The last time Nathalie Emmanuel traveled to London for a wedding on-screen, her character Maya ended up leaving behind her life working for a New York senate campaign in favor of reconnecting with her college friends and embarking on many relationship journeys. That was 2019's Four Weddings and a Funeral limited series for Hulu. But now the English actor is once again playing an American crossing the pond for a wedding with much more sinister results in director Jessica M. Thompson's The Invitation.
In The Invitation, Emmanuel plays a young woman named Evie who gets gifted a DNA ancestry kit and learns she has a cousin across the pond. It's great news for her (at first) because she just lost her mother and is feeling alone in the world. So, when that. cousin invites her to a wedding, she takes him up on it and (again, at first) enjoys getting to know a slew of people who all welcome her with open arms, including Walt (Thomas Doherty), the owner of the estate at which she is staying.
But the reason she is so embraced is much darker than she could have imagined: Three old-money families have agreed to sacrifice their daughters to becoming Walt's wives — and vampires.
"This movie is from Evie's point of view and the treatment that she endures. If there was ever a movie that could talk about gaslighting, this is it," Emmanuel tells Metacritic. "The story is very much about the sacrificing or the exploitation or brutality of women. Even within the structure of the three families that give their daughters, it doesn't matter what your background is; in some way, if you're a woman you're going to be exploited or violated or brutalized in some capacity. Depending on where you fit, the privileges are different."
That said, Emmanuel adds that the supernatural element of the film is "so beyond what [Evie] thought it could ever be that it was almost a state of shock."
But Evie has been fighting for most of her life, being a biracial woman and a struggling artist, working tedious jobs to make ends meet. So, she does not give up without a fight when presented with this intense situation. The way she fights, though, is to go along with what Walt and the rest of the group want for a short time in order to take them down from the inside.
"You have to know the beast to kill it. She has to become the monster to defeat the monster, and I think that is a really great symbol," Emmanuel says.
Here, Emmanuel talks to Metacritic about Evie's connection with Walt, the symbolism and the supernatural within The Invitation, and how practical, prosthetic vampire elements affected her stunt work in the film.
Evie accepts the titular invitation because she just finds out she has family overseas, and this is a prime opportunity to meet them. Why do you feel she was looking for that connection: Certainly she didn't think she had blood relatives left, but she seems to have a good support system with her friend Grace, so why does she want more?
For me, the the scene with Grace and Evie where she's like, "You want to go meet a stranger off the internet," they'd be like, "Nah," and that would be the end of the movie. [Laughs] From my point of view, some rich, aristocratic, old money white people, I don't know about that! I, personally, would be highly, highly suspicious because in every way she's part of a family scandal; it doesn't feel very safe. But they've also just caught her in this sense of grief: She lost her dad when she was really young, and now she's now lost the one person that she had left [in her mom]. And it's almost like she's so desperate for someone to just be like, "We've got you." Yeah, Grace is her ride-or-die best friend, but I think what also makes it so appealing is [Evie] is a struggling artist, doing all of these jobs just trying to get by — and she's lonely, she's sad, she's grieving — and then this person just comes along who is super charming and just makes it so easy: "It's fine, just come, I've got miles. It's all set up. Everybody's really happy about you." He really preys on all her insecurities and all her vulnerability in that moment and makes it so, so simple for her to just go, "OK." Because what has she got to lose at this point? She throws caution to the wind because, what's the worst thing that can happen? The best thing is she finds connection and family, and does she really want to miss out on that? In the worst-case scenario, they hate me, they're mad people, and I just go home; that's the worst thing she thinks can happen. She can't possibly perceive what it really is; it's really like a cult.
I don't think most people would. I certainly didn't think "vampires" when I first heard about the movie. But I did assume she was going to be groomed for something racially sinister.
It can't not be because the history of the story of that family is that a child was born who was biracial and it's this hidden, dirty secret in that family, essentially. So, immediately, the conversation around race and acceptability is already muddied just by the history of this family and her legacy.
Did you and Jessica discuss whether Jordan Peele's Get Out was a movie that existed in Evie's world? Because audiences who know that film, I think, would go into the situation you present here specifically watching behaviors a little bit differently.
Yeah, 100-percent. She is immediately, from the beginning, confronted with her difference of class and wealth and her race. She's mistaken for one of the women who's Black and works in the house. There's no way she's not interacting with the power structure and her place within it. She's lived her life as a mixed race, biracial woman, and she's not going to be completely naive to some of these things. And just from how we talked about the movie, Get Out definitely influenced me when it came to approaching some of the moments when she realizes what's going on and the moments survival — getting out of there, the things that she has to do and use her smarts, her survival mechanisms.
