Mindy Kaling's reimagining of the 1994 rom-com Four Weddings and a Funeral is now on Hulu. While the series differs from the film in a lot of ways—though they both have, you know, four weddings and a funeral—there's one comparison in particular that star Nathalie Emmanuel expects: that between her character, Maya, and the Duchess of Sussex herself, Meghan Markle.
Maya is a communications director for a New York senatorial campaign who strives for a bigger and better platform to help change the world (sound familiar?). She moves to London (yup), where she hopes to kick-start her professional and personal life (though finding her own Prince Harry is going to take a bit longer). "Maya is very ambitious and career-driven," Emmanuel says. "She's a woman of color in a very male-dominated, white culture, and she's figuring out the kind of person she wants to be. She doesn't always get it right, but that's what makes her more real."
In real life Emmanuel has gotten the Meghan Markle comparisons for years, going back to when she first joined Game of Thrones in 2013. Markle's Suits character, Rachel Zane, even referenced their supposed similarities in an early episode. And honestly, it's all gotten a little tiring for Emmanuel. More on that, plus the most valuable lessons she learned from watching Mindy Kaling at work, below.
Glamour: Mindy Kaling cocreated and adapted this version of Four Weddings for Hulu. What did you learn from her as your boss?
Nathalie Emmanuel: As a woman in this world, you have to be able to tell people what you need and want—or don't want—for yourself. It’s taken me quite a long time to learn that, because you don’t want to cause trouble, that whole thing. But if you don't speak up, the only person you’re frustrated with is yourself because nobody is a mind reader. It was really inspiring to see Mindy be clear about what she wanted. Her energy and her spirit is so evident through this series, and it’s a testament to her ability as a leader.
I came in [to the series] very last minute, and she helped me by finding the relevant people to support me in this role. I had a wonderful dialect coach, and everyone surrounded me with support. Mindy was behind that. She was like, "This is what has worked for me in the past, so I’d love to give you that same support." I will take all the help I can get and use all the resources people will give me, so I was very grateful to her for that.
Meghan Markle's name is referenced a few times in the series. Maya jokes that she applied to be Meghan Markle’s decoy and, later, that she thinks the royal family has already hit their diversity…
Quota. Which, by the way, was my ad-lib. That was my line.
It was perfect.
The thing is, it has really annoyed me in the past that people have compared me to her because I get tagged in photos all the time of some biracial woman, like, "Is this you?"
I wasn't going to bring up the Meghan Markle similarity, but then it was mentioned twice in the series. So I thought, I have to ask…
I understand. Because it gets brought up so much, I think I felt quite strongly that if anyone’s going to make that reference, it should be me about myself, as opposed to other people saying it to me who don’t look like me.
It’s taking that power back.
For me, having my own control over that was important, because I hear [that I look like her] all the time. I literally got on a flight not long ago, and people were like, "Oh, my God! You look exactly like Meghan Markle!" And I was like, "Hmm, thank you." Recently a friend of mine was watching Suits and there’s a reference where Meghan Markle [as Rachel Zane] says, "Apparently I look like Khaleesi’s translator or something." It’s been going on for a while. When I first saw that, I thought, Oh my God, I can see we have similarities, but now I’m just like…she looks like a different person.
Have you ever met?
No, we haven’t. I mean, she’s a beautiful, talented woman. I would happily take the compliments.
Aside from ad-libbing that line, what other input did you have with your character?
Mindy and [showrunner and executive producer] Tracey Wigfield were so receptive to notes and opinions and supported my input to Maya. There were moments where I was like, "I think we need to do this element of it more or this element of it less," and they were really receptive. For instance, [in one scene] Maya wakes up and has her hair wrapped in a silk scarf. That’s something I do every single night. Any natural-hair girl, or black people with black hair, are going to wrap their hair at night, so that was really important to me to show that.
Those details are so important. This Is Us had a moment last season with Melanie Liburd’s character (Zoe) and how she needs to sleep on a silk pillowcase for her hair.
I love Melanie! Anybody with textured hair knows a cotton pillowcase is going to dry your hair out. So if I don’t have a silk pillowcase, I always have a silk scarf. That way at least my hair is covered.
You’ve been busy the last few years, but what’s on your wish list going forward?
My wish list is to try different things and try my hand at as many different projects as possible. I try not to limit myself. It's really about the challenge. Four Weddings is no exception. It’s so far removed from anything I’ve done before. I had the challenge of doing the accent and having much more responsibility in a role than I’d had before. Going forward, my passion is moving toward making my own stuff and hopefully acting in them too. I’ve done these big, monstrous-sized pieces—like Game of Thrones, Fast and Furious, all of that—but I’m always looking for those much more grounded, dramatic roles. That’s not something I’ve really done yet, and I’m excited to do next.
And for those who haven't seen you in fast-paced, action roles, Four Weddings will introduce you to a new audience.
This is my first kind of lead role, and it’s much scarier when these things come out. When I’m involved in Game of Thrones and Fast and Furious, I’m very much a supporting role in a big, well-established thing. When you’re at the forefront of something, you feel much more exposed and vulnerable. But it’s great…it’s these things you should do to face the fear and take the reins. I’m excited for people to see it because we poured so much love into it and so much light. It was such a joy to shoot.
Were you a fan of rom-coms before?
Yes, the Richard Curtis universe is one of the biggest rom-com favorites for me. My two favorites are Love, Actually and Notting Hill. I remember going to see Love, Actually; obviously that whole movie is wonderful, but my favorite moment ever is when young Sam reaches his little girlfriend at the airport. They’re both just such great English films.
Rom-coms sometimes get a bad rap, and yet it's a beloved genre. Why are they so important to you?
I think like any entertainment, it’s escape from our lives sometimes. It's something we can learn from. We see our lives through these stories, but sometimes you just need something light and fun because the stress of living and working and relationships and love and friendship can be a lot. Sometimes you just need something light and fun where there’s a happy ending and it makes you laugh a bit.
Four Weddings and a Funeral is now streaming on Hulu.
Originally Appeared on Glamour