AUP S2E5: Nathalie Emmanuel: The Invitation￼
AUP S2E5: TRANSCRIPT
TRANSCRIBED: Albert Parnell
You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
Cortney Wills [00:00:08] Hello and welcome to Acting Up. The podcast that dives deep into the world of TV and film that highlights our people, our culture and our stories. I’m your host, Cortney Wills, Entertainment Director at theGrio. And this week we’re sitting down with Nathalie Emmanuel. I could not be more excited for today’s conversation with one of my favorite characters from ‘Game of Thrones,’ it’s Nathalie Emmanuel. You may know her better as Missandei right hand woman to the mother of dragons, the Khaleesi Diana, heiress and lover of gray worm. They were really like the only two Black characters in “Game of Thrones”. Really. And God, they made such an impact. I think that Missandei was always one of my favorite characters from the moment she came on to the scene. And of course, her death was so extremely painful to watch and had some pretty dire consequences for like, I don’t know, the whole rest of Westeros.
Cortney Wills [00:01:07] The actress who played her, Nathalie Emanuel, is going to be gracing our big screens in the new film ‘The Invitation,’ set for release on August 26. The contemporary thriller tells the story of a young woman invited to a lavish destination wedding in England, only to realize her presence at the wedding has sinister motivations. If that logline doesn’t give you a hint, let me tell you, it’s pretty scary. It is definitely a thriller. It’s very out of the box, especially for a film that is helmed by a Black actress. And I don’t know, I dug it. I really loved seeing Nathalie take up all of this space, and I wanted to talk to her about what it was like to jump into a role like that. Of course, I’m also dying to know what she thinks about this new “Game of Thrones” spin off ‘House of the Dragon,’ which is finally hitting HBO. And I think I’ve told you before, but this iteration has a lot more Black people from Jump, and I think that might have something to do with the impact that Nathalie’s character Missandei had on the series, on the fans, on the community. And I actually am going to guess that there might be some lines drawn between her character in “Game of Thrones” and some of the people that we’re going to meet in this new show that is set almost 200 years before “Game of Thrones” kicked off. Nathalie also opens up about what it’s been like to navigate Hollywood as a Black actress and what it’s been like to kind of move through these predominantly white spaces, where she’s going and where she hopes to end up. Here we go.
Cortney Wills [00:02:43] Oh, it’s nice to see you.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:02:45] It’s lovely to see you, too.
Cortney Wills [00:02:47] I am so excited to talk to you. You’ve actually been on my mind even before I started getting information about the invitation, because, of course, I’m, like, gearing up for this ‘”Game of Thrones”‘ prequel, House of the Dragon. And then I also loved you in the last Netflix film that you were in. It was so lovely to see you in.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:03:09] “The Army of Theives.” Oh, Great. I’m so happy. That was such a fun one.
Cortney Wills [00:03:13] I loved that movie and I loved you in it. I love seeing you in this, like, starring role. It was so cool to see after becoming such a huge fan of yours on ‘”Game of Thrones”‘.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:03:24] Oh, thank you so much. That means more than you could ever know. I mean, it’s been such a incredible journey and crazy journey. And I sometimes I’m like, I’m so just. There are no words. I’m like, I have to pinch myself sometimes.
Cortney Wills [00:03:40] And now you’ve got this leading role in this, like, very creepy film called “The Invitation,” that I think people are just going to eat up. Tell me, how did you get involved? Why did you get involved? Why was this the right role for you right now?
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:03:57] Well, I loved trying my hand at different genres. You know, I think I’ve done a lot of the kind of action stuff. I’ve done a bit of sci-fi down, a bit of comedy and the fantasy and more dramatic roles, you know, and I think the thriller horror stuff I haven’t really done. And I was really excited to see this story because it was such a interesting way of retelling a story that has been told many, many times in many, many ways. And like just placing this very old, like kind of vampire mythology and landscape and then merging it with this very modern context and very modern world and women. And and then just also within the kind of context of that interrogating all these things that we still see, which is so relevant in society about power and those who are kind of at the top and those who are, you know, aren’t, you know, how the exploitation is literal and the brutalization is literal in literally like but in a sort of way we can have that conversation in a sort of removed way. That’s the sort of fun of genre is that you get to come in, interrogate or ask these questions or present those ideas in a way that people can digest. And, you know, for some reason that’s possible with when it’s like escapism, you know? You know, for a lot of people, it’s just reality.
