Nathalie Emmanuel is stunning. With deep brown eyes, flawless skin and a symmetrical smile, she is the definition of a natural beauty. Not only that but she’s fantastically easy to talk to. Little wonder then, that 50 minutes into our ‘half hour’ interview, I find myself still sitting there, mesmerised…
Famous for playing Missandei in the uber famous HBO fantasy show Game of Thrones, Nathalie has found it difficult to adapt to life in limelight (aka, being stared at. By fans. Like me). ‘You feel people’s eyes on you [and] you suddenly feel really self-conscious,’ she explains. ‘I grew up in Southend-On-Sea and if someone stared at you too long, it’s a bit like: "What are you looking at?"’
Labeling the attention ‘pretty overwhelming’, she says the first time she experienced an ‘OhMyGodIt’sYou’ fan moment, she ‘may’ have cried… ‘Only out of sheer shock’, she adds.
It’s something she’ll have to get used to, what with the seventh of Game of Thrones in the pipeline, the next installment of the Fast and Furious franchise – The Fate of the Furious – out this spring and the final film in the Maze Runner trilogy premiering next year. Already she has 1.3 million followers on Instagram – ‘I remember looking at my followers one day [and] I was like: ‘Err, when did that happen?!’’ – and says she likes interacting with fans ‘at random’. ‘I enjoy that I have that connection and if I want to interact, it’s available. But it also opens you up to a lot of criticism. And if people want to be nasty and cruel, then it’s right there for you to see.
‘I guess it just adds to this whole thing, where you essentially have to be really thick-skinned,’ she continues. ‘Because there are people that literally go on social media just to upset people. But at the same time, there are ten times more people that say wonderful things.’
Born in Essex in 1989 to her Dominican mother and her half Saint Lucian, half English father, Nathalie started performing in shows at dancing school when she was just three years old. She got her first break at 10, when she was cast as the Young Nala in the original stage production of The Lion King in London’s West End. ‘It was the best thing ever,’ she remembers. ‘The guy that played my Simba, his name is Luke Youngblood [and] he is like my family, even now. We’ve been friends for almost 17 years… I don’t really drink now, [but] there’s been a few times where we’ve had a few drinks and may have performed ‘I Cant Wait To Be King’ for other friends. So that’s happened…’
She found fame starring as Sasha Valentine in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks between 2006 and 2010, and broke into film in 2012, through the movie Twenty8k. But it was Game of Thrones that really put her on the map, and it’s safe to say she’s remained there ever since.
Most recently, she has starred opposite model Isaac Carew in Dune London’s SS17 campaign; a series of short love films, organised into scenes, directed by esteemed photographer, Rankin. ‘He’s really good at doing very stylised, high-concept stuff,’ says Nathalie. ‘He’s got such a great eye and I really enjoyed working with him. He directs very easily and clearly, so you always know what you have to do… I’m [not] necessarily used to doing [photoshoots], so being directed is almost imperative. Suddenly I’m aware that I have arms...’
What’s great about Dune London, she explains, is that they have ‘really cool’ boots. She points to a pair of burgundy brogue Chelsea boots on display beside us. ‘They sum up my personality, in a boot,’ she says. ‘Kind of like smart/casual, daytime to nighttime. Burgundy is like my statement colour. I wear so much Burgundy.’
‘Not very fashion conscious’ and a ‘comfort girl’, she says her style can be summed up as ‘jeans and t-shirts’. And whilst she credits her stylist Cher Coulter for her red carpet ensembles, she sends outfit option snaps to her best friends, sister and mum for their all-important thumbs up. At the recent SAG Awards, for instance, she wore a couture J. Mendel gown, which had divided her family/friends style panel. ‘[But when] I stepped onto the red carpet someone went: ‘You look like a Nubian princess’, [and] I was like, this is the right dress!’
Of course, Nathalie is no stranger to royalty, starring, as she does, in the role of Missandei, the handmaiden to Queen Daenerys Targaryen (played by Emilia Clarke) in Game of Thrones. ‘Missandei’s power all comes from her experience,’ she says. ‘She survives slavery, and to have overcome such an ordeal requires a certain amount [of power]. Her power is in her intelligence. When I was making certain choices about how I was going to portray her, I made her particularly still. She’s always very placed and poised, because I wanted to give the impression that she does exactly the right thing all the time… It’s all very internal and her strength shines through in that respect. She’s a quietly confident and very intelligent woman. And [a] powerful woman. And I feel quite inspired just playing her sometimes.’
