I reread your beautiful essay in The New Yorker, and I was very moved. You were just 24, you had just finished the first season. You thought you were going to die from an aneurysm and the surgery was very terrifying. Can you talk about what happened now that you are alright?
Yeah. It’s a funny thing because I kept it secret for so long, it was quite bizarre on the red carpet and having someone asking me questions, which has been quite surreal. But it’s been incredibly liberating because for so many interviews, people would say, “How do you relate to Daenerys in terms of feeling strong?” And I just never said anything. It’s very liberating knowing that I can discuss it properly. But the main reason I said it was because of the charity I’ve started. I want people to see that and think, “Oh if the mother of dragons can do it, then so can I.”
With this experience in mind, what would you advise to your younger self?
I’d advise her to buckle up because it’s going to be an interesting ride. As a kid, I wanted to be an actor. I just felt very quickly at home in front of lots of people on stage, weirdly. I’d like very much to not regret anything at all. Everything that happens is an experience that creates who you are. That’s all we are, we’re the sum of our experiences, even brain hemorrhages. I’ve never looked at them and thought, “Poor me.” It was more like, “What can I take from this and what can I do to help other people?”
What about your charity? Can you talk about it a little more?
It's called SameYou. It is for aftercare for brain injury, because I knew, from my experience, that there was a huge gap between being at hospital and being at home. You spend a lot of time in the hospital, where everyone is telling you, "You're ill, you should be scared." And then one day they let you go. Then you go home, and you go, "Where's the beeping and what if I die? I feel so unsafe and so scared." For brain injury in particular, that's heightened.
How did you feel when you wrapped the last day of shooting?
Hopefully, we’ll get nominations, and we’ll be at ceremonies together. I’m terribly sad about it ending. The words “Game of Thrones” are going to have the fondest feeling to me forever. Yes, it’s emotional, but each time we celebrate it, I feel a little bit of weight lifted and I just get to enjoy what we did.
Would you do another series like this?
In the immediate future, I don’t want to do it unless something really amazing, extra special, I can’t say no to turns up. It would be hard for me to sign something like a six-year deal on something. Right now, what I’m looking at is theater, limited series, and movies.
Game of Thrones must have changed a lot in your life…
I look back at who I was nine years ago when I started the series and that’s what gets me emotional. He’s so different from me. I feel like I’ve gone through an experience where I walk into rooms like this and I talk to you and I’m on a red carpet and there’s flash bulbs. I remember going to an awards ceremony for the first time, and it was just extraordinary. What I really want to do is watch the final episode, go back, watch the whole thing once and then put it on the shelf and go, “Thank you.”
It looks like the prequel is going to happen. What advice would you have for people who are going to embark on that journey?
What they’re doing with the prequel is very wise because they’re treating it as a different project. It doesn’t have the same creative team, and it has different show runners. Stylistically probably they’ll take a lot, but I believe it’s in a completely different period of time. Any advice I’d give to people going into it is, if it’s anything like the journey we went through, you’re about to have the best time.
Did you take a souvenir from the set?
No, they were very tight with their props and stuff. I asked, “So I get my costume, right? And my sword?” And they were, “No.” “Well why not?” “Because it’s worth so much now.” So I’ve kept very little.
I’m curious to learn what you took.
No, I’d tell you. I kept the statue of me that was done in the promos. I think it’s all going in a museum. I’m getting the Game of Thrones armorer, and I’m going to pay him to make me an absolute replica of my armor on the series. I’ve got a fireplace at home I’m going to hang it above.
I was wondering if you would have done some stuff differently in terms of dealing with fame?
Fame is a really odd situation to be in. There are times I've been wrong and got wrapped up in myself. But I've always had people around me who've been truthful with me. So, no, there's not much I'd change because those mistakes have made me who I am, and today, in this moment, I'm happy with who I am.
Now that the show has ended, what will you miss the most or the least about it?
I will miss going back to Belfast and being with the cast there. And what am I going to miss the least? I guess the wet feet, that was the worst thing. And just the discomfort of muddy puddles everywhere. You can’t find a bathroom anywhere because you are shooting in the middle of a field. That’s something I am not going to miss.
You were only 12 when you started the show and you are 21 now. Those years are extremely important in a person’s life. Do you ever regret not having a normal childhood, so to speak?
It does really intrigue me, the thought of not being famous and how that would be different. But I don’t feel regret about it, I have had one of the most incredible experiences. I have just learned so much about life from doing this show and from working at such a young age. I am so excited for the doors that are opened for me now. In the last six months in particular, everyone always said to me, “When you finish this, you are going to be 21 and you are going to have your whole life ahead of you. You can do whatever you want.”
On that note, what would you like to do? What would you like to explore?
I want to just explore different creative avenues like paint, draw, write, or do all of these things. I got a studio and I am going to be able to be creative in there. I would love to make my own movies and I feel there is so much opportunity for that. There are such incredibly talented people in London who have very limited opportunity. In terms of living a full life, I want to run a marathon and I want to travel. I have traveled so much with this job, but always within the movie industry, so you get a snapshot of a lot of different cities, but it’s always like a particular group and a particular sort of trip. And of course, doing other movies and continue to act.