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Nathalie Emmanuel talks about Game of Thrones, bonding with Emilia Clarke, and Black Lives Matter protests

Our engagement with a film or TV series is usually limited to the story in front of the screen. But it always fascinates us to know more about the details and workings of our favorite movies and shows. That information becomes all the more interesting when it comes from one of the cast members whom we have seen charming us so very often. Their thoughts and opinions give us much better insights into the worlds that we see on-screen and around us. Nathalie Emmanuel, who played the graceful and strong Missandei on Game of Thrones, talked to Vogue recently. She discussed landing and preparing for her role, bonding with her partner-in-crime, Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen); who was one of the few female actors on the HBO show. And the relevance of the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. Read on to find out more.

Nathalie’s entry into the biggest show on the planet required getting proficient with languages. “I found a casting for Missandei and I pretty much gave it all I had – watching millions of videos of translators in preparation,” she said. “Missandei is obviously this great linguist; and I became really committed to learning Valyrian – high Valyrian and low Valyrian; which are as different as Latin and Italian.” Well, it was certainly hard to notice that difference for the viewers. When she took it way too seriously, Dan Weiss and David Benioff (creators) told her that she would be fine as there was literally only one person who knew the language perfectly; David J Peterson, the guy who created the languages for the TV show. But Nathalie persevered anyway. “I would be like ‘I know, but I’m still going to get it right’,” she said.

When one comes to think of it, it was Missandei’s death and her last words (“Dracarys”) which proved to be the final trigger for the Mother of Dragons to go all fire and blood over King’s Landing. This was in line with the journey of these two characters together. Dany freed Missandei from the clutches of slavery; and since then, the woman from Naath stood firmly by Khaleesi’s side through all the high and low tides. So, one could wonder, did the two get along well on sets?

“Emilia and I got on like a house on fire from the beginning. When I joined the cast [in season 3], she had already been shooting Game of Thrones for a few years, and she was definitely ready to have some female energy around her. She and I always looked out for each other. If you’re the only girls on a male-dominated set, it bonds you in a certain way. For example, in my first season, my costume was pretty revealing; and there was an incident with an extra who made a comment about it on set – I mean, typical – and Emilia straightaway had my back. It got handled.” Now, that’s real fire!

It’s really good to know that the duo shared an equally amazing comradery off-screen. However, the on-screen killing of Missandei had created quite an uproar regarding the fate of the only major female non-white character on the show. Plus, it raised concerns about the overall representation of the people of color, which is awfully low. Nathalie had an indulging and thoughtful take on the matter.

“I loved that character, and I wish she had had a happy ending – but Westeros is this brutal, heartless world, so you have to keep that in mind. When it comes down to it, the backlash stems from the fact that when there’s so few non-white characters on-screen, a death like that registers as a massive loss.” Moreover, people’s reaction made her ponder more seriously. “It definitely caused me to reflect a lot more – about race and diversity more generally. At the end of the day, if there’s ever a show on the level of Game of Thrones again, representation has to be part of the conversation from the beginning.

That way, there’s no single person who has to represent every other person of color. It’s a conversation I used to have a lot with Jacob [Anderson], who played Grey Worm, the only other major non-white character in the series. We were always really conscious of how much our being part of Game of Thrones mattered to people. It made us really protective of Missandei and Grey Worm”. It would be absolutely safe to say that the two were very important to all of us; or at least to those who echoed with their ideas of loyalty and freedom.

She also took an active part in the recent Black Lives Matter protests that caught on after the death of an African-American, George Floyd at the hands of white policemen. In addition, she joined the Black Trans Lives Matter marches as well. “It felt cathartic, to march with my people; for us to be angry together – and to uplift each other,” she said.

The English actress features on Quibi’s new action-comedy series, Die Hart. Starring Kevin Hart, John Travolta, and Nathalie Emmanuel, it premiered on the OTT platform on July 20. She will also appear in the upcoming action film, F9 (Fast and Furious franchise) alongside Vin Diesel, John Cena, and Charlize Theron; which is due to release on April 2, 2021.

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