Tamzin Merchant talks about getting recast as Daenerys; “It wasn’t in my heart to tell [her story]”

Tamzin

Sometimes it’s difficult to believe that there was ever a time that Daenerys Targaryen didn’t look like Emilia Clarke but, as those familiar with the infamous un-aired pilot are aware, Clarke wasn’t even the first actress cast to play her. In the original (and forever mysterious)  pilot filmed back in 2009, the not-yet-iconic Mother of Dragons was portrayed by Tamzin Merchant. In a recent interview, Merchant spoke for the first time about her stint as Daenerys and how it felt to be recast **Spoiler** she’s actually quite chill about the whole thing.

In a conversation over Zoom with Entertainment Weekly, Merchant described her experience shooting the pilot “a really great lesson … an affirmation about listening to my instincts and following them.”

Apparently, Merchant had such deep reservations about playing Daenerys that she backed out of her contract before filming even began, only to be talked back into it “by some very 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,” she said, referring to a horse who purportedly became so aroused watching Merchant and Jason Momoa pantomime sex that its “enormous horse schlong” compromised the shot.

Merchant continued: “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. 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.”

Alright, but we still need to address the elephant (or aroused horse?) in the room. Surely, it was brutal watching the character she originated become one of the most recognizable figures in a wildly successful series … right? Well, not necessarily.

“It was kind of funny riding to auditions on buses with Emilia Clarke’s face on it,” Merchant admitted. “Like, ‘oh my mode of transport is quite interesting today!’ It’s been a thing I felt like I watched unfold and it’s been fantastic for the film industry in Northern Ireland and Croatia, and that has been really great.”

Overall, Merchant’s outlook is very positive. She likens her missed opportunity (as some would call it) to Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale, “The Red Shoes,” about a girl with red shoes who gets taken into a golden carriage by a woman who showers her with riches but burns her beloved shoes. When the girl eventually buys a pair of replacement shoes, they dance her to death.

“[F]or me, I think if I had to get in that golden carriage — 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 [as with my novel, The Hatmakers]. I’m profoundly grateful to have claimed my own path to be carving it for myself.”

17 responses

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    1. Well….I’m glad she’s happy with her decision, and if she felt that strongly while filming then thank goodness she got out. But to be honest, the whole

      “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”

      sounds snarky. Maybe it’s simply that I haven’t been a fan of her work, but…sure.

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    2. I understand the Dany role is difficult, especially in the first season. But simply put, real actors act. You can’t just take roles you’re comfortable with or you’re not a real actor. Or accept a role and then be difficult and say you don’t like it, when millions of actors would kill for the same opportunity. Glad she got out, could have been a nightmare.

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    3. I’m sure she thanks her lucky stars she missed out on global fame, millions of dollars and countless opportunities, I mean who wouldn’t?

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    4. “what excites me and what drives me is a compelling story and a compelling character. So for me, Game of Thrones was never that. ”

      Good grief.
      They certainly dodged a bullet ditching her, didn’t they.

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    5. I wonder if she read the books? I could see that on the surface, that first season would be tough without seeing the full context of what was in store for her character. She could have reacted like Ian McShane’s famous line “…It’s only tits and dragons.” Perhaps she didn’t see those early scenes as character building and saw them more as gratuitous. I think Emilia Clarke played it brilliantly when she turned the tables on her brother and started becoming more confident as “Khaleesi”. Her abusive brother lost the power in their dynamic, and that was a wonderful turning point as a viewer. She turned the power tables on Drogo when she turned him on his back after getting some instruction. I could see that an actress could have had trouble with those scenes if she didn’t look ahead. If she read the books she would have seen that Dany gains more power, and those early scenes were part of her journey.

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    6. I never had a moment when I wished she had been Daenerys. I was actually thankful because I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have like her portrayal of the character nearly as much. Good for her that she believes not doing it was better for her though.

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    7. Mali:
      I’m sure she thanks her lucky stars she missed out on global fame, millions of dollars and countless opportunities, I mean who wouldn’t?

      Tamzin currently has a net worth over 1 million dollars, is still famous, and has plenty of opportunities. She currently stars in “Carnival Row”.

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    8. I like Tamzin in “Carnival Row”. A pretty solid and well produced show with cinematic like levels of quality and really high production values.

      That being said, her not wanting the role and eventually exiting GOT, worked out for the best. I just can’t see anyone but Emilia playing Dany…

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    9. loco73,

      I agree. Sounds like this worked out best for everyone.

      Not sure why some people are pooping all over Tamzin’s statement. She obviously did not feel very passionately about tits and dragons. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s admirable that she went with her instincts and cut bait from the show even though it might’ve cost her a lot of fame and additional $. Sounds like she doesn’t want to be uber famous though and she’s in a very happy place.

      Being in such a famous show is kind of a double-edged sword. It brings you a lot of exposure and opportunities, but it also has a way of typecasting you and making it harder for audiences to disassociate the actor from a particular character.

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    10. Well, she was only shooting a TV pilot… for a weird fantasy show with “tits… and [not yet] dragons”.

      Obviously she wouldn’t see all the weirdness and creepiness as character development.

      Entirely reasonable an actor might not want to be part of it. And given the overwhelming nature of fame, I can still understand that some actors might even retrospectively be glad they were not part of GoT. Of course I cannot say how Tamzin Merchant really feels, but what she says might still be true.

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    11. At least TM isn’t being ungracious. Some actors are happy simply to get work. Jack Gleeson seemingly wanted a quieter life after playing Joffrey though I believe he has since returned to professional acting. Charlie Clements (once Lacey Turner’s onscreen husband in ‘Eastenders’) found the attention in that series somewhat overwhelming though he does still work in show business.

      Changing subject, not very exciting but I’m getting my Covid-19 jab tomorrow.

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    12. I had only seen Tamzin Merchant in The Tudors where she played I think the young (and kind of ditsy/flirty on the show) bride of Henry VIII, Catherine Howard. Glad she’s happy with her choice and glad they went with Emilia in the end!

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    13. Tron79:
      I wonder if she read the books?I could see that on the surface, that first season would be tough without seeing the full context of what was in store for her character.She could have reacted like Ian McShane’s famous line “…It’s only tits and dragons.”Perhaps she didn’t see those early scenes as character building and saw them more as gratuitous. I think Emilia Clarke played it brilliantly when she turned the tables on her brother and started becoming more confident as “Khaleesi”. Her abusive brother lost the power in their dynamic, and that was a wonderful turning point as a viewer.She turned the power tables on Drogo when she turned him on his back after getting some instruction.I could see that an actress could have had trouble with those scenes if she didn’t look ahead.If she read the books she would have seen that Dany gains more power, and those early scenes were part of her journey.

      Bro, I think it’s glaringly obvious that she hadn’t read the books back then… And I could bet that she still hasn’t read them as of now, either. Otherwise, how would you explain her ridiculous claim that “Game of Thrones was never a compelling story” and Daenerys was never “a compelling character”? :/ So ignorant >_<

      On the other hand, I can at least respect that she doesn't care about money and fame, and her creative freedom, and doing what she loves and what makes her happy, is more important for her (that is – provided she is honest about that… which I am not so sure she is); because I think like that as well (which I AM honest about, and the proof is that I am poor like a church rat; but that also makes it easy to say for me too…LOL)

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    14. Christomir Rackov,

      You’re blatantly trying to take her quotes out of context. This is what she actually said:

      Merchant continued: “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. 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.

      She clearly said that she personally was not excited to tell this story. She did not in any way say that the story couldn’t be compelling to anyone else.

      Let’s stop putting so much effort into villainizing people who don’t conform to the GoT mob.

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