Emilia Clarke—known for displaying strength as Daenerys Targaryen and exuding warmth in movies like Last Christmas and Me Before You—is no stranger to hospitals and healthcare workers. After suffering two brain aneurysms starting in 2011, her road to recovery brought her to a deep appreciation for the care she received during her journey back to health—and to want to enable others with brain injuries to find similar resources, the actor shared in a TIME100 Talks that aired on Sept. 24.
Clarke’s own experiences have provided her with what she called an “armor of sorts” to face the pandemic. “When you personally come very close to dying—which I did twice—it brings into light a conversation which you have with yourself which goes to the tune of: appreciation for the things you have in your life, thanks for the people who are here,” she said.
SameYou, Clarke’s brain injury recovery charity, attempts to help serve that purpose. But like many other organizations this year, SameYou has felt the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People with brain injuries were leaving hospital early,” she said. “My heart was bleeding for all the people who weren’t able to get what I was able to get.” Experimenting with new virtual ways to connect with brain injury patients has presented its own silver linings, however. “COVID has paradoxically been quite an incredible moment for us to really assess that properly and see: how are the ways, during a global pandemic, can we reach out and make people not feel alone?”
Clarke also discussed the “collective grief” she thinks we are all facing, and the empathy that it might engender. “What can come out of this is the knowledge that this stuff we place so much importance on the, the things, the materialistic things, take a backseat,” she said. “When you feel bad, when you feel low, when you feel sad, when you feel scared—I think there’s a societal setup for you to grab for more to fix it, to kind of cover it. When really what you need is to strip it back and be introspective and reflective where possible. That’s the thing that’s going to last you for the rest of your life.”
While Clarke’s on-camera work has been on hold, she’s stayed active reading poetry on her social media and participating in things like a theatrical table read of a play with her friend and colleague Emma Thompson, who also wrote her TIME100 tribute in 2019, with proceeds going to charity. And when it comes to returning to showbiz, Clarke—who has been vocal about the issues she faced on the Game of Thrones set—is optimistic about how the industry has changed. “There are [now] things like intimacy coaches, which is wonderful, and something that was very far away from my experience,” she said.
Lately, she’s particularly encouraged by movements toward representative storytelling. “Whose stories are we hearing? Who are we hearing? That’s vital. Inclusivity of humanity—of everybody—there’s not enough representation,” she said. “I believe it’s coming. That’s something I care about, and the way that audiences can support that is by watching things … and giving them big box office numbers. It’s a business.”
Expanding the breadth of stories we see on screen is good for everyone, she added: “The world will be richer for it.”
Clarke’s approach right now is earnest hope. “I just keep saying the cheesiest things, but I believe in humanity, I believe in us. It’s chilling that it takes a global pandemic to make a bunch of us stop and assess and see what we have. But I’m hopeful that our healthcare workers and our frontline workers are going to be supported forever,” she said. “I’m hopeful that in the wake of Black Lives Matter and everything that’s happened around that, we will continue to see stories from everyone. I’m hopeful that when we’re not fighting a virus that doesn’t care where you come from or how much money you have, we’ll still say, ‘Oh, we’re on the same side!’”