[The following story contains spoilers for The Invitation.]
The Invitation was Nathalie Emmanuel’s first time being number one on a major studio film’s call sheet, and now she can say that she’s led her first number-one movie at the domestic box office. Jessica M. Thompson’s supernatural horror film opened with $7 million, which was enough to top a quiet weekend at the box office, but a win is a win, especially for a $10 million-budgeted genre pic.
The film follows Emmanuel’s Evie, a floundering New York CIty artist who takes a DNA test that connects her to a previously unknown English cousin named Oliver Alexander (Hugh Skinner). The Alexander family turns out to be quite wealthy, and Oliver urges Evie to attend a family friend’s wedding in the English countryside. Despite the objections of her best friend, Grace (Courtney Taylor), Evie makes the trip, only to gradually realize that she’s been positioned to be the new bride of Dracula (Thomas Doherty’s Walter DeVille).
Evie ultimately survives the trap she’d been placed in by Oliver, but the response from early test screenings wanted more of a comeuppance for her deceitful cousin. Most of all, test audiences wanted to see Grace again after Evie overcame vampires in England. So the cast and crew reunited many months later to shoot a coda that addressed these loose threads, which also explains Emmanuel’s cool new haircut in the added scene.
“From what I’ve been told, it was simply that Courtney Taylor is fantastic, and Grace and Evie, together, was so fun and [test audiences] wanted to see them again,” Emmanuel tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So it was really lovely that people wanted to see these two friends and fiery women kick ass together.”
The Emmy-nominated actor, who’s most known for her role as Missandei on Game of Thrones, also recently starred in Matthias Schweighöfer’s Army of Thieves, the well-received spinoff of Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead. With plans for more Army-verse stories, the question remains if Emmanuel’s Gwen will get to reunite with Schweighöfer’s Dieter, something Thieves set up.
“I’ve heard whispers about future things, but I couldn’t tell you anything concrete about what is going to happen, if anything is going to happen,” Emmanuel says. “But I completely agree that it would be really fun for those two to reunite. Their whole chemistry was so great, and I’d love to do it again. So hopefully, we get to.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Emmanuel also discusses her surprise when the Invitation trailer ultimately revealed the vampire twist in the film. Then she shares her reactions to HBO’s Game of Thrones spinoff, House of the Dragon, as well as what to expect from Ramsey in Fast X.
So has The Invitation made you more interested or less interested in researching your ancestry?
(Laughs.) I’m not scared of the prospect of finding out my ancestry. I’m probably just not going to meet strangers off the internet, not that I would do that anyway. I’m too highly suspicious of strangers. So unlike Evie, I’m probably not going to jump on a plane to meet people I’ve never met on my own. I’m more concerned about that than finding out my ancestry.
So this was the first time you were number one on the call sheet for a studio film. As the set leader and tone-setter, how did you change your approach both before action and after cut?
I think I approached this in the same way that I do most of my roles. It’s always been really important for me to build chemistry and rapport with the people I’m working with, but when you are leading something, you just have to do it more because you are working with everybody. So that’s something that I really wanted to do, and [director] Jess [M. Thompson] was similar. So the desire to build a connection with the actors and the crew was just high priority.
When it comes to decompressing from a day of filming where you’re in every single take, your self care and the way that you approach the next day changes. You have to prioritize certain things and deprioritize certain things. So it just became about, like, “Okay, today is done. How do I reset for the new day?” So I think I got quite good at getting my rest and recuperation routine down pat, and that can be the difference between a really good day on set and a really bad day on set. And just thinking about other things besides work is really important, so you can come back every day feeling refreshed.
You’re a British woman playing an American who visits the English countryside for the first time, alongside plenty of British characters/actors. Since your character, Evie, is a fish out of water, were you still able to capture that feeling on set despite being at home in a way?
