How Emilia Clarke's real-life health scare informed her 'Last Christmas' role

Last Christmas isn’t a horror movie, but there was one scene that truly frightened its leading lady, Emilia Clarke.

In the Paul Feig-directed romantic comedy, the Game of Thrones star plays Kate, a young woman who is trying to get her life back together after surviving a serious health scare. One flashback sequence shows Kate in the hospital, and performing that scene caused major flashbacks for Clarke herself.

Earlier this year, the actress penned a moving essay for The New Yorker in which she revealed that she suffered two brain aneurysms in 2011 after filming wrapped on the first season of Game of Thrones, resulting in two surgeries and an intensive recovery period.

“I didn’t like doing that,” Clarke tells Yahoo Entertainment about filming Kate’s hospital stay. (Watch the interview above.)

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At the same time, Clarke’s lived experience had a definite impact on the way she approached the role. “It informed it hugely,” she says.

“Kate had this illness when she was in her twenties, as did I. It’s a tricky time ... because you’re moving on into the rest of your life, and that can often leave people a little stunted. It’s a confusing time anyway, and with a major illness, you’re already confused. So there’s a huge amount with Kate that I related to.”

Kate (Emilia Clarke) in the romantic comedy Last Christmas, directed by Paul Feig.
Kate (Emilia Clarke) in the romantic comedy Last Christmas, directed by Paul Feig.

Feig observed that relationship between actress and character firsthand from behind the camera. “There’s something interesting [that happens] when someone connects on that second level with something,” the director says. “Her performance is amazing, and I think that’s an element that took it even higher.”

That hospital scene didn’t just frighten Clarke: it also unnerved her co-star, Henry Golding, who plays Kate’s dashing love interest, Tom Webster.

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“I wouldn’t be able to share any sort of experience close to what she had gone through,” the actor says of Clarke’s real-life brush with mortality. “For me, seeing [her] in that hospital ... really put what she went through into reality.” His presence in those scenes kept some of her personal demons at bay.

“Luckily, I had this gorgeous man to hold onto and tell me it was going to be okay,” notes Clarke, who has been healthy since her second surgery.

“He was holding Kate, and he was also holding me, which was beautiful.”

Last Christmas opens in cinemas on 15 November.