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Nathalie Emmanuel on The Pivotal Moment That Helped Her Love Her Natural Hair

nathalie emmanuel zoom date

Afew weeks before scheduling my Zoom interview with Nathalie Emmanuel, I finished binge-watching Army of Thieves on Netflix. It wasn’t my introduction to Emmanuel, but it was the last of her roles that I loved. I remember my boyfriend turning to me and saying, “Wow, she has great eyebrows.” After our binge sesh, I found Emmanuel on Instagram and liked her even more once I saw the St. Lucian flag in her bio. I am a first-generation American born to St. Lucian parents. I am always so excited when I see West Indian people killing it in various industries. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to speak to Emmanuel about her new role in The Invitationout in theatres now.

The actress joined our Zoom call in a stunning yellow ‘fit and that effortless glam she has down to a T, and after a few seconds, it felt like I was chatting with a friend. Not only did we dive into sharing a common cultural background, but we spoke about her new project, beauty evolution, and how she stays centered. Read more ahead.

nathalie emmanuel for byrdie zoom date

Nathalie! I was so thrilled to take this interview for a few reasons. One: I am a huge fan of your work, and two: I had to talk to my fellow St. Lucian sister.

Omg, you’re St. Lucian too? We’re out here!

Yes, my parents are St. Lucian, and I’m always so happy to meet dope West Indian people doing big things. 

My family is also St. Lucian and Dominican—not to be confused with the Dominican Republic. My mom is half Dominican, my dad is half St. Lucian, and both of my grandparents came to the UK.

That’s awesome! So glad to be speaking with you. I’d love to jump in and discuss your new project, The Invitation. Why’d a role in a crime thriller like this speak to you?

The story spoke to me because it was a great opportunity to discuss power, structure, and social exploitation—especially against marginalized groups. Still, it’s a vampire story told in such a modern context, which was interesting.

We just wrapped up Army Of Thieves in my household, and we loved it. Your eyebrows came up a few times for being so perfect. What’s your current brow routine like?

Thank you for the compliment. My brows have been through it, and I do them myself. I remember getting bullied as a teen for having a thick monobrow, and I begged my mom to take me to get them done. Long story short: the woman destroyed my brows, and it took years of growing them out. Now, I leave my natural shape, pluck away extras, and trim them occasionally.

I feel like we all have those brow horror stories. What about your hair? How has your relationship with your natural hair been?

For many years until recently, I had big curls like yours, but loving my hair has been a journey. I learned at a very young age that my hair was a problem. When I went to school and wore my hair down, I was told it was a health and hygiene issue. I went to a predominantly white school and was one of few curly-haired people with Black and mixed families, so I learned this very early.

However, at home, it was a different story. My mom has big curly hair, too, and I always felt empowered to love my hair. When I was fifteen years old, I visited St. Lucia, which was a turning point in my relationship with my hair. I suddenly felt a connection to this place and my heritage that I was detached from living in the UK. So visiting there, feeling celebrated by my people, and feeling the island rhythm put things into perspective. I learned after that trip that my hair is fabulous. After that summer, I returned to school with my hair brushed out and wore it pridefully as a crown. Wearing my natural hair was a statement of defiance, and I felt really powerful.

What prompted you to chop it off?

I’ve always wanted short hair, but I wanted to cut it because I felt the need to hide it. I was frustrated and didn’t know what to do, but over time that changed, and my hair became an embraced part of my identity.

met my hairstylist Neeko about nine years ago, and we revisited the idea of going short. We talked about all of these queens like my mom, Halle Berry, and Nia Long with short hair, and I wanted to experience that. I always had work or casting excuses, but I have been thinking about where I am in this season of life and the rigid ideals of femininity we’re placed in as women, and I took the leap.

I didn’t realize how emotional it would be, but I had let go of those complex feelings—the good and the bad. In many cultures, including West Indian cultures, we believe that hair holds energy and is a valid concept. Cutting it all off was like letting go of the power my hair held over me and focusing on just me. 

nathalie emmanuel for byrdie zoom date


I loved that you were raised to love your hair because that isn’t always the case in many Black and West Indian households. After all, generations before us were conditioned to feel the opposite.

I was fortunate in that respect because both of my parents are mixed, and my hair wasn’t something they had to learn to manage or cope with. I was grateful because my mom had just taught me to do what she did with her hair.

You’re very open on social media about your yoga practice. How did you get into that?

I got into yoga around 19-years-old, and I was going through a lot. My mental health was suffering, and I poured so much of my life and energy into other people. The counselor I spoke to encouraged me to find something that made me feel good. I heard about meditation and yoga, and one day I took a class and fell in love with the idea of 90 minutes carved out for you. I had a great teacher who helped me practice being present and understanding what I needed in a respective moment. I loved that I could apply these principles to every area of my life.

The idea of being my own solution was a complete eye-opener for me. I’ve always thought I needed to have people to help me or validation from others, but my practice has shown me that I can make time to be the answer for myself.

Yoga has also taught me to go with the flow. I fell off in the pandemic and felt disappointed, but I was talking to someone who told me that other things needed my energy at that time. You have to move and go with the flow—just like with life—sometimes, the imbalance or break is what you need.

Being in tune with yourself is important, especially with a busy career.

Yes, and I try to look after myself beyond yoga. I love spending time alone and being with my loved ones, which grounds me. I am not this actress to my family—my little nephew doesn’t care about that and just wants me to pick him up and play around. Being in those elements grounds me. Therapy has also been a game changer. If I break my ankle, I would see a doctor, so I view therapy as a checkup for your brain.

What does a solo-self care day look like for you? How do you unplug?

First of all, I am going to sleep in [laughs]. Then I’d probably scroll through my phone, which is bad, but I take as long as I need to start my day without judgment. Then I make some coffee or tea and flick on a television show I’ve seen one million times.

Nathalie Emmanuel for Byrdie Zoom Date

What’s your go-to show right now?

I know this is divisive, but I always turn to Friends, and I’ve recently rewatched Girlfriends and Moesha. I try to put on something I’ve seen a lot, and I know is good. Then I’d make some breakfast or pick up these gluten-free bagels I’m obsessed with. I’d draw a bath at 1 pm, throw in some Epson salt and lavender, and put on relaxing music like India Arie or a true-crime podcast, which is the opposite of relaxing [laughs].

Are you cooking on your day off?

I’ve been vegan for a long time, so I usually make a bowl with lots of veggies and rice or quinoa. I miss some Caribbean meals like codfish fritters or roti, but I take pleasure in making meatless versions of the recipes I love—there are so many options that are just as good.

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