Cortney Wills [00:05:36] Yes. I also think that this genre is a place where. You know, we get the kind of unusual experience of seeing, you know, a leading lady take up this amount of space on the screen for the entirety of a project, and especially when it comes to a Black woman. You know, stories that center on us usually have a lot to do with race, and they’re usually kind of fit into this box of the stereotypical she’s a struggling single mother or she’s, you know, fighting against the man or something. But this genre allows, I think, an actor like yourself to just exist and just be and just go full throttle into this crazy world and take up a ton of space. And that on its own is just really beautiful to see.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:06:29] 100%. And just generally like women and people of color are very much underrepresented in this genre. And we have a female writer, female director, female EP, female lead. So many women in heads of department roles like this is a very female centered thriller and horror piece, which is just, you know, in itself, just by existing on its own is like revolutionary in a way, in so far as I’m concerned, because so many opportunities have been lost. I think, you know, with when I was what movie, sometimes I’m like, I don’t care about him. What’s her story tonight? I mean. I just was really, really excited to be a part of doing a project that really did center women and and being a Black and mixed race woman, like just being in the center of a story that you wouldn’t be usually even contemplated. And I just love that this was able to exist and I’m incredibly proud of it. Yeah.
Cortney Wills [00:07:43] Are you typically like a horror fan? Like what has your relationship been to the genre up until now?
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:07:49] I love horror films. I love thriller films. I think anything that makes you think and makes keeps you like on the edge of your seat and you’re like, what’s going to happen? You know, trying to even just you’re sitting there watching it, looking for all the clues and all the things. What does that mean? Does that mean something new, like just engaged and you’re trying to, like, go on this journey with the people who your you’re like, vouching for the people who are, like, cheering for and and I love. The journey and the style of storytelling. And and I think. I mean, obviously, it’s hard sometimes there’s so much violence and blood and gore and things like that. But for me, the most. Kind of intriguing aspects of a lot of horror is the psychological element and the person who’s in the situation, which is what we see a lot with Eve’s, you know, being she’s being gaslit constantly and she’s like completely questioning her own instincts and she’s like, Wait, what is it, me? You know? And she’s kind of. Until the penny drops and she realizes what’s going on up to that point that all her instincts went bang on and she was made. Oh, she was. She was made to feel like she was crazy. And then it really was that she really wasn’t. And I think, like, that sort of psychological element is always my favorite. So like, it was really fun to play, but it was my favorite to watch as well.
Cortney Wills [00:09:22] What would you say is the most challenging aspect of carrying a film like this? Because, I mean, it is. It’s like so much you so much. I would think just from a vanity standpoint, you’re like, Wow, that’s a lot of my face. And then I feel a little you’re a full face that it is for all of us. You know, I would just say that’s probably a little bit intimidating. And then you’ve got to pull off all of these, you know, emotions that, you know, are just not not typical in everyday life. It’s not like, oh, be sad about breaking up with your boyfriend. It’s like you might be fighting for your life or wondering if you’re going crazy. So how do you kind of tap into that and overcome that? And what made you know that you were up to the task?