Absolutely. It also comes from just being a woman of color. I am often in spaces and around people where I am like, “It’s just me!” I’m also not from a wealthy background, and I come from a specific culture and a specific place. And so I am often just placed in situations where you feel like a fish out of water. So I just brought that experience by existing, and it was easy for me to feel that through Evie, even though I’m British playing American, with British actors. But when it came to building connections, we had a quicker rapport because, culturally, we get each other in a way. So that was a positive thing.
I somehow missed the trailers for this movie, and so I was pleasantly surprised by what it actually is. However, I went back and watched the trailers afterwards, and I was a bit shocked that they actually revealed the vampire subgenre. So was there a period of time where you thought they were going to keep the reveal out of the marketing?
100 percent. I obviously have no control over marketing, but I was surprised, too. I’m sure that the team of people made every decision for a reason, and in the end, I have to trust them to do what they think is best for the film. What’s also very apparent from the trailer and then watching the film is that there’s so much more than what’s in the trailer. There’s so much more to see, discover and enjoy. So I still feel like the trailer hasn’t given everything away.
In general, what frightens you most in the horror genre? Zombies? Clowns? Slashers? Demonic possession? Body horror?
I’m really into psychological thrillers, the ones that keep you guessing and are all about building suspense. I love that sort of style. I actually think we have a big element of that in this film. So much of it is Evie feeling like something is up, but not quite knowing what. As a viewer, you can’t help but try to work out what’s happening and where the threat is coming from. And sometimes, you get it wrong, but then it happens when you least expect it. So I just enjoy that style of storytelling, but who doesn’t love a bit of gore and blood stuff, too? That’s fun once you get past the fact that it’s not actually real. So I was a fan of the Saw movies and things like that when I was a kid.
Was this the first time you’ve been able to incorporate your septum ring into a character?
Yeah! Usually, people don’t want it, and that’s fine. I’ve had it for years, and most of the time, when I look in the mirror, I don’t even see it anymore because it’s just so a part of my face. But Jess was like, “No, I love it. Let’s keep it.” And I was like, “Really? Everyone always wants me to take it out.” But I thought it kind of worked for Evie. She’s an arty, creative person. It looks like she collected jewelry and found some of it in a thrift store. So the kind of septum jewels and the earring felt like it worked for her. In a way, her septum ring has its own story because it starts very plain and gets more decorative. And when she’s been transformed into what they think is acceptable, she doesn’t have it at all. We see it disappear, and it’s sort of like the person that we first met is no longer there anymore either. So it was just something else that I could use to tell a story.
Evie’s preferred art is ceramics. Did you take to that process at all?
I love it! I haven’t really done it since I shot the film because I haven’t had time, but I found it quite therapeutic. It’s almost like a meditation in a way. There’s a frustration that you go through while working with the clay, and there’s a focus that you have to have. And I always found that the more that I fought the clay, the worse that it went, and the more that I relaxed and breathed and moved with the clay, it, weirdly, was so much more successful. So it taught me this notion of not being too attached to things because a piece of clay goes through so many processes before it’s a beautiful pot, bowl, cup or whatever. You can mold the clay into something rather quickly, but then you put it in the kiln and it explodes. So you just can’t have any attachment to it. The benefit comes from the process, not necessarily the outcome, so it’s a bonus when you’ve got this cool thing that you made and you’re super proud of it. It’s a really hard craft, and I’m in awe of people who are masters of it because I certainly am not. So I loved doing that and learning that. I had a great teacher in London, Ronaldo [Wiltshire], who was on this show called The Great Pottery Throw Down. I learned so much from him. So any chance I get to learn something, I’m incredibly excited about it.
Early on, Evie says the line, “And he’s British. They’re all absurdly polite.” Do you remotely agree with your American character’s belief?
(Laughs.) No, of course not! It’s obviously just a trope. It’s a stereotype of British people. I experience rude Brits all the time, and so it’s a huge generalization. You get all kinds of people — rude, polite, and somewhere in between.
