Game of Thrones, the epic HBO series bursting with dragons, decapitations, and political maneuvers so sinister they make Washington look like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and which entered terms like “twincest” and “sexposition” into the cultural lexicon, has grown by leaps and bounds since the days when poor Eddard Stark still had his noggin. And because of the show’s immense popularity, Hollywood has rightfully taken notice, scooping up many of its cast members for blockbuster fare, from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Gods of Egypt) to Emilia Clarke (Terminator: Genisys).
And now Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays the freed slave—and trusted adviser to Daenerys—Missandei, has caught the eye of Tinseltown. In the mega-franchise Furious 7, she’ll play Megan Ramsey, a programmer who’s been captured by villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Burly car booster Dom (Vin Diesel) and his merry band of mischief-makers join forces with a government operative (Kurt Russell) to free Ramsey from Deckard’s clutches.
For the British Emmanuel, whose mother is Dominican and father is half-Saint Lucian and half-English, she’s very proud of joining the Fast and the Furious franchise, since it’s arguably the only big-budget film series whose diversity—and casual treatment of said diversity—reflects the world we live in.
“In the Fast and the Furious films, there’s a real mix of people that reflects how society is now,” says Emmanuel. “For anyone who’s of mixed heritage or a minority, to be in a film where diversity is celebrated and isn’t treated as such a big deal, or isn’t even mentioned, is so refreshing. I’d like to see more of that in Hollywood, to be honest.”
The 26-year-old actress got her start on the British soap opera Hollyoaks playing the character of Sasha Valentine, a troubled teen who dabbles in heroin addiction and prostitution, and is the victim of numerous violent attacks. After a few years navigating the acting landscape, she was scooped up for the role of Missandei on Thrones, a slave-translator to the masters of Astapor who made her debut in Season 3 when Daenerys freed an army of Unsullied foot soldiers and commanded them to kill their cruel masters.
“It’s opened a lot of doors for me,” Emmanuel says of the series. “When you walk into any audition room, the fact that you were on Game of Thrones automatically breaks the ice, and allows you to step over a hurdle that a lot of other people don’t get to.”
Since making her debut in that memorable episode, Missandei’s role in the show has expanded considerably. She’s now Daenerys’s primary adviser following the dismissal of Ser Jorah after his spy past was exposed.
“Her role is expanding as adviser to Daenerys, and since she’s lost Ser Jorah, Missandei has become a much more important person to Dany as she’s figuring out how to be Queen of Meereen,” says Emmanuel. “She is now a free person with a voice.”
And Missandei is enjoying the benefits of her freedom, including a palpable attraction to Grey Worm, the leader of the Unsullied, whom Missandei catches watching her bathe nude—later telling him that she was glad he saw her in the buff. As far as Grey Worm goes, there are quite a few memes online comparing the character’s likeness to that of a young President Obama.
“I can see similarities,” Emmanuel says of Grey Worm and Obama. “They have a similar skin tone, and are both strong leaders, but I think they look quite different.”
The two ex-slaves share stories of their respective captures, with Missandei describing how she was snatched from the island of Naath at the age of 5: “I remember when they rowed us away from shore. How white the beaches were, how tall the trees. And I remember my village burning, smoke rising into the sky.”
“They definitely have an attraction, and it’s a very confusing one for the pair of them because they would have never even contemplated having feelings like these for another person in their previous lives, and now they’re free to do that,” says Emmanuel. “As people coming out of slavery and the hard lives that they’ve had, to have this beacon of tenderness and sweetness with another character is amazing.”
And Missandei’s role is expanding even further in Season 5 of Thrones, which premieres April 12. Emmanuel has been added to the main cast and she says Missandei will become herald to Daenerys—as in the book A Dance with Dragons—advising her more closely on all matters. Also, the romantic bond grows even tighter between Missandei and Grey Worm in the upcoming season.
“The relationship with Grey Worm develops more this season. She begins questioning it and what it might mean for her, and their feelings are getting stronger,” says Emmanuel, before cautioning that they’re very emotionally fragile because of their dark pasts. “With these two characters, it’s something that can’t be rushed. People have expectations of what they want that storyline to do, but these two characters have come from such horror, and to be in this scenario and even possess these feelings towards another person isn’t going to feel comfortable for them in the short-term.”
In addition to Game of Thrones and Furious 7, Emmanuel has managed to book the juicy role of Harriet in the YA sequel Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, out in September. She’s been pleasantly surprised by her experiences thus far in Hollywood regarding the opportunities afforded minority actors.
“In the past, most of the time a person of color was cast in something it was for a specific reason, but I’m now seeing more roles where they may have written the part for a blond, blue-eyed woman, but they’re actually seeing all different ethnicities,” says Emmanuel. “I’m of mixed heritage and have an ambiguous look about me, and I’ve been going up for roles that are completely different cultures to mine, which is really, really cool.”