The Game of Thrones star will make her return to the big screen in the ninth installment of the Fast & Furious franchise, but her career as a leading-lady is only getting started.

By Mary Anderson
April 01, 2020
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She's speeding down the freeway as we speak, which seems perfect for catching up with Nathalie Emmanuel, who returns for her third run in the street-racing adrenaline fest Fast & Furious. (F9 will now debut on April 2, 2021.)

“I actually can’t legally drive,” she confesses from the back seat en route to the L.A. airport, where she’ll head home to London for her next project. “That makes me laugh out loud, considering I’ve done three movies about car racing.” (She was too broke back in the day to pay £18 per hour for the mandatory driving lessons.)

Nathalie, 31, has made it to Hollywood’s fast lane, but at heart, she thrives on keeping things at a more chill pace. For starters, she’s A-OK with taking public transportation. “I mean, Dame Helen Mirren [her F9 costar] takes the Tube,”she says.“If she can, so can we all.”And she cherishes her upbringing in “humble circumstances” in a small seaside town in Essex (“with the best fish and chips in the country, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!”). She and her older sister were raised by a single mother, “Mama Debs,” whom Nathalie credits for giving her those gorgeous corkscrew curls. (Both of her parents have some Caribbean roots.) At 17, she moved to Liverpool for a four-year stretch on a soap opera and then worked at a clothing store to pay the bills as she went on auditions.

Despite Nathalie’s low-key sensibilities, there’s no denying that she radiates serious star power. Which is the reason she’s been able to convert her two breakthrough characters—Missandei in Game of Thrones and Ramsey in Fast—from minor supporting players into recurring cult favorites. “The thing they have in common is that they’re both brilliant women with a very specific skill set. It seems that I'm attracted to characters like that," she says.

And with her starring performance in the rom-com series Four Weddings and a Funeral last year, she has already shifted into leading-lady status.

When it all gets a bit much for the self-described introvert, Nathalie summons the necessary survival skills she's honed. “For a number of years, I would get really worked up or emotional or find myself exhausted,” she says. “Now, instead of consuming myself with all the things I’ve got to do, I compartmentalize the day into what I have to do next. OK, I have to get showered. Done that, now what?”

The self-help is clearly working to keep her happy and healthy. Here, Nathalie shares more on the art of those stay-calm vibes, surprises us with some bragging-rights moves, and reveals how she’s mastered the jet-set life at her own speed. (Related: How to Make Time for Self-Care When You Have None)

Nathalie Emmanuel
Credit: Carter Smith

She's a True, Pro Yogi

“I started going to yoga when I was 19 as a way to stay active but also do something by myself if I needed peace and quiet. In the last seven years, it’s been much more of a necessity that I do it religiously. Wherever I am in the world, I find a yoga studio or I travel with my mat. I also trained to become a yoga instructor about two years ago—and taught at a London studio for a bit—because friends kept asking, ‘Can you show me how?’

“Yoga is something I do to sit and breathe and bring my attention inward, because I’m often giving so much energy to the world. It’s important to check in physically, mentally, and emotionally and see what’s going on. A lot of the things you shove to the bottom, to get through the week, come out. It’s good to engage with those things and have a conversation.”

Nathalie Emmanuel
Credit: Carter Smith

Having Close-Up-Ready Skin Is Her Beauty Statement

“Skin is a priority for me because every time I start a new job, the stress makes my skin break out. I have to really be on top of it. I’ve been using Dr. Barbara Sturm’s darker skin-tone range. She has an antipollution serum (Buy It, $145, sephora.com) that you put on after your moisturizer—that’s been a game changer for me. People don’t realize the amount of damage that the light from mobile phones and screens does to your skin. Plus, living in London as I do—it’s so polluted. And I’m always on planes. (Spoiler: Pollution can do some major damage on your hair too.)

“I’m not someone who needs to have makeup on all the time. When I’m doing it for myself, I get irritated, and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m done.’ I just go as I am, as long as I’m clean. It really depends on my hair too—it can dictate how much time I spend, because there’s obviously a lot of care and maintenance to it. Most of the time, I’m just traveling or I’m running errands, so I keep it casual.”

Nathalie Emmanuel
Credit: Carter Smith

Pull-Ups and Handstands Are Her Goals

“I’m not working out to be a certain weight or size. I’m a goal-oriented person. My fitness goals at the moment are to do pull-ups and to do a pincha mayurasana, which is a forearm stand in yoga. I’m pretty strong at a headstand, but I want to be able to do a handstand and hold it.

“The workouts I do with my trainer in London condition me for those things. We focus on upper-body strength because that’s my weakness. We work different muscle groups. We do circuits where you perform five or six exercises for a minute each, take a break, and then do it again. I also run and do body-weight exercises, weights, and boxing—I like to mix it up. (Want a workout like Nathalie? Try this upper-body barre circuit to fire up those arms.)

“I physically challenge myself, and that dedication shows me that I’m improving. These are things that you carry for life. If I work hard and I keep practicing, I will evolve in good time and I’ll get better.”

She Eats Only What She Can Pronounce

“Because I’m vegan and I have a gluten intolerance as well, when I find baking that is both vegan and gluten-free, it’s so exciting that I tend to go a bit over the top. In L.A., I go to this place called Erin McKenna’s Bakery and basically eat all the things.

“Mostly, I try to keep my food simple. I want to read the ingredients and know exactly what’s in stuff or be able to pronounce it. That’s generally my thing: If I can’t understand the words on the back of the packaging, then maybe I shouldn’t be eating it. Usually, I’ll cook lots of vegetables together—broccoli, onions, peppers, mushrooms—and then I like to add a bean or something. Or I might buy some organic tofu, season it, and mix it with a grain or in a salad. Throw some nuts in there. I make it as colorful and as varied as I can.”

Nathalie Emmanuel
Credit: Carter Smith

She Allows Herself Time-Outs

“In busy or very social situations, my energy level depletes quickly. I have to recharge. That might mean reading a book or binge-watching a show when I get home. But sometimes I just want it to be quiet, to relax and sit and be still. That is something I have put into practice now that I have realized I really, really need it for myself.

“People often think that if you’re introverted, it means that you don’t like people, you don’t like being sociable, you’re shy and not very confident. But that’s just not true. It’s about how you recharge and come back to yourself and what you need to do that.

“I need confidence to do my job. For me, that comes from having the right conversations with myself before the day starts and then throughout the day too. When I get overwhelmed, I practice meditation or breathing with intention. It’s a slow breath in and out as I focus for a second. You can get so caught up in all the worry. But actually, there are all these great things to be excited and positive about—you just have to remind yourself of that.”