[The following question and answer contains spoilers for The Invitation.]
The coda gave me the closure I’d been wanting in regard to Grace (Courtney Taylor) and Oliver (Hugh Skinner). Was that scene added in response to test screenings? That would also explain Evie’s major change in appearance.
Yeah, from what I’ve been told, it was simply that Courtney Taylor is fantastic, and Grace and Evie, together, was so fun and [test audiences] wanted to see them again. (Laughs.) So it was the fact that they loved our dynamic and loved Grace and wanted to see more of her. I mean, I get it. I’m a huge fan of Courtney and had been before she was even cast in this film. So it was really lovely that people wanted to see these two friends and fiery women kick ass together. (Laughs.)
So how’s our friend Ramsey doing?
Ramsey’s doing good! She’s up to some shenanigans with the family again, so that’s been fun. I think they wrapped up in London very, very recently, and yeah, there’s another great adventure on the way from the Fast family.
Despite her reservations, she seemed to be a natural behind the wheel in F9.
Yes, she’s definitely much more open to driving than she was before, but in [Fast X], we see Ramsey taking lead a bit more and continuing to affirm her place in the group and her necessity within the group, which is always really fun.
So did you watch that little chamber piece with dragons the other night? [Writer’s Note: This interview took place on Aug. 23rd.]
(Laughs.) Yeah, I did! I actually watched [House of the Dragon] last night because I was busy on Sunday. I’m just so happy to see that world back. I now get to watch it as a fan, so that’s really exciting and cool.
If you could give the House of the Dragon actors one piece of advice about the Game of Thrones experience, what would it be?
I’m sure they already know, but this fanbase, whew … They are passionate and they are amazing. And who knows how this series will be received, but I hope it’s a huge success. And if it is, it’s an experience, and it will be an adjustment, for sure. If you’re not used to that level of attention or recognition, it’s definitely something. So I guess my advice would be to just enjoy it and look to each other. It was really important that we, as a group, went through all of that together and held each other down.
How many times did you say “dracarys” on Missandei’s fateful day?
Quite a few times. There was a lot of coverage starting very, very far away and then as it got closer. So I had to say it many times, and then they turned around and I had to say it for other people so they could catch their reactions. So it was quite a few, but I couldn’t tell you how many.
So I have to tell you how much I enjoyed your work in Army of Thieves. Gwen’s sacrifice, in particular, really affected me, especially as Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro’s score swelled over it. Were you proud of how that one turned out?
I was so happy with how that turned out. That was such a fun movie [despite] shooting during COVID. I was just so pleased with how exciting and fun the story was. And it’s funny with high action. I also got to do some cool fight scenes, so I just loved that experience. In a way, Gwen sacrificing herself is very noble because she brought Dieter [Matthias Schweighöfer] into it. He was just living his life, and she got him into this. So she did the right thing. Well, from her own perspective, she did the right thing. She knew that she’d done many more bad things than Dieter had, and so she let him go. And I thought that was honorable. It shows her strength, her bravery and her courage as a woman and a hero.
How much have Zack Snyder and Co. told you about Gwen’s future in the Army-universe? Dieter and Gwen obviously need to reunite in a vault.
(Laughs.) I don’t know anything about the future of those characters. I mean, I’ve heard whispers about future things, but I couldn’t tell you anything concrete about what is going to happen, if anything is going to happen. But I completely agree that it would be really fun for those two to reunite. The journey of their story was just really fun, especially from Gwen’s point of view. She goes from being highly irritated by this man to sort of falling in love with him. (Laughs.) Their whole chemistry was so great, and I’d love to do it again. So hopefully, we get to.
So you had some exciting news recently as you joined Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis. Have you visited his winery yet?
I haven’t yet, but that would be lovely, although I don’t really drink anymore. But I’d still like to see it. (Laughs.)
The Invitation is now playing in theaters. This interview was edited for length and clarity.