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:10:11] Well, I don’t know. I’m sort of like I am? I don’t know. Let’s give it a go. No, taking on a project like this as well as a leading actress is like, just the responsibility is just different from anything else I’ve done. Just the responsibility really, like doing the work. And I mean, I always I’m very like committed to everything I do. But the sort of level of commitment is just like so much more is so much higher. And you don’t have any time. Like you are in every day, all day, your sleep deprived. And it’s like there’s no, it’s relentless. Like there’s no, in this movie, especially, like there is no breaks other than like for reasons that were outside of the production. Like, you know, we shot this through COVID and, you know, I thankfully never got it, but I’d come into contact with someone who had so they had to isolate me just to make sure. And then it turned out I was fine, but still, like, that wasn’t like a planned thing. It was just for, like, keeping people safe, you know, or keeping me safe and everyone’s safe. But that was I remember when that happened and sort of being, like, really conflicted because obviously somebody had got sick, but it gave me a second to breathe because it was just so safe. The line and you know, your kind of prep and everything, you’re just like, there’s so much work that’s gone into it. And and then your responsibility as a lead is, is to help set the tone of the set and, and, you know, collaborating with your crew and other actors. And you suddenly become, in a way, like in a leadership position, in a way, you know, and I think when you establish a tone and an energy like it, it kind of radiates.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:12:12] And, you know, Jess, who directed the movie, she’s was equally responsible for that, too, but you know, for sure. But I think we were very much in sync about how we like the energy of a set to be. And I think that was just like a real blessing. And, you know, I guess the hardest thing about these these kinds of performances is because really a lot of this film, especially once it will, kicks off and, you know, and even if a sort of sequence might not be very long in the movie, we might have done that for three days in a row and shooting a whole fight thing for like a few days. So often, like it’s just being in a state of trauma like and fear and terror is exhausting. Like just being like the crying and the desperate fighting and it’s physically and mentally and emotionally draining. And like, there were days where I left, I left set, and my head was throbbing and I was like, my body, her. And I was like, but I’d left it all out there. Like, it was almost quite, like, cathartic as well. Like, just to sort of scream and fight and be like, you know, just see what came out. And, and that was whilst very difficult for all the reasons I just said, it was also kind of a feeling of like satisfying in a way. Like it was strange, but I, it was a whole new experience for me in that respect.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:13:42] And I think like, while I haven’t, I’m very, very lucky to have not experience like with my own, not seen with my own eyes, extreme violence or extreme brutality. Um, you know, there are things that you can find if you want to see that, like, you know, and I definitely watched one video. I was like, this is an American do that. But it was like, so the, the sensation of like, like caught my, my, my breath catching in my chest or my stomach, you know, like the stomach being like. That feeling of almost like seasickness, but like, just so disorienting and horrible and desperately, desperately just horrific. And like. And I was just even to have that reference was like. Like it was that, you know, and horrible. I know, like, awful, awful things. But it was just really just to help me kind of understand, like, what that might look like. But to be honest, I it was literally I couldn’t do it like for very long. And so. But yeah, but also just like thinking of times where I’ve been super, super terrified or really like fearful or just anxious and just like drawing on those things and just trying to like amplify them. Because I think when we’re, like, upset or angry or scared, we have the tendency to try and like like suppress it. And so for me, it was like, if I can generate certain emotions and then like not do that, and then I get to see where it goes. And yeah, that was kind of interesting to play around with.
Cortney Wills [00:15:24] Yeah, I. I know what you mean. I mean, like, I’m a freak. Like, when I’m actually very stressed out, I find my, like, I literally just rewatched the entirety of “Game of Thrones” a couple of months ago when I was so stressed out about what was going on in Russia and here and like in the Ukraine, like it there’s something almost cathartic about experiencing. I mean, talk about like things that are gruesome. The first time I watched “Game of Thrones”, I had to turn it off, pause the episode multiple times because it was just so violent and so gory. And now that it’s over and it’s something that, you know, a project that is just so near and dear to my heart. Now, there’s something like freakishly comforting about the gore, especially when you know that it’s coming, but it’s almost like a relief. Like, you know, I’m not the creative in the scene, but in a way. You know, that brutality kind of levels out the real life trauma that I think we’re all sort of grappling with in one way or another.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:16:33] And I think as well, like so much of the brutality and violence that we see often it’s inflicted upon us. Like you can open your phone and like swipe and suddenly this. Awful thing is just thrown at you, and you don’t have a choice and I think there’s something about having the choice to go. I’m going to watch this thing that I know is violent. I’m in control. I know what I’m sort of subjecting myself to. It gives you a kind of ownership of like the viewing of that of violence in a way. Like you’re kind of it takes away the sort of shock and the trauma because you are like, I know it’s coming. I know it’s going to be what it is and it doesn’t feel inflicted upon you. Yeah, it’s like you’re not feeling it and you’re like, Why am I bleeding? You know? It’s just like you kind of is an acknowledgment of its existence, but in a way that you you feel like in control of as.
