Nathalie Emmanuel ()Nathalie Emmanuel () © Copyright

Hollyoaks to Hollywood

British Game Of Thrones actress Nathalie Emmanuel on making it in one of the world’s most competitive industries, learning to swim, and what it’s like to star in one of the biggest TV shows ever.

People see things and think they just happen all of a sudden, and I guess in the grand scheme they do, but after Hollyoaks, I found it hard to get work. There’s a stigma with Hollyoaks, and soaps in general – people think about the actors involved and say, “They’re not real actors.” Nobody wanted to hire me, but when it comes to the stigma, I think things are changing because so many people who couldn’t get hired in England after doing a soap went out to the States where they don’t really mind what you’ve done. They’re more like, “OK, they look the part, they look right and they’re best for the role.” They don’t really care what you’ve done beforehand. Now loads of people have managed to go out and get really good jobs, and prove themselves as legitimate actors. 

After Hollyoaks, I did the odd guest appearance; an episode of this thing or that thing. I was in the opening credits of a film, and that was about it. There were a couple of years where it was just like that – at that point, I was working in a clothes shop to make ends meet.

When the Game Of Thrones audition came in, I was a fan of the show, but I was so out of practice, I thought to myself, “Can I even do this?” My confidence level wasn’t particularly high but I just loved that show so much that when I got the audition, I put everything into it. Thankfully, it paid off, and here I am four seasons later, still playing Missandei.

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The cast are cool, the crew are amazing, and the producers and the writers are laid-back. It’s a down-to-earth vibe that starts at the top and comes all the way through the whole production. There are no airs and graces, everyone’s super chilled. There are lots of us around the same age but there’s a wide variety of people, and everyone’s really nice.

We have such fun and we get to travel to loads of places. This year, I’ve mainly been in Spain, but I know they’ve been shooting in Iceland as well. Then obviously Belfast, where our interior sets are filmed. I’ve been to Croatia, and my first season was in Morocco, so we get to travel a lot, which is the coolest thing. We go to parts of Spain you’d never usually visit, and you can explore historical little towns, which is really nice.  

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On my first day on the set of Fast And Furious 7, we were shooting with everybody in one scene. My character has been driven off a cliff, gets knocked out and wakes up, and I have to tell all the characters about themselves. That was my first very day on the film, and I was absolutely terrified. Within a few moments, though, everyone just started poking fun at me, and it was like, “Ah OK, we’re cool, we’re all chill here.”

In terms of my future plans, I’m reading a lot of different scripts right now, and just trying to find something good that fits for me.

This year, I’ve been learning to swim. I was forced to face my fears when I was doing a film last year. I’m terrified of swimming and being in the water – I had an incident when I was a kid, when someone jumped in a pool on top of me, and I’d always been really frightened of being submerged in water. 

I didn’t quite realise how deep that fear ran until I did the film and realised this is actually a problem. They got me an instructor and over the course of the film, I really achieved a lot in terms of confidence. I only had to dive in and sit on the bottom of a pool, so it was all about being submerged in water, which was so scary! 

I wasn’t taught any crazy technique or anything, so when Speedo approached me to take part in a training programme, and work with a triathlon coach, I was really keen. It was another opportunity to improve not just my confidence in the water, but my actual swimming. 

Nathalie Emmanuel ()


Having an instructor made me aware of what I was doing right, which did wonders for my confidence and also gave me challenges on how to improve other things. When doing certain drills – like kicking with the kickboard – my kicking would improve. Then I would do the water polo drill, where my arms would be good. But then you have to put it all together, with the breathing and finding a rhythm. It was basically all falling to pieces, because I was finding it hard to think about all the things at once. Over time and with practice, I’ve gradually just got a bit better. 

I’ll be honest, I’m still a beginner. But I couldn’t really put my face in the water before, so to go from that to swimming as much as I have been, that’s a big deal.  


Nathatlie Emmanuel was speaking to Thomas Theodore, as part of Speedo’s Make 1K Wet campaign.

Photos HBO, Speedo


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