly intense Daniel Monks is. An Australian, as a boy he dreamed of being an actor but gave up on the idea after a botched operation left him disabled aged 11. As he puts it, ‘I was very closeted – about my sexuality and my desire to be an actor.’ By his mid-twenties he’d reconciled himself to both, and after a promising stage career in Sydney he took advantage of his Irish ancestry to move to the UK.

He made his Brit stage debut with an incandescent take on the title role in the Donmar’s ‘Teenage Dick’, a high-school-set riff on ‘Richard III’. He suddenly became a name on people’s lips – and Lloyd snapped him up for the role of Konstantin. A serious and articulate advocate for disabled actors, he says ‘I don’t just want to play disabled stories, and it feels really exciting to play a character [Konstantin] not written as disabled. I just know that if my 13-year-old disabled self saw me now, it would have encouraged me to dream bigger.’

By coincidence, Clarke was at the press night for ‘Teenage Dick” and was blown away by Monks, but the two didn’t meet until he was cast in ‘The Seagull’ about a month later. ‘I thought: That’s mental,’ says Clarke of finding out the actor she’d admired had been cast opposite her. ‘I was over the moon!’

‘It was surreal for me,’ says Monks, ‘because on press night everyone was saying Emilia Clarke was in the audience. Then straightaway I got this audition.’

‘The Seagull’, then, is Chekhov’s first great play and follows a group of lonely Russians living a sad, slightly absurd existence on an isolated country estate. At the beginning, Nina and Konstantin are a couple of sorts – she’s a vulnerable wannabe actress, he’s a brooding writer. Things go wrong, quickly, in large part because of Konstantin’s mum Irina and her boyfriend Trigorin.

It’s a bittersweet and complicated story. Clarke’s succinct description is: ‘It’s a group of singularly alone people trying desperately to connect to each other. Or a bunch of fucked- up characters fucking each other up even more.’

There are plenty of clichés around Chekhov, but Clarke and Monks are quick to point out that a show directed by the ever-thrilling Lloyd (fresh off a brilliant, radical ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ with James McAvoy) is never going to be conventional.

‘He’s really experimenting with form,’ says Monks, ‘but only in the interests of making it as direct as possible, getting rid of all the superfluous stuff.’

‘No samovars, no white linen, no crickets in the background,’ enthuses Clarke. ‘And when you strip it back to its bare essentials, all you’re hearing is a truth so profound it’s frightening. This shit will fuck you up.’

The two of them have very different pasts, and may have different futures. He’s a rising star, she has to contend with the enormous success of her past. Will he break into film? Will she become viewed as a heavyweight actor? Who knows? But for now, they’re on a new adventure together. And it seems to be going well.

‘The Seagull’ is at the Playhouse Theatre. Mar 11-May 30.

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