Cortney Wills [00:17:36] Yes. Exactly.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:17:41] I made a choice, like especially, you know, in the summer of 2020, there was a point where I just went, okay, I have to can’t look at it. I’ll read about it. I’ll read about what happened. I want to know. I want to be informed of what happened. And I’ll read various sources and see various things like articles or whatever. But I can’t I can’t do it.
Cortney Wills [00:18:04] You just have to turn it off sometimes and like, unplug.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:18:07] Yeah.
Cortney Wills [00:18:07] Absolutely. Nathalie, I want to know a little bit about your kind of journey to Hollywood, because “Game of Thrones” was the first time that you came on my radar. But like, what was the entry point and the journey for you? I mean, for that to be the intro, at least here in the States, a role like that that I would imagine probably maybe wasn’t intended to be as impactful as it was. And then you kind of took it on and made it your own. And I know for me, I mean, I was obsess like for sure one of my favorite characters in the entire series, a series full of really powerful characters, really powerful performances, but something about you just being there and the way that you, you know, you just have this presence there. And also, I think, made this really remarkable phenomenon suddenly felt like it included us and was for us, too. Was. Like so monumental. I mean, “Game of Thrones”, I work for theGrio. I usually only write about shows and only have time for shows that are really centered on our experience, our community. And “Game of Thrones” was one that just broke through because it was just so monumental.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:19:26] I mean, it really speaks to the power of inclusion, doesn’t it?
Cortney Wills [00:19:30] Yeah.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:19:32] I’m sure, as generous as a writer and like a podcaster, it’s like, well, you know, I can talk about lots of things. It doesn’t just have to be about things that are for us. It can be about these, all these. There’s so many great shows that I know I can watch and enjoy, but like I’m, you know, feeling limited around a certain, like a type of thing for a certain way. That’s really restrictive. And I think, right. The fact that that helped bring more people into the show because of like just being more inclusive, I think that just shows I think they did they had a they did a study of something that said how much money Hollywood loses by not being inclusive. And I think it was but it was a lot of money, like a lot of money. And you think like, you know, everyone like in Hollywood, they just it’s a it’s a business end of the day. And you’re like, iit’s all this iuntapped like, kind of audience and demographics that are just being left out and it’s just so it’s going against all interests. You know, in this like, capitalism, like the world we live in. I was 23 when I came into that role. And I think I was still so just. Uneducated, unaware of life. I was just trying to survive. I was like, Wait, someone’s give me a job. Okay, great. I’m down, I’m there, like, just super grateful. And then, like, that job really did change my life.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:21:19] And then it was only when I realized, I mean, I’ve been moving through white spaces my entire life, as I’m sure you have, too. And and you know that it means something. And and I knew that, too, but I guess I maybe wasn’t fully aware of the that that is sort of like the size of like that impact of me being that I wasn’t anticipating expecting it. And yeah, and I was chatting the other day and we were talking about like Twitter and “Game of Thrones” and like and the hashtags and, you know, Dem Thrones, Thrones Y’all. That was a huge part of my viewing experience and that was like I used to literally watch the show and be sat there, like scrolling through those, clicking on those hashtags and scrolling through to see that the how, you know, the community was like enjoying and feeling and what their opinions were and the, and the banter and the jokes like it was fully integrated into my viewing experience. And so, you know, like, I just like, imagine “Game of Thrones” without Black people, sorry, like without Black fans. Because it literally was like people started to try like they do everything trying to like co-opt the hashtags
Cortney Wills [00:22:43] We’re like this is our stuff.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:22:45] To try to make new ones. We were like, No, no, sorry. These are the ones, This is it. Sorry.
Cortney Wills [00:22:51] Yes.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:22:52] Yes. I felt so held up and supported and and I remember just feeling this, this shift of going, okay, this is this is like I’ve got I’ve got a job to do, like in a really significant way and that I maybe wasn’t aware of before.
