Since her debut in 2015 with Furious 7 as the master computer hacker Ramsey, British actress Nathalie Emmanuel (whom Game of Thrones fans know as Missandei) has carved out her own real estate in the iconic franchise. In F9, she is firmly part of the crew, but, as Emmanuel shares, it did not start out that way.
“Ramsey definitely came into the group as a kind of loner; someone who was very much used to being and getting into mischief on her own,” she shares. “So coming into the group was a real culture shock for her, suddenly having a team of people to look out for her. Throughout the Fast & Furious movies that I’ve been a part of, we’ve really seen how she’s acclimated and assimilated into the group.”
That established comfort level allows Ramsey to stretch a bit more in F9, Emmanuel shares. “She’s taking a lot more leadership. She’s taking a lot more responsibility in the group and bringing her expertise and her very, very specific skills to help everybody and she’s fully committed to that,” Emmanuel explains. “In this movie, we get to see her be pushed outside of her comfort zone again. She’s kind of forced to do things that are not within her remit. And, it’s quite a fun sequence where we see her not as confident as we’re used to seeing.”
Emmanuel says she wanted to join The Fast and the Furious “because it’s an iconic franchise.” But it also, she says, means something to her personally. “I remember being a kid, and suddenly, seeing these films where people that look like me were being represented as the heroes,” she continues. “I just hadn’t really seen that before. And, so, the idea that I got to be a part of that legacy and that representation made me just really excited to put myself forward for it. And here we are many years later.”
Growing up and working as an actress of color in England, Emmanuel, who is from Southend-on-Sea in England, says she is very aware of the challenges. “As a Black mixed person in the UK industry, there really wasn’t opportunity and that seems to be the case for lots of people from minority backgrounds, like they just weren’t getting the opportunities, or their stories where they could be represented were just not being told in the same way. And it seems that, in the US, while there’s still a lot of work to be done in the industry in terms of opportunity in the kind of mainstream sense, the industry is just bigger, and, seemingly, there was just more space.”
As a kid who enjoyed acting, singing and dancing, Emmanuel says she really didn’t envision a career until she saw one woman. “I remember being really young, and I watched The Flintstones and I saw Halle Berry. I was like, ‘Oh, wow! We can do that? We can do that as a job? Like, that’s amazing!’ She was one of the early examples of where I saw myself in cinema, in which I thought, ‘Oh, okay, this is something I could do.’”
And done it she has. Being part of just one pop culture phenom would be a huge accomplishment, in and of itself, for most actors. But Emmanuel has done even better and been in two—Game of Thrones and The Fast and the Furious. “The characters are very different,” Emmanuel says of Missandei and Ramsey. “The thing that they have in common is that they’re both very brilliant women and that’s something that I’ve always been attracted to. . . So it’s kind of crazy to be a part of both of those things. But, I’ve had just very positive experiences either way, so I can’t complain.”
With F9 bringing in healthy box office numbers on par with pre-pandemic levels, earning $30 million opening day, June 25, it’s clear film lovers aren’t done with the franchise just yet. Two more films have reportedly been greenlit, with Emmanuel confirmed for number 10 and presumably 11. Diversity and inclusion, Emmanuel feels is at the heart of the franchise’s success and longevity.
“This kind of call for diversity and inclusion in media and in Hollywood, it feels like people have been calling for it for a long time and that has only recently kind of materialized,” she says, “but it was happening in the Fast and Furious franchise 20 years ago. And, so, I think that’s really unique to this franchise. People are supportive and loyal to these films because they feel represented by them.”
Ronda Racha Penrice is the author of Black American History For Dummies available now.