And what of her character’s love interest, Grey Worm – played by Jacob Anderson? ‘She has a boyfriend,’ Nathalie says coyly, ‘Her ‘bae’… Sorry I didn’t say ‘bae’! Please don’t say [I said] that! I absolutely didn’t know what ‘bae’ meant. Actually Jacob and I learnt what ‘bae’ meant together… it’s an acronym for ‘before anyone else’. I didn’t know that...’
Neither did I, I confess, I’d always assumed it was an alternative way of saying ‘babe’. Thankfully, subsequent research has unearthed it has both meanings, but anyway, back to the question, what of Missandei’s bae/babe/boyfriend, Grey Worm?
‘It’s so sweet everyone’s just waiting for them to get, like, horribly murdered in some brutal way,’ she says sadly. ‘[It’s] the one pure love story that isn’t corrupted by, like, schemes and plots or whatever. I think what’s so beautiful about their relationship is that, out of their surroundings, they understand each other, because they’ve come from such horror. There’s a purity in their relationship… you know, like when you have an older couple, they’re not necessarily ripping each other’s clothes off – I mean, they might be, more to them if they are – but that sort of companionship and human intimacy, that’s definitely what they share.’
When the series ends she says she’ll cry and has so much fun on set it’s ‘ridiculous’. Indeed, she often finds herself berating fellow cast members for making her laugh so much. ‘’You have to stop!’’ she tells them. ‘Cos I’m the one who doesn’t laugh, that’s the whole point…’
That’s just her Game Of Thrones co-stars, it’s no surprise to learn she gets on just as well with the cast and crew of Fast and Furious too. ‘Everyone on that crew is amazing,’ she says of the car-centric action franchise. ‘Really good people’.
No less a success story than Game of Thrones, the most recent Fast and Furious film, Furious 7, was the sixth-highest grossing film of all time. ‘It’s mind-boggling,’ she says. ‘But also, it’s not surprising to me because I think there’s something to be said about that franchise. It’s the only franchise ever to represent so many diverse people, people of different races, different countries, cultural backgrounds. There’s something to be said about watching a movie and feeling represented.
‘As someone who has mixed heritage and grew up not seeing that,’ she continues, ‘when I had the opportunity to be in something that was all about inclusion and diversity, and celebrating diversity, I was like: ‘Yes, I wanna be a part of that’.’
Our conversation turns to driving and when I ask whether she enjoys it, she both delights and surprises me by replying, ‘So, err… I kind of don’t drive…’ (I find this delightful because, well, neither can I, and I’m far older than she is, so I swoop in for a high-five and, thankfully, she obliges.)
‘It’s really funny because all the guys are so into cars and I’m always asked in interviews, ‘What’s you favourite car?’ and I’m like: ‘The one that goes from A to B!’’
Speaking of ‘the guys’, I mention her co-star Vin Diesel. ‘Vin just championed me from the beginning,’ she says. ‘He’s so wonderful, [he] invited me to Thanksgiving.’
Thanksgiving round at ‘Vin’s’ house? What was that like?
‘I don’t eat meat,’ she replied, ‘so [he] got me a ‘to-furky’.’
A what now?
‘It’s a tofu-turkey,’ she explains. ‘It’s round and it had some stuffing in it. It was really yummy.’
(I’ll take her word for it.)
A lover of London – ‘there’s something special about [it] for me: the culture here, the art, the music, the vibe, it just feels really special’ – she hopes that in addition to more movies, she hopes to find time to return to the stage in future.
But as for today (it’s Valentine’s Day) does she have any romantic plans for tonight? ‘I’m actually spending it with a couple of close friends of mine. My best friend’s coming down to have dinner with me before I head away again...’
So she won’t be spending it with a Peter Andre lookalike then? (I’d read the ‘Mysterious Girl’ popstar had been her first crush.) ‘I really loved him!’ she says nostalgically. ‘Maybe not my Number One crush [now], but he seems like a really nice guy.’
Nathalie Emmanuel seems like a really nice woman. Talented, cool, arrestingly beautiful… yes, I can safely say that right now, Nathalie Emmanuel is my Number One [girl] crush.
See Nathalie star in the Dune SS17 campaign