Game of Thrones superfans may know that Emilia Clarke wasn’t the first to play Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons. However, nobody has heard from the O.G. actor, Tamzin Merchant, on the subject until now.
Merchant (The Tudors, Carnival Row) was just 21 years old when she was cast in the original pilot for GoT back in 2009. According to Entertainment Weekly, the entire pilot was pretty much scrapped and reshot before its actual premiere on HBO in 2011. However, Jason Momoa was still Khal Drogo, and Merchant vividly remembers shooting those wedding night scenes.
“Shooting that pilot was a really great lesson,” Merchant told EW for an article published on January 28. “It was an affirmation about listening to my instincts and following them, because I tried to back out of that situation, and during the contract process, I did back out. I was talked back into it by some persuasive people. Then I found myself naked and afraid in Morocco and riding a horse that was clearly much more excited to be there than I was.”
Merchant shared in the interview that Deanareys’s journey wasn’t a story she was too compelled to tell. “It was a lesson that if my guts are telling me a story isn’t something I’m excited to tell, then I shouldn’t try to be excited just because other people are telling me that I should be excited,” she continued. “I didn’t have any training as an actor; I only have my instincts. And what excites me and what drives me is a compelling story and a compelling character. So for me, Game of Thrones was never that. I think it’s a testament to Emilia Clarke for making that role iconic—she was obviously excited to tell that story, and she was epic and excellent. But for me, it wasn’t in my heart to tell it.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a little weird for Merchant when the new and remaining cast of GoT reached superstar status seemingly overnight. “It was kind of funny riding to auditions on buses with Emilia Clarke’s face on it,” she said. “Like, ‘Oh, my mode of transport is quite interesting today!’”
One thing Merchant is sure of is that everything worked out for the best. “If I hadn’t been released from my contract—I think it would have taken me to a place far from the creative person that I am today,” she said. “Also, if I was very rich and famous, I wouldn’t have time to do all the things that my soul needs to do. Expressing myself creatively is a need that’s more important than any amount of riches that I could have gained from that part. If I did, I think I’d just distract myself—but that’s just me, not anybody else; I think Emilia Clarke is amazing. I just wouldn’t be the creator that I am today. I’m profoundly grateful to have claimed my own path to be carving it for myself.”