‘Game of Thrones’ Star Nathalie Emmanuel on Calming Audition Nerves

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Photo Source: Illustration: Nathan Arizona/Photo: Featureflash Photo Agency/shutterstock.com

When she’s not advising the Mother of Dragons on “Game of Thrones,” English actor Nathalie Emmanuel is kicking ass in the “Furious” franchise as Ramsey. Here, she discusses tips for calming audition nerves, the one actor whose films she’d recommend to anyone, and using music to find her characters.

What have your roles in ‘Fate of the Furious’ and on ‘Game of Thrones’ added to your acting skills?
Missandei has taught me the art of subtlety. All of the reactions and emotions that she shows are very internal and they sort of creep out. And then with Ramsey, because of the crazy situations she seems to find herself in with this group of people, and with a lot of these green screens and special effects that are there when you’re filming, it’s helped me to use my imagination and learn to react to the things around [me] on a soundstage that are sometimes challenging to picture. She’s been the opposite of Missandei, reacting to something massive, the fear and terror, and [I’ve had] to really let go and not feel like it’s overreaction. [“Furious”] pushed me to go bigger, beyond what’s felt right and comfortable for me in the past.

WATCH: 11 Actors Nailing Their ‘Game of Thrones’ Auditions

What advice would you give your younger self?
Own what you are and what you’re about, and don’t feel you have to change a single thing to fit some sort of idea that the rest of the world deems to be better. What you are is just fine. I think it took me a while to learn that for myself when it comes to acting and when it comes to my life.

What movie should every actor see?
Anything [with] Meryl Streep I will totally recommend.

What’s your go-to preaudition song?
Sometimes I like to find music that I feel reflects the character. The music I listen to can vary with the nature of the material; if [it’s] really dramatic or sad, I listen to music that reflects that. Sometimes when I’m auditioning with an American accent, I might listen to something that helps me stay in that accent. Generally I have a chill-out album, like a playlist that I created, that I find quite relaxing to help with the nerves. It’s a lot of singer-songwriter stuff, a combination of lots of songs that make me feel something.

How do you typically prepare for an audition?
I have always tried to be off-book when I go for an audition and know the lines by heart. I don’t have to rely on the paper, so it means that the performance is much more relaxed. I’m actually pretty good at learning lines, but it’s a matter of running it and running it. I’ll look up the character breakdown and see how I can apply that to the scene, and I come up with ideas and variations on that and make subtle choices, and that’s what I go into the audition with. Sometimes there’s an opportunity to ask questions, and they might have the director there or somebody who has more of an idea of what the character is, and they can give you tips and direct you or find something that you already practiced at home that might fit better. A lot of the groundwork is done beforehand, and the more time you spend on it and the more times you read it and play with it, the more prepared you are with the direction you’re given in casting. But then sometimes [the audition] is tomorrow, and you just have to do the best you can.

What was your first headshot like?
Oh my gosh! I was about 10 years old. I remember I had a leotard on that had a high neck. It was so ’80s and orange; it was one of my dance costumes, and my mom was like, “Let’s wear that for the picture,” because I loved it, but it was ridiculous! It looked like a unitard thing with shorts and no arms and a high neck on it. Super cool.

What special skills do you have listed on your résumé?
Probably dance. I was a dancer for a long time. I started when I was 3 [and continued] up until I was in my late teens. I did ballet, tap, modern, and contemporary dance, which was probably my favorite. And street dance!

What is your worst audition story?
I’ve got so many they’ve all blurred into one. Sometimes nerves can get the better of me. I had one where I was so nervous that I walked out the room and vomited in the bathroom afterward. I’ve gotten better at dealing with them. I genuinely believe that my love of yoga and learning to breathe [has helped me]. The first thing that goes is your heart rate going super fast. In yoga they say to use your breath to control your heart rate, and that’s helped me. [Auditioning] is psychological, so take a moment to compose yourself. There’s a pressure that comes into the room that you can’t control—time feels like it lasts forever. You have to know that taking a moment to center yourself to start again is really important. Sometimes it doesn’t always work and I’m bumbling through it and that happens, too, and that’s OK, that’s just life. But the best way to not be nervous is to be super prepared.

A friendly reminder to breathe in your next casting call! Check out our TV audition listings!

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Briana Rodriguez
Briana is the Editor-in-Chief at Backstage. She oversees editorial operations and covers all things film and television. She's interested in stories about the creative process as experienced by women, people of color, and other marginalized communities. You can find her on Twitter @brirodriguez and on Instagram @thebrianarodriguez
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