Cortney Wills [00:23:18] Yes. Yes.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:23:21] It was a real blessing, though, because I’m so glad that I could be that for people because, you know, it wasn’t there for me. It wasn’t there, you know. So I’m like and it really sort of opened up a conversation when like, Missandei was killed in eight season. In one hand, I was like, Oh, I finally got killed because everyone gets killed. Like, I was so like, yeah, of course. But in the other hand, I didn’t know that this would be hugely impactful for people because of all the conversations, all the things that happened in the past. And and but I was not again in while I knew there would be like a reaction, but then the size of the reaction was like even bigger than I could possibly have imagined people writing op heads and talking about. But it opened this conversation about shows like this, these big shows, these big financially back shows, and the value of inclusion and like why we need more of it. Like the problem was is that Missandei was the only woman of color, like she was the only one that had like a regular, like long and long lasting role, like throughout the show. This is why, like, if there was like more characters of all kinds of people, like, you wouldn’t just have one person, like, one person kind of flying flag for like a whole, like various communities, various people. Like, it wasn’t just like Black people. It wasn’t just like mixed race people. It was people who were just like, I am a woman. I’m a woman of color, I feel, you know, whatever. Like it all just came. I think. I think towards like that one character and also to Jacob Anderson character Grey Worm, too. But it was just, you know, it it was it really opened such a great kind of conversation. And I was that was I was so proud of that. Like, you know, we have all these, like, problems to overcome still and we still have a lot of work to do. But the fact that I my character in that show could push the conversation on even just like the smallest amount, I’m incredibly proud of that.
Cortney Wills [00:25:31] I am, too, and I’m so grateful for it. And I think, you know, one thing was your presence, but the other thing was that. You know, in that genre, too, like you said, those big budget kind of fantastical movies or shows, it’s just reiterated time and time again that like, we don’t have a place there. You know, fit into the story. It’s happening again with Lord of the Rings, which is being reimagined with a lot of Black characters now, or this new iteration, this prequel House of the Dragon. You know, some people are like. You know, spoiler alert, some people don’t know. There are a lot of Black people in this new show and it’s like, wait, what? Like the Targaryens are white with blond hair and blue eyes. Like, how could there ever be Black people? That doesn’t make sense. And it’s like, yo, there’s dragons flying around the sky. Like, that makes sense.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:26:24] Like zombie like white walkers.
Cortney Wills [00:26:26] Yes. but somehow the concept of people of color being mixed in there is just way too far fetched to accept. I mean, it’s ridiculous, but in truth, it’s what we’ve been fed and what we’ve accepted for so long. And then here comes your character Missandei. And not only is she there, but she is so deeply. Important. I mean Missandei and Grey Worms, love story, I think is one of the most compelling love stories in the entire series. And I mean, they couldn’t even have sex. And you were still like, wow, this is very hot.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:27:05] I mean they could have sex. Like penetration isn’t everything, by the way.
Cortney Wills [00:27:11] There you go. There you go. You know, but I mean, I hink there were some some blocks there to being such a romantic, you know, love story. And then Missandei is also I mean, you talked about when that character dies, but talk about devastation, easily, I mean, there’s so many points of devastation on “Game of Thrones”, but that episode remains just the one that I’ve got to still brace myself for.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:27:39] And it was because she was like, truly good. Yeah. She truly was like kind and she was the she was the most undeserving of that treatment, I think. And, you know. And I think the the. That’s the sort of brutality of that show. And the unfairness of it is that it’s usually the good and innocent that suffer from these powerful people playing the games, the “Game of Thrones” or the politicking. It harms the good kind people who are just trying to live their lives in life. And I and I felt like she really kind of represented that. And she’d already overcome and survived so much. And it just felt so wrong and so unfair. And I think like that sensation, I was happy to feel that because it’s something that I know and it’s something that I see everywhere. And and but I, you know, I would have much preferred her and gray when I’m sailing off to North and having whatever medieval cocktail. Like, I would have preferred that outcome.