Circling back to the idea of connection for a minute, we have to talk about Evie's attraction to Walt. She mentions that she expected the lord of the manor to be some ancient man, and ultimately he is but he doesn't present that way, so how did you view the relationship she embarked upon with him before she knew that? Did you see her as just wanting to have a fun holiday fling or were there things about him that she did recognize were things she lacked that she wanted?
He takes her off-guard. She's expecting this old, pompous, probably slightly racist, slightly classist, slightly sexist old dude. [Laughs] I've encountered many of them many times when I move into certain spaces. So, when she meets this young guy, he disarms her very quickly. He apologizes to her when somebody on the staff is rude to her, and he very immediately proves himself to be the complete antithesis of what she's expecting. So, it's all a part of that throwing caution to the wind and the desire for connection. As Grace points out to her, "It's been a while for you; enjoy the hot, rich guy." It doesn't have to be serious, but it gets intense very quickly, which is true because some of the most abusive people are also very charming and very good at being what you need them to be so that when they manipulate or gaslight you or whatever, they are so in your head, in your spirit, that you question yourself constantly. I just think he becomes everything he needs to be to be able to do that. He's however many thousands of years old, and he's the ultimate narcissist and abuser, and she's definitely not expecting him, so it's all a bit of a whirlwind. I mean, it never is really spoken about in the film, but she's an artist, and he has this incredible artist's studio, and I would put money on the fact that that didn't exist before Evie was on the radar. The whole performance of all of it is about entrapping her from the second they know she exists.
I had not considered that about the art; I just assumed when you're that old and that rich, you've collected everything. But that does make sense that it would just be set dressing for her.
They had to make her feel completely enamored and safe just so they could then do their harm. But Walt already being the opposite of what she thought is already exciting, already disarming, and it makes you go, "Oh, that's interesting. Why not the thing that I thought you would be?" They very much play into her loneliness, but also her own intrigue, her own curiosity, also leads her down that path.
And then there is the supernatural on top of all of this emotional complexity. How did the stunt training for The Invitation compare to other projects you have done?
The way that we move as as vampires very much influenced the choreography: All of the prosthetics and things slightly change how we could do it as well because we had these long fingers on that were great fun but were slightly tricky, technically, to actually grab or really do anything. There was an elongation of movement and swiping and grabbing that was almost feline, in a way. I found it quite elegant, but also really strong and really tough.
Evie, when she turns, she's not a full vampire. She's a half-ling, as they refer to her [so] she doesn't have the full benefits of full strength and abilities, so she's still fighting something that is stronger and more powerful and more terrifying and brutal than she is. Her survival instincts kick in and she just has to be fast and use her brain in that moment.
I did a movie called Army of Thieves for Netflix [in which] I had two really fun and intricate, technical fights in it. The one thing they have in common is that they're just really specific, almost like dance routines, and if you place a punch or a swipe or a kick in the wrong place at the wrong moment you might actually kick or punch or hurt someone. So, it is very technical and it just takes a lot of repetition and practice. I think what was different about this was the animalistic body movement nature of our fight.
In the fight, so often if you kill the vampire who made you, the whole bloodline dies with him or her. The Invitation doesn't give into that trope, though. What do you feel that says?
I think it's important that she survives because who doesn't like a good over evil story? But the truth of it is, unfortunately when we talk about things like the oppression of women or people of color or poor people, those things are so ingrained into the fabric of society, that even if you were to take out the whole one-percent, those structures [and] that damage will still very much be in the fabric of society. I saw the symbolism of that: She becomes the thing to defeat it, but there's a whole system that helped make this happen — that helped procure and kill and harm these women. We are still harmed by those systems, and we are fighting to dismantle them all the time and the people that want to uphold them. We see that in the news every day. So, I think it's reflective of the world that we live in: The evil — the danger — in the world isn't just cut out if you take out the worst examples of it because it's so ingrained in every area of our society.
Get to know Nathalie Emmanuel:
After getting her professional screen acting start on the Hollyoaks franchise, Emmanuel quickly began working on projects on both sides of the pond, most notable portraying Missandei on Game of Thrones (Metascore: 86), voicing Deet in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (82), playing the aforementioned Maya on Four Weddings and a Funeral (50), and joining the Fast & Furious franchise as Ramsey in F9: The Fast Saga (58).