“When I got the call… I dropped everything, screaming. I broke a jam jar on the pavement. It was all very exciting and emotional.” – Nathalie Emmanuel on Getting Cast in ‘Game of Thrones’
You might have heard that HBO’s Game of Thrones is back and in its final season, since it’s pretty much the main thing in entertainment that everyone is talking about. Among its expansive cast is Nathalie Emmanuel, who has portrayed Missandei on the series since the third season. Emmanuel has seen her role expand over the course of the series and, like the other actors, has now wrapped production. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Emmanuel speaks about how she went from an out-of-work actress to starring on today’s most popular television series.
Prior to Game of Thrones, Emmanuel had worked as an actress since her childhood (including on the British soap opera Hollyoaks). However, before she was cast on Game of Thrones she was not working steadily and was working part-time at Hollister. She recalls, “Financially, I was struggling pretty badly. I still had my mortgage to pay. It felt like the right time to start exploring other options. I am a high-school drop-out, basically, because I left at 17 to go and do Hollyoaks. So I was like: ‘Oh, I guess it is time for me to go back and finish my A levels…’”
When Emmanuel discovered that Game of Thrones was looking for a ‘non-white female aged 18 to 23,’ Emmanuel — who was a fan of the show — immediately saw herself in the role. She says, “I had told my agent a few times: ‘I need to be in that show!’ But until then, the likelihood of them casting someone who looks like me felt pretty slim,” she says. “But when I saw the breakdown I thought, ‘That’s me!’”
Though Emmanuel did have an audition, she confesses, “I didn’t hear back so I just got on with things.” Naturally, she eventually got the good news, remembering, “Then I was walking down the street one day, bringing my shopping home from Tesco, when I got the call… I dropped everything, screaming. I broke a jam jar on the pavement. It was all very exciting and emotional.”
Of course, the real challenges began once Emmanuel begin portraying Missandei on the series. On developing her character, she explains, “When it came to character work it was kind of difficult. Because in the books [by George RR Martin], Missandei is only nine years old. She is described as a very quiet, very still person. Kind of timid. But I didn’t really want that for her. I thought: ‘She has survived so much, so much horror, but underneath there’s this impenetrable strength.’ So at first, I created a person who was very contained. Then I got to play with the subtleties of her coming out of that, and having more freedom to think and feel.”