Cortney Wills [00:29:05] Me, too. And she was also just, you know, I think arguably like the most important person to the most important person on the show, you know, being Daenerys. The mother of dragons was gutted by her death. And I just thought the impact of that.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:29:23] It was pretty brutal and yeah all right pack.
Cortney Wills [00:29:30] Yeah
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:29:31] The sun said trocar issues it says no I meant her not looking to die is it.
Cortney Wills [00:29:38] Exactly. Yes. So I have to let you go.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:29:42] Apple. Yeah.
Cortney Wills [00:29:44] I have to let you go soon, but I have got to find out what you’re thinking about. “House of the Dragon.” I’ve seen it. I’ve seen a little bit of it. And yes, again, spoiler alert, there are Black people.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:29:57] I did know that because, you know, I think in the acting circles, we know who’s doing things and say my so wonderful hair designer on who and her makeup designer on “The Invitation”, Nora Robertson she I think she had well she was sort of consulting a little bit on that and I think I sort of had some information about through the industry about the fact that there were Black people on “Game of Thrones” and we were like, Yeah, I like celebrating it. So yeah.
Cortney Wills [00:30:28] I think, I mean, I’m only guessing here, but I think there are going to be lines. Like of course, I think people have wondered like, where did Missandei come from? Like, where are her parents? Like, is there a land of Black people somewhere? And I think the lineage. Right. I mean, she spoke ancient Bulgarian. She was like one of the only ones.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:30:48] She knew all the ancient dialects.
Cortney Wills [00:30:50] I think we’re going to see a line like a correlation of like where her roots are or where she came from or where people like her came from. In this new iteration, have you given any thought to that?
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:31:04] That would make me so happy. That would be that would make me so happy. And when I first was like got the part and I was researching Missandei, I sort of I hadn’t quite got to her in the book cause I was reading the books, I hadn’t quite got there. So I just did a little, you know, Internet search. And what’s so funny about it is that the people of North were like super peaceful. They never kill anything. So they’re like vegans. They’re like vegans who don’t kill anything. What’s made them that that’s what made them susceptible to slavers was because they just didn’t fight. They were very like calm, like sort of calm, peaceful people who didn’t believe in harming anything. And I was like, That’s so funny that then, like, maybe it was like a year or so later, I was like full vegan and I have been ever since I was like, Oh, my sis, my sister Missandei. Basically, she was the inspiration subconsciously.
Cortney Wills [00:32:04] Oh, I love that. I love that. Nathalie, what is next for you? You’ve done the small screen. You’ve done the big screen. Like, you know, like what is on the horizon next when it comes to you and your career?
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:32:16] Well, I’m have a very busy, busy year coming up. I’m about to go and do another comedy with another season of Die Hard with Kevin Hart. And, you know, we’re going to have some fun in Atlanta for a bit. And then and then I’m going off to do this megalopolis with the legend that is Francis Ford Coppola. So I’m very excited to work with that incredible cast. And so, yeah, it’s just really I’m amazed. So, yeah, so I’m just super blessed, but I’m really hoping in the future as well to get into producing and kind of having a bit more kind of creative control and hopefully getting my own projects greenlit, not necessarily even for me to star in. Because I think part of my desire is as a actor who’s, you know, woman, Black, mixed race person, like, I want to start using the kind of platform that I’m slowly building to, like, help bring other stories to the forefront. Because there’s so much value in that. And I’m so I’m that’s my plan, my big plan, my ten year plan is something, you know. I want to get to that stage where I can go, okay, I’ve got the financial backing where I can green light this thing and then support this up and coming director or this you know, that’s sort of how I want to get to move forward in this business.
Cortney Wills [00:33:55] Oh, I love that. I cannot wait. You’ll have to come back and talk to us all about it when you produce your first project and we can’t wait to see what’s next for you. Thanks so much for joining me today. It’s been a total pleasure.
Nathalie Emmanuel [00:34:06] Thank you so much. This is lovely.
Cortney Wills [00:34:08] You take care. Thanks for tuning in to this week’s episode of Acting Up. Download theGrio app to listen to acting up and other great podcasts. See you soon.
[00:34:28] You are now listening to theGrio Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
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