Nathalie Emmanuel: Care In The World
by Brent Lambert
2017 is not even half finished, and it’s already proven to be the year of a lifetime for Nathalie Emmanuel. In April, the 28-year-old British actress watched as her film The Fate of the Furious became the highest-grossing opening of all time — even surpassing Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This July her blockbuster fantasy series, Game of Thrones, returns for its seventh season on HBO. And having recently returned home from shooting a cameo in Maze Runner: The Death Cure in dreamy South Africa, Nathalie is embarking on an exciting new chapter in her career. BELLO caught up with Nathalie by phone and she gave us an overview of what’s coming up on her horizon, why her trip to South Africa was so thrilling, and she shares the story of a personal breakthrough that will make you realize there is nothing you can’t accomplish if you work hard enough.
“I felt so incredibly privileged to be there and to be witnessing these animals in the wild — living as they should be,” Nathalie says about her safari adventure during a recent six-week trip to South Africa. There to film scenes for the third instalment of the Maze Runner film series, she had only a few days of shooting and plenty of time to take in the raw, natural beauty and history of one of Africa’s crown jewels.
“It was amazing being in Cape Town and South Africa, and to be learning of their history — both old and recent. I visited Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for so many years. I learned about how the prisoners were treated, as well as the painful chapter of segregation.” Experiencing the country’s living history also proved to be emotional at times. “All of these things were sad and terrifying to learn, but also incredible to learn of the power of the human spirit. You can learn about these things in books, but to see this history and meet these people up close is extraordinary — especially for me, a woman of color who has a mixed heritage. It was such a privilege and I had an incredible time there. I met nothing but really great people everywhere I went.”
“I also went to a place called Cheetah Outreach where they rescue cheetahs and educate people about them as well. It was beautiful to meet all these people who have dedicated their lives to saving animals.” The stunning natural wonders of the region also elicited moments of pure awe. “There was one moment during the safari when we saw a mother rhino with a young baby,” she says. “We got very close and we could hear the baby screaming. Our guide told us it was screaming because it was hungry, and soon enough we watched as the mother began nursing. It was so beautiful and it really hit home as another example of how much we have in common with these animals. At the end of the day, our biggest purpose in life is to offer protection to those we love.”
Lessons in care and compassion have been ever-present throughout Nathalie’s life. “My mother cared for people with special needs since I was around three-years-old. When I was about fourteen my mom began to care for them from our home. To this day we have two women who have lived with us all these years who are like my family.”
Her passion for the care and support of people with special needs, as well as for those who care for them, is further strengthened by her love of her godson who has autism. “My godson is ten now, and about four years ago we raised enough money to get him an autism service dog. I believe they also just raised enough money for another child to one. Hopefully we can help more children get support from these special dogs. It’s something I’m really passionate about.” She adds, “We also need to support these parents who are making the right choices for their kids — choices that are both conventional and unconventional.”
For Nathalie, the powerful lessons of love, care, and grace which she has learned from her mother, as well as from the many people with special needs who have passed through her home, have also shaped her philosophy of how film and television can best give back to society when characters on-screen reflect the people who surround us each day.
“Often the greatest characters in film and television are reflections of the women we encounter in our everyday lives. These are the roles that are the most important, in my opinion, because of the unrealistic and overly-stylized depictions of female characters. I would love to see more stories about men, women, or parents who are full-time caregivers — to see all of the sacrifices they have to make. As well as the stories of the people being cared for — people whose voices are not being heard. I also love seeing all of the actors with special needs who are working more and more now.”
Now that she has been part of so many hugely successful big-budget productions, Nathalie says she is embarking on an incredibly exciting new chapter of her career as she begins to explore choices and potential projects in other parts of the spectrum. “I’m in a space right now where I’m searching for the right thing. I’ve been working on so many brilliant large-scale productions — such as the action of the Fast and the Furiousfranchise and the fantasy of Game of Thrones. Right now I’m looking at more independent productions, to try and push myself in ways that I haven’t been pushed before.”
As she ventures into this new territory, she takes wisdom and inspiration from two of her heroes. “Meryl Streep, for example, is one of the greatest character actresses that has ever lived. Her body of work and its variety makes her someone I really look up to.” Nathalie adds, “Someone who is more so one of my peers, in terms of our age, is Jennifer Lawrence. She’s got such a great range as well. She’s really proven her diversity of choices — from X-MEN to all of her terrific independent work such as Silver Linings Playbook and Joy. She’s really shown her chops — from comedy to drama. She’s done it all, and that’s something I look up to. I’m always excited when another one of her projects comes out.”
Before the interview, I had noticed one of Nathalie’s Instagram posts from a year ago. “If it’s both terrifying and amazing then you should definitely pursue it,” the quote read. So I asked her if she can think of any personal examples in which she’s lived up to this challenge. “Absolutely! I have always had quite a big fear of being underwater or of being submerged. When I was a kid I had someone jump on top of me when I was in the pool, and I said to myself, ‘Nope, that’s not happening again.’ Then last year I did a film that required me to be at the bottom of a swimming pool. I had to learn how to use a regulator and how to take air without coming up. I didn’t quite realize how scared I was, and there was a point where I was crying. My mom helped me calm down over the phone, and the producers were amazing, so I just kept getting better and better.”
All of that hard work helped Nathalie overcome her biggest fear in life. “Four weeks later I could be underwater for 5-7 minutes at a time. It was an amazing achievement, and earlier this year, by total coincidence, I was approached by Speedo to be a brand ambassador in order to help encourage people to swim at least one kilometre. I told them, ‘OK guys, I just learned how to go underwater! [laughing]’ Then they told me, ‘That’s fine! You’re actually perfect because we want people who are inexperienced or really experienced — it doesn’t matter what your ability is.’ That got me swimming, so I’m doing it quite regularly now. When I have a long stretch where I’m not swimming I sometimes get the jitters, but I shake it off and I get right back in.”
Photography Sosa + Art
Styling Sonia Young
Makeup Kelsey Deenihan
Hair Neeko Abriol
Nails Kim Truong