When it comes to Nathalie Emmanuel, there is no perceptible cookie cutter shape, no set route, no even recess, or niche pigeonhole to pack her away and fold her neatly into. On our screens, she has manifested as a computer hacker, a political screenwriter with a predilection for inappropriate men, a drug addict and prostitute, the beloved confidante of a dragon queen, and next up, a steel-tongued aspiring action star. To predict the trajectory of the Southend-on-Sea-hailed actor would certainly be impossible – as there is no discernible common denominator to her work – except that the roles she has undertaken are mesmerising in quality and continue to unexpectedly pique the public’s interest for years following their initial air date.
No doubt her work at the centre of one of the biggest television phenomenons to have ever graced our screens is what propelled her into household name status. She traversed Westeros as former slave Missandei in HBO’s Game of Thrones, rising up the ranks to become the most trusted counsellor to Mother of Dragons Daenerys – and her particularly brutal death still incites explosive debate in almost any social situation in which it is broached, even now.
Next up, Emmanuel stars in Die Hart, a 10-episode comedy-action series premiering on short-form streaming platform Quibi, alongside Kevin Hart, John Travolta, Josh Hartnett and Jean Reno. Hart finds himself at the world’s greatest action-star school trying to break out of his comedic niche, and Emmanuel is an up-and-coming actor and strong-willed rival, Jordan King – sick of her current gig co-starring alongside a robot on a sitcom. Expect laughs, riveting stunts, and some romance?…
Over the phone from London, we caught up with Emmanuel on the transformative power of Game of Thrones, how life mirrors art in Die Hart, and how she hopes Black Lives Matter permanently permeates the industry…
Nathalie wears LOUIS VUITTON
Nathalie wears LOUIS VUITTON
Hi Nathalie! How has lockdown been for you?
I’ve basically been trying to stay active, trying to stay sane, trying to sort through my house. I’ve got building work going on so that had to be postponed obviously because of the lockdown, and so I’m just getting some of the things done that I wouldn’t usually have time for, and using this time productively rather than creatively, if that makes sense.
Congratulations on your new Quibi series, Die Hart. Tell us a bit about your character Jordan King?
When Kevin [Hart] shows up to action school he has a rival student who’s also training and she’s a very strong-minded, no-faff kind of woman, who desperately wants to be an action star herself. She’s been in a sitcom with a robot for a number of years, and she wants to be in an action film. So what attracted me to her is that she is fierce and very, very capable. The character has a lot of action and fighting, and she’s undeniably a badass.
How similar is she to you as a person?
She’s very opinionated, but also she’s a lot of fun as well. And I think in terms of our fighting abilities… I have a good right hook, so that’s about it I think.
How did you first hear about the role?
It all happened very quickly to be honest. I was in Los Angeles and I got home for a meeting and I had about an hour until I had to get in a cab to go to another meeting. Usually I’d be like I’ll read it tonight when I’m in bed, but I thought I’ll use this hour to give [Die Hart] a read. And it was just so silly, fun and brilliant, but also has a real authenticity to it too. It was a happy, out-of-the-blue moment.
How was it working with industry heavyweights such as Kevin Hart and John Travolta?
I have this moment on most sets to be honest where I can’t believe that I’m there, and I’m like such a nerd so I’m freaking out, and just trying to pretend to hold it down. But it was great fun and they were both really open and warm and welcoming; I was their colleague. They were really generous with their energy, and there was one day where we were filming and they took a photograph of myself, Kevin, John, and Josh. I was basically stood there with all these people that I’d grown up watching, being like, this is my life, this is crazy. It’s a mental game at the end of the day, I knew I could do it, I just threw myself into it and had so much fun.
The show is comedic, but also quite empowering as well, like an underdog story. What do you hope people will take away from the series?
The world will tell you what you are but you don’t have to listen, and I think that is the key. That’s what’s so great about Kevin’s story. It’s like, I don’t want to be a side chick anymore, I want to be the action star, and I think that is just a really great message. Both of those characters, Jordan included, is just someone who wants more for herself, so she’s going to put the work in and make it happen. That’s something that I really connect to, and has helped drive me in my own career, in my own life.
I grew up in a very small town in England. I remember having conversations growing up with my peers, and when I was like I want to do this or that, it wasn’t always received well. And as someone who started out in a soap in England, and with Jordan’s journey – she’s been on this long-running sitcom and she just wants to be in movies – and that transition is really tough because, especially in England, there’s snobbery around shows like that and actors that do shows like that. The idea of chasing something else and breaking that barrier, I can totally connect to that story and I’ve been in that mindset.
How have you found your life has changed since Game of Thrones?
It hugely changed my life, in every sense. I got Game of Thrones after I’d been out of Hollyoaks for a couple of years almost, and I was very unemployed in an acting sense and working in retail. I experienced some customers who recognised me from Hollyoaks and then quite enjoyed treating me badly – people love a fall from grace. And then Game of Thrones happened and it just sort of just put the fire back in my belly. Suddenly I had this confidence because first of all, they just don’t cast anybody, and then the job itself opened me up to a part of the industry that I had never had access to before and opportunities I never had before. I’m incredibly grateful.
Nathalie wears SIMONE ROCHA
Nathalie wears SIMONE ROCHA
How was it doing the stunts in Die Hart?
It was so much fun! I had a badass stunt double called Diandra and she just looked after me. And it’s funny because obviously I’d done action franchises with Fast and Furious but I’d never had to fight or anything, but it was just so great to actually learn the choreography. I used to dance as well, growing up, so for me it was sort of like learning a very badass dance and just collaborating with these incredibly talented stunt people. I felt so cool doing it, the coolest I’ve probably ever felt.
What do you think of short-form streaming platforms like Quibi in terms of opening the pool for what actors can get involved with?
Absolutely. I think often the younger generation get chastised for having short attention spans, and I think that Quibi’s actually a really cool idea because a lot of us are on the go all the time, and we’re going to different places – we’re working, we’ve got the meetings. The idea that you can have scripted narrative stuff or reality stuff, documentary stuff, that you can actually just watch on the tube to central London, and you’ve taken in new information or someone’s made you laugh or someone’s made you feel something, or experience something new… I think that’s really cool. When we were filming it I didn’t feel like we were shooting episodically, you don’t really shoot in order and the script pretty much read like a slightly shorter feature script anyway and there was markers obviously for where the episodes ended, but it was very continuous and we kind of shot it like a movie, and in post, they would edit it accordingly.
What else are you excited about in 2020?
To be honest I’m excited to see how Hollywood and the world responds to the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m really interested to see if people’s outrage is real or whether it was just performative, and whether we see actual change within society. Also from the industry point of view – for entertainment, TV, film and media – I’m sort of curious to see how that pans out. I’m hopeful but also with a healthy amount of skepticism because sometimes it comes and goes, and there’s a few movies that get made and are great, and then it dies off again. For me I’m looking for the more behind-the-scenes action: the crew, the writers, the producers, the filmmakers themselves or the directors themselves becoming more inclusive. I’m skeptical to protect my own heart. I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with people, and I’m looking forward to seeing where my art takes me.