After seven years of living in a fantasy, Four Weddings and a Funeral brought Nathalie Emmanuel back to the real world.
The Game of Thronesstar plays Maya in Hulu's Mindy Kaling-created miniseries, based on Richard Curtis' 1994 film of the same name. While the events are the same as the iconic British film -- there are still four weddings and a funeral -- the characters are different; the show centers on four American friends living in London and features a notably diverse cast. It's a "fun, cool, inclusive, diverse, 2019 version," Emmanuel summarized while speaking to ET at Hulu's Television Critics Association summer press tour last month.
In real life, the 30-year-old actress isn't much like her Thrones character, Missandei. And while she doesn't fit the buttoned-up appearance of her Four Weddings and a Funeral character, Maya (a cool nose ring and bold jewelry are staples of Emmanuel's everyday look), she felt more of a connection to her.
"She's just a bit of a hot mess, to be honest," she shared of the character, who is seen in the first episode balancing managing a political campaign with having an affair with the politician. "She's a good person, but she gets it wrong a lot of the time"
At the heart, Maya is an "amazingly driven woman in a very male-dominated space in politics." "She knows who she wants to be in the world," Emmanuel explained, "but she has to slay a lot of dragons to get there."
Yes, that dragon line was a nod to Game of Thrones -- and Emmanuel pointed it out too. The actress admittedly isn't quite over her seven years on the HBO series, which she likened to a long-term relationship. "When that ended, it was almost like going through a breakup," she recalled.
She remembered being "on my couch eating snacks in the middle of the afternoon watching Netflix, being a completely out-of-work actor," when she got the call to audition for Four Weddings and a Funeral, but the truth is she was a bit picky about what to do next.
"When other shows had kind of come along... that needed a six-year option, I was like, 'I'm not ready!' It's like I'm still sleeping in my old boyfriend's jumper at night. I'm not ready for a new jumper. I'm not ready to date again! It was that sort of feeling," she said, making herself laugh. "So, when they were like, 'No, it's like, a limited thing [for Four Weddings].' I was like, 'Oh, great. OK, cool.'"
Emmanuel was attracted to the "challenge" of playing Maya on the series, the chance to work with Kaling -- "I'm a huge fan of her," she raved -- and the fact that she'd be part of what she considers a revival of the rom-com genre. Most importantly, however, was that the series embraced a diverse cast.
"To be honest, the rom-com genre hasn't been particularly kind to people of color in the past," she noted. "The idea that these two characters [of color] can fall in love is not really seen. I really loved that about it. And the truth of it is, it's all done with such a light touch, it's not meant to be like, a big statement within the show."
The emphasis on race and culture was certainly intentional behind the scenes, but comes off on-screen in a way that feels natural, and like it is the way it should have been all along. Emmanuel found herself learning about South Asian and Muslim culture throughout filming, noting how she's never been exposed to that kind of storyline or worked closely with actors of that background before.
She pointed out scenes involving Kash's (Nikesh Patel) British Pakistani family. "It's not so much about why they're different or why their culture or religion is different. It's actually like, the relationship that you see within that family and within that community itself, it just shows we're all really similar," Emmanuel said.
"For me, as a woman of color... specifically talking with other actors about their experience interacting with their place within the industry and their background and how that differs from mine, and the similarities, learned a lot. And I think when you have a diverse place, you get to know more about other people's points of view, and that's important," she continued. "I learned a lot about how my brothers who are South Asian, Pakistani, Muslim, how they felt coming through the industry, and how they've walked through the world."
By the final season of Game of Thrones, Emmanuel was the only woman of color in the main cast; her character's death was mourned by fans both because of its brutality and because it meant less representation onscreen. The actress harbors no resentment toward Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (and noted she'd love to work with them again), but shared fans' disappointment that the "opportunity" to feature more diverse characters in a fantasy show wasn't taken.
Emmanuel is thus proud to be part of Four Weddings and a Funeral's contribution in that area, and hopes it will help bring audiences together. "It's very, very exciting to me to come onto a show that just has like, inclusivity as a kind of ethos," she expressed. "I was really grateful."
"I think when you have a diverse place, you get to know more about other people's points of view, and that's important. I think we need that, and at a time when the world is so divided and there's so much hate being spouted -- I think this project is really timely and really, it's just such a lovely thing to put out into the world," Emmanuel said. "It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and it will just give you warm, fuzzy feelings, and we need a bit of that right now. We just do."
Four Weddings and a Funeral, also starring Rebecca Rittenhouse, John Reynolds and Brandon Mychal Smith, is now streaming on Hulu.