Nathalie Emmanuel talks female-centered horror film ‘The Invitation,’ ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel and more on ‘Acting Up’

The actress takes her first stab at a horror-thriller with her new film, in theaters now.

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On the latest episode of “Acting Up,” theGrio’s Cortney Wills caught up with Nathalie Emmanuel to break down her new film, “The Invitation,” “House of the Dragon,” which is HBO’s “Game of Thrones” prequel series and her experience as a Black actress in the fantasy genre.

Fans might have first met Emmanuel as Missandei on HBO’s massively popular fantasy series “Game of Thrones,” but she has been very busy since the series ended in 2019. From appearing in action-adventure films such as the “Fast & Furious” franchise to leading Hulu’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral” romantic comedy series, she continued to stretch her muscles as an actress. Now, with “The Invitation,” Emmanuel dives into a new genre: horror.

“I’ve done a bit of sci-fi, done a bit of comedy and fantasy and more dramatic roles, you know? And the thriller, horror stuff I haven’t really done,” she said. “I was really excited to see this story because it was such an interesting way of retelling a story that has been told many, many times in many, many ways, and placing this very old vampire mythology and landscape and then merging it with this very modern context and very modern world and woman.”

"The Invitation" Photocall
Nathalie Emmanuel stars as Evie in “The Invitation,” a retelling of the classic “Dracula.” The film was released in theaters Friday. (Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images)

“The Invitation” retells the classic gothic horror story “Dracula,” and Emmanuel stars as Evie. After taking a DNA test, she connects with her long-lost family and attends her newfound cousin’s wedding.

“She’s at first seduced by the sexy aristocrat host but is soon thrust into a nightmare of survival as she uncovers twisted secrets in her family’s history and the unsettling intentions behind their sinful generosity,” the film’s official description details.

Genres like horror or fantasy allow actors of color, like Emmanuel, to just exist in the given circumstances and take up space regardless of their race. “Generally women and people of color are very much underrepresented in this genre,” she said. “And we have a female writer, female director… so many female women in heads of department roles. 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 as far as I’m concerned.”

Her inclusion in “Game of Thrones” was similarly revolutionary, as she was the only Black woman in the series. “That job really did change my life,” she reflected. “And then it was only when I realized, I mean, I’ve been moving through white spaces my entire life and, I guess, I maybe wasn’t fully aware of the size of like that impact…I wasn’t expecting it.”

Without Black Twitter, which went off for “Game of Thrones” and Missandei in particular, she may not have been able to comprehend her character’s impact as she has now.

Twitter “was a huge part of my viewing experience,” she said. “I used to literally watch the show and sat there, like scrolling through, clicking on those hashtags and scrolling through to see how the community was enjoying and feeling. It was fully integrated into my viewing experience. Imagine ‘Game of Thrones’ without Black fans? Sorry!”

With “House of the Dragon,” however, there are appreciably more Black actors, whose presence has already engendered backlash from some ignorant fans. More representation, however, is always a good thing, Emmanuel insisted.

The backlash from fans regarding Missandei’s death in Season Eight of “Thrones” was a clear example of the larger lack of representation issue. “It opened this conversation about shows like this, these big shows, these big financially backed shows, and the value of inclusion and like why we need more of it,” she explained. “Like the problem was, is that Missandei was the only woman of color. Like she was the only one that had like a regular, long-lasting role throughout the show.”

The full episode with Nathalie Emmanuel on “Acting Up” is available to stream now.

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