Over the past few years, Actress Nathalie Emmanuel has seen the great dragons of Westeros in Game of Thrones as Missandei, the fan favorite aide to Daenerys Targaryen, and provided the tech wizardry to Dominic Toretto and the squad as Ramsey in the last three blockbuster Fast and the Furious films.
Now Emmanuel gets the opportunity to shine as the lead character in a gothic tale of intrigue, vampires and weddings gone wrong. The Invitation premieres this week and invites audiences on a journey to a remote British estate to witness the drama and horror behind a very closeknit family who is not what they seem.
In the film, Emmanuel’s character of Evie tries out a DNA test which leads to her discovering she has roots in England with an old money family. She is promptly sent a message by one of her long-lost cousins through the DNA app, asking her to catch up, and later meets them in person to personally invite her to a family reunion of sorts, a wedding “for the ages” in England.
What follows is Evie trying to adjust to her just discovered relatives in the days before the big wedding, and how her growing feelings of alienation and suspicion are a warning sign to the secrets being kept behind the locked doors of the estate.
Recently Emmanuel was gracious enough to chat about the movie, and in the following interview she breaks down how she learned to create pottery with a famed London artist down her street, why she’s a fan of horror movies, and what she was surprised to find out about family DNA test results.
To start off, I was curious if you or anyone in your family have taken a DNA test before? And if so, have you found out anything interesting from that?
Yeah, someone in my family did do a DNA test. I haven’t personally, but it was someone who was closely related, so a lot of it applied to me. And it was really interesting. We learned a lot, because my family have ancestry through the Caribbean, through the West Indies, and through St. Lucia and Dominica, and we were sort of learning about our story before Dominica, like, whereabouts our ancestry came from in the west coast of Africa.
So there’s that story of the enslaved people being brought over. And I guess for a lot of former colonies, we often claim our island, but obviously there’s a whole story before that. And so we got to sort of learn a little bit about what part of Africa our ancestry was, which was really amazing and surreal.
What was it like filming this gloomy gothic thriller at this estate?
The house exteriors of the house, that’s obviously a location a couple of hours outside of Budapest, it was this amazing house. Most of the interior sets were built, but then we had kind of underground cellars and also the rehearsal dinner scene that was filmed in the house. But we used a lot of the exteriors. And, yeah, it’s a stunning house, but also has such a kind of ominous presence, too. So it very much is kind of like another character in the film.
So are you a fan of the horror/thriller movies in general?
Yes, I am. I’m a huge fan of the kind of suspense-filled, slow burning storytelling. I think it’s really just like such a fun and clever way of telling a story. And, you know, you’re sort of so engaged because you’re, like, trying to work out where the scare is going to come or where the danger is going to come from. I love that kind of interactive nature of it.
And it’s always great watching things like that with a group because, you see, some people are like, “oh, no, it’s going to be that guy,” and it’s not that guy, or “something’s going to jump out from there,” and it’s like, not the thing that you think it’s going to be. And I love that, experiencing everyone’s sort of paranoia as a collective. It’s quite fun.
Can you tell me a little bit about your character of Evie and where she’s at the beginning of this film that kind of prompts her to get the ball rolling on the story?
I mean, when we meet Evie, she’s very much a struggling artist in New York. She’s not from New York. She’s kind of there on her own, really. She’s very recently lost her mother to a long battle with cancer, so she’s grieving still. She lost her father when she was young. She’s just about scraping by, she’s very very lonely. She has her friend, her best friend, but really, she’s longing for connections.
So she’s longing for something. She’s looking for a support network, a community, and she doesn’t really have that family support network. And when she sort of rolled the dice to say, “I’m going to do this DNA test that I randomly got in a goodie bag,” it turns out to be more than she thought it would be. She wasn’t expecting it. And then she has this sort of dilemma of, “should I go? Should I explore this or not?”
But I think where she’s at, she’s very sad, very lonely, and Oliver, her kind of long-lost cousin, makes it very easy and so warm and charming and welcoming. And that’s everything she needed at that time.
And they very much almost prey on her vulnerability in a way, in this piece, which kind of prompts her to put herself in the situation that ends up going terribly wrong.
And did you have any inspirations that helped you form the portrayal that you ended up having for your character?
Did I have any inspirations? I mean, first of all, the first thing was like, “I need to know what this ceramics is all about.” [Those] who go and do that successfully and do it well, it’s a lot of dedication. It’s a very hard art form, I found it incredibly frustrating. So for someone to be as good at it as Evie is and as talented at it as Evie is, it was a real appreciation for the art form, for sure.
And other inspirations for her, I definitely listened to some podcasts about kind of like black American art, and learned about the sort of history of some of that and the legacy of women in the art world. And she’s very much like part of an artistic family. And in terms of what inspired me and helped me create her, I definitely found pieces of art and imagery that I put into collages. I had a book of collages that were about her family and about the things that she liked, her art world, where she lived, and things to form the character in my mind before we even meet her.
And, yeah, the sort of legacy of, like, mothers and grandmothers and feminine, I guess, divine feminine, had lots of imagery around that.
That’s wonderful. Did you get to actually bake any ceramic pieces yourself?
Yeah, I had lessons for a while. I had a wonderful teacher in London called Ronaldo Wiltshire. He was on a show called The Great Pottery Throw Down. Do you know what, Jess, the director, sent me an article about black ceramicists in London. And I just saw his name, and I thought, “you know what? I want to find out if he does classes.”
And it turned out his studio was a six-minute walk from my house, and it was just so bizarre. And when I got sent the information about where he was, they were like, “oh, that must be why you reached out to him.” And I was like, “no, I didn’t know where he was at all.”
It was just when I then received the information of where I had to go for my lesson, it was a six-minute walk from my house, and it just felt so right. And I was like, “oh, my God. This is amazing.” And he was a brilliant teacher. And I actually made some pieces. I actually made some bowls, they’re on my kitchen table now, and one of which I keep my keys in, and another one I put my jewelry in sometimes when I’m washing my hands or whatever.
So, yeah, I’ve got a couple of things. They’re not very good, but they are mine, and I’m proud of them.
Well, thank you so much, Natalie. I really appreciate the talk. Last question, what do you hope that people take away from seeing The Invitation?
Well, I hope that you will have fun. I hope that it’s like scary in a fun way. Like I think it’s such a good one to watch with your friends, but I hope people take away from it what I think Evie’s journey really is, that the strength that you might not know exists within you, it’s there. You can find it; you can access it. And I love that about her and about this story. And maybe don’t go and visit strangers that you don’t know. Like, maybe take a friend or friends?
Yeah, drop the pin so people know where you are.
Yeah, just, you know, don’t do that. Don’t go to a destination wedding on your own.