Nathalie Emmanuel has become a familiar face for genre fans. From The Maze Runner films, Game of Thrones, Fast and Furious, and Army of Thieves, Emmanuel has become a welcome presence in fan-favorite properties. In The Invitation from director Jessica M. Thompson and Sony Pictures, Emmanuel adds horror to her resume.
The stylish and clever gothic romance reframes The Bride of Dracula archetype through the modern lens of horror, with an eye towards deconstructing old world power structures associated with vampirism and colonialism. When Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel), a young artist living in New York, discovers an extensive extended family from a DNA test, she's whisked off to England to meet them, despite her best friend Grace's (Courtney Taylor) reservations. Once there, she develops a romance with a mysterious and wealthy friend of the family, Walt (Thomas Doherty). But her fairy tale holiday soon devolves into a nightmare when she discovers a startling conspiracy woven in blood and old money.
FANGORIA spoke to Nathalie Emmanuel about her role in the film, women-centric horror stories, her collaboration with Courtney Taylor and Jessica M. Thompson, and feeling inspired by Karyn Kusama's cult-favorite, Jennifer's Body.
I spoke to director Jessica M. Thompson yesterday, and she told me she always envisioned you as Evie. I'm curious about what attracted you to the project.
Well, I was very excited at the idea of doing a horror piece. I've always wanted to try my hand at any kind of new genre or new style of storytelling, so I was first just excited at that prospect. Then I think I just loved the premise of telling a Dracula story from the perspective of women. I just thought that was really cool! I connected to Evie in a number of ways, just living that creative life and that hustle and - you know, I wasn't always a working actor - wanting to chase your dreams but not necessarily having the means to do so. Her whole story, her whole journey in this piece is something that I can really relate to — discovering and realizing the strength that you had all along and utilizing it, being a survivor, being a fighter. I loved that about her you. I've had my own battles, too. I connected very strongly with her and with this story.
Are you a horror fan in general?
Yeah, I mean, I wouldn't say that I'm a scholar. You know how sometimes you talk to horror fans, and they just almost sound like they could teach a course on it, the eras and styles? But I definitely enjoy horror and its style of storytelling. I love that idea of being engaged with the piece, watching, trying to figure out what's going to happen and when it's going to happen. It's almost like you're playing detective, which adds to the excitement and the enjoyment. I'm a huge fan of that experience. Once you get past the blood and the gore of it, the psychological element of it—when is it going scare me? When is it going to happen? —I really enjoy that.
Do you remember your first introduction to Dracula?
No, I don't. I don't know why. I think I've just always known about Dracula. Maybe we read it at school? I can't remember. It's just a story I'm so familiar with.
Are there any particular horror films that you grew up loving?
I really liked the Saw movies. I really liked the Final Destination movies. I also love Jennifer's Body.
That's a good one!
I recently re-watched it, and I thought it was fantastic. It's so funny because I happened to stumble upon it and watched it again, and then started Googling it and looking up things about it. It's become a sort of cult classic, and it's got a real following now, but at the time, it wasn't necessarily regarded in the same way. It felt relevant, especially to this movie, it being written by women, directed by women, starring women. It's a horror [film] centering on young women. The idea is that when it came out, it wasn't particularly taken seriously because of how underrepresented women's voices are in this genre. It made me feel really proud of the fact that we've made a movie that's been written by women, directed by women, starring women, however many years later. I thought it was a very clever film, funny, and scary. Jennifer's Body is much smarter than people maybe gave it credit for at the time.
Definitely. One of the things that Jessica told me about is how the script evolved once you came aboard and that you, Courtney Taylor, and Jessica discussed bringing authenticity to your characters' voices in terms of being Black women dealing with these white power structures. As a Black film journalist, I really appreciated that. Could you speak to what some of those discussions entailed?
I think the first thing's first, this stranger on the internet who happens to be a very rich white man is like, 'Come over here to meet me. We'll be strangers,' and that's sort of the reality. You have to keep yourself safe in spaces that aren't for you. It's the daily reality for minorities, Black people, and women. Automatically we were sort of having conversations about how our Blackness, our womanhood, how that all intersects in these structures of power, as you said. I think what's great is the chemistry that Courtney and I had, and how we had a dialogue around some of these issues which we could bring to our characters, we could bring that into our friendship and on screen. I think it was really useful.
Even Little moments, you know, being a mixed-race person, I'm like oh yeah! There's a scene in the film where she asks, "How's the family?" and I'm like, "Very white," and she's like, "Oh, you fit right in then." [laughs]. It's like the banter between friends in a way that speaks to something, but also, it's like they're real friends. There was a freedom to discuss these things in a way that was really authentic and also fun to do because Courtney is amazing. That woman is a star, I tell you. I'm so excited for her because she's brilliant, and I loved watching her journey. We were fast friends as well. It was really funny, it turned out that she came at the beginning of filming and we immediately had such great chemistry. Then the filming schedule kind of changed and she did most of her filming at the end of shooting, but we were staying in touch the whole time, so when she came back it felt like we had just been friends for a really long time. We had so much fun together, and I love her.
That's awesome. Women have always been powerful characters in horror, though in terms of Dracula adaptations they've largely focused on men both in front of the camera and behind it. Having women in the role of director, writer, cinematographer and lead, what did it give you a chance to explore that you may not have otherwise?
I think we're so often used to seeing women in horror being damsels in distress, and there's this generation of film where the women really are their own heroes. They really have to save themselves. I think what's fantastic about the Dracula story specifically is a lot of the rules or mythology of Dracula and vampires is very patriarchal, very much about power. And when you make that interact with a modern woman, immediately it creates electricity. In our film, you see it from the perspective of a woman interacting with someone and with a structure that doesn't want her to be what or who she is. That defiance through some of those traditional or archaic kind of values through the lens of a vampire story is not necessarily something we've seen before in movies.
You've done a lot of different genres as an actor, from fantasy, and action, to now horror. Is there a particular favorite that you have?
It's hard because I think I really just learn so much from every job that I do and every acting role that I do, and the skills that you learn or have to adopt for each thing are always really valuable. I think I love the action stuff because I love being physical, and I have a dance background so doing the choreography is really fun. But I also love this style of storytelling and horror, the sort of planting seeds, the slow-burning plot points and twists. I think the psychological element is always really fun to negotiate. I don't know if I have a favorite because there's so much I enjoy about all of them.
Is horror something that you want to do more of in the future?
Yeah, definitely! Although I'd be happy not to get put in a coffin [laughs].
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Invitation is now in theaters. Check out our interview with The Invitation director Jessica M. Thompson.