From the fierce Mother of Dragons to a klutzy caregiver --

Game of Thrones

star Emilia Clarke unveils a new side in romantic drama

Me Before You

.

Playing a wide-eyed optimist with a questionable fashion sense, the role is a world away from her Emmy-nominated character, Daenerys Targaryen, in the medieval fantasy series that has catapulted her to global stardom.

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She'd turned down the role of Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey, but took on this romantic flick, and another (upcoming rom-com The Set Up), indicating a deliberate career turn. But it's all about timing and luck rather than strategy, she says, from New York.

"I don't have a plan -- I'm really script-based. It's literally about going, 'Do I like the part, do I like the script, do I feel in the mood right now?'

"This came along and I was like, 'If I was looking, this is what I would have been looking for.'

"It wasn't a strategic choice; it was just luck that I was free to do it -- and lucky they wanted me to play her."

Jojo Moyes, who wrote the novel Me Before You, then the screenplay, and director Thea Sharrock couldn't envision casting anyone other than Clarke to play Louisa. After auditioning 300 actresses for the role, they found the 29-year-old English actress was "made for the part".

"The tiny amount I knew of her work was as [GoT's] Khaleesi, so when she walked into the room she was nothing like I was expecting, which was part of the joy of discovering her," says first-time director Sharrock. "She literally came in, took her coat off and knocked over a bottle of water, like she was sent from heaven.

"Physically she's exactly the Louisa I had in my head, but mostly it was about something she gives off -- that optimism, bubbliness and slightly silly, jokey side. She walked in and for me there was only one [option]."

Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin in Me Before You.
Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin in Me Before You.

The story centres on Will Traynor (played by Sam Claflin, of

Hunger Games

and

Snow White and the Huntsman

), an extreme sports enthusiast-turned-quadriplegic whose miserable existence is transformed by his new caregiver, Louisa -- a newly redundant waitress desperate for a job to help provide for her family.

While it may sound like another Kleenex-heavy film, Clarke and Claflin's electric chemistry makes for a charming and at times comedic tale.

"She's unabashedly, unashamedly klutzy and she makes him laugh," says Clarke, whose Kiwi co-stars have included Joe Naufahu in Games of Thrones and Marton Csokas in Voice From the Stone.

"He's forced to see the genuine light that can be found in life, through her eyes."

Yet with limited mobility, Will questions whether his life is worth living, raising the controversial issue of assisted suicide -- a segment of the story that caused protests at the movie's recent London premiere.

For Claflin, having spent time with sufferers of spinal cord injuries, he believes in the "right to choose" but admits playing Will was psychologically taxing.

"We spent a day with someone confined to a wheelchair and it was inspiring, but also upsetting," says the 29-year-old Brit, who shed 19kg for the role. "I witnessed someone feeding him lunch and with every bite he had to say exactly what he wanted on his fork.

"Mentally, to understand what it was like to be in a wheelchair, I went to a very dark place. Something unlocked in me and I felt as if I was going through what he was going through every step of the way ... and that was good -- but bad!"

For Claflin and Clarke, the experience has reinforced their understanding that, thanks to their careers, they're privileged.

Adds Claflin: "The life I'm living now is a life I never thought was a possibility when I was a kid. I never dreamed I'd come to New York -- let alone for free. Bonus.

"I feel like I'm five steps behind my bucket list, going, 'Ooh, I actually really wanted to do that and I've done it now. Today I just saw The Rock!' I'm living a dream."

Need to know
Who: Emilia Clarke
What: Me Before You