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In a 2019 piece in The New Yorker, actress Emilia Clarke revealed that she experienced two brain haemorrhages while filming Game of Thrones. The shock that the youthful Mother of Dragons had multiple life-threatening incidents belied the alarming fact that nearly one in three people are expected to have a brain injury over the course of their lives.
After the story was published, Clarke founded SameYou, an organisation working to support the recovery of people who’ve experienced brain injuries and strokes. 'The scale of the problem is huge,' she says. 'And because the affectation of having a brain injury is an invisible ailment, the thing that comes along with having a brain injury is shame.' Clarke struggled with the difficulties of fundraising ('Many things have pushed me to my limits [but] raising money for a charity is about the hardest thing you can choose to do') before realising the potential of NFTs to fund good work.
Now, SameYou is teaming up with the NFT platform Seva.Love, founded by Deepak Chopra and geared toward social good, to auction off an NFT of the chainmail Atelier Versace dress that Clarke wore to the 2016 Emmys, as well as the actual dress itself. Photographer Steven Sebring created 2D, 3D, and hologram imagery of the dress. There’s even an experiential mindscape of brain injury healing with audio of spoken word from Clarke and a limited-edition digital version of the dress that can be worn by an avatar in the Metaverse. (Are you keeping up?)
'The more people that you speak to who need help and the disparity between how much we could raise and how much [was needed] was starting to get really difficult,' Clarke says. 'So we had to get clever with how we raised those funds.' NFTs are indeed the next frontier. Below, more from Clarke about digital assets, red carpets, and speaking her truth.
This is a really interesting and unique approach to fundraising. Why did you decide to take the NFT route?
People were like, 'Oh, that’s a thing. You could NFT it.' And I was like, 'Hang on. What? NF what? I don’t understand what that means. Can someone explain it to me?' I read all the articles. I listened to all the podcasts. I still didn’t understand. I’m beginning to get a broad strokes understanding of it in that we live our lives online. Everything is becoming so incredibly virtual. With the values placed upon individual IPs, people are realising that there’s money to be made in that space.
I always wanted to keep dresses that were important—red carpet things. I have all my costumes from every production I’ve ever done in order to auction them off. [It’s] the only reason why I’d ever keep anything from any set ever. I was like, 'Oh, I can do good with that.' But having an auction costs so much. Then COVID happens and you are like, 'Okay, so having in-person events is still incredibly difficult. Is that the best way to raise funds?' Cut to, we can do something virtually.
[With NFTs] it was kind of lovely to think, Oh, maybe there’s going to be someone out there who for a really small amount of money can own this thing that some say is the precursor to how we will buy and sell art. You can own something that has innate worth that is also a very forward-thinking, modern kind of idea.
Why was this dress in particular the right one for this initiative?
It was a really important Emmys and I was wearing chainmail. That dress weighs a ton. I remember so vividly the whole process of getting ready for it. My dad had just passed and my mum was with me. Versace gave her this beautiful suit to wear and she walked the red carpet with me. It was a really beautiful moment in a really dark time. It really stuck out to me as something that I treasured. Honestly, I think it was the first time I put on a dress and I felt strong, I felt powerful; I felt like, 'Yeah, I’m going to take on this red carpet.'
You have your own personal history with brain injury, which seems like such an isolated experience. What have you learned about it from the people you’ve met through the organisation?
The biggest thing that I’ve learned is that there’s obviously a huge sliding scale between the repercussions of having a brain injury from someone like me who can walk and talk and half my brain is missing to someone who is paraplegic, quadriplegic, and their rehabilitation journey is a much steeper climb.
All that aside, there are fundamentals that are exactly the same. It’s this fundamental idea of: How do we see ourselves? Where do you see the thing that makes you, you? Where does it live? In every single person that had any range of brain injury, we found that that was just broken.
It’s so profound—the effect that even the most minor brain injury can have on you. It gives you this lack of self-trust that transforms the way that you receive information. It transforms the way that you see yourself, the way you are with other people. That bedrock of your understanding of who you are is just ripped apart. And so that was one of the biggest things that just kept screaming out at me.
Your story in The New Yorker was so beautiful and I think people took a lot from it.
Thank you. I was never going to tell anyone. People would go, 'Ugh, can you ever work? What are you doing?'
I realised that I couldn’t do any you good unless I put myself out there and said what it is. I never, ever, ever wanted to be a sob story. I don’t want to be like, 'Oh, actor has a hard time, wants affection.' No. I wanted to get it out [and] do something good.
If you continue to be open about it and book projects, then it probably makes it easier for a director to say, 'Oh, well, Emilia had this and she continued to work. Let’s cast this person.'
That’s the hope, for sure. It’s been helpful for me to talk about it a lot. I think I would’ve struggled with it mentally if I hadn’t actually been forced to say things out loud and have difficult conversations because they just get easier. They keep getting easier.
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