Nathalie Emmanuel on Premiering Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Megalopolis’ (and Wearing Custom Chanel) for Her Cannes Debut: ‘It Was Quite Overwhelming’

Nathalie Emmanuel’s first trip to the Cannes Film Festival was certainly a memorable one.

The “Fast and Furious” franchise star and “Game of Thrones” alum knows what it’s like to be in the spotlight, but Cannes is unique. First, consider the fact that she’s the leading lady in legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola’s longtime passion project “Megalopolis,” which made its world premiere at the festival. Then, there’s the reality of ascending the famed red steps to the Palais des Festivals.

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“This whole experience has been like nothing I’ve ever had before,” Emmanuel told Variety the next day. “That moment was so much bigger and so much grander — I just had no concept of how crazy it would be, how exciting it would be, how many people there would be. … It was quite overwhelming, but really exciting and felt like a real celebration.”

“And obviously, wearing custom Chanel is new for me,” the British actor added, her red lips spreading into a proud grin as she referenced the long white gown, embroidered with paper silk floral motifs and crystals, then belted with a black satin bow. More than 500 hours of work went into making the dress. “I loved every second of it. I felt so elegant.”

Emmanuel is a friend of the French luxury fashion house, which considers the famed filmmaker to be family. The brand’s work was first featured in Coppola’s 1989 film “New York Stories,” and the collaborative relationship with him and his children Sofia and Roman Coppola has continued since. So, given that “Megalopolis” marked another major moment in his storied career, it only made sense that Chanel was there too.

Plus, the angelic attire added a layer of confidence as Emmanuel prepared for the anxiety-inducing experience of Cannes’ lengthy standing ovations. “I’ve watched many a video of them,” she laughed, explaining that she doesn’t even like to be the center of attention on her birthday. “So the idea of a whole theater of people staring at you clapping was definitely something that I thought about beforehand and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, just stay calm. Prepare yourself.'”

“Megalopolis” is a Roman Epic fable set in an imagined Modern America. Emmanuel plays socialite Julia Cicero, who finds herself caught between her father Mayor Franklyn Cicero (Giancarlo Esposito) and her new love Cesar Catalina (Adam Driver) and their ambitions for the city. She had already seen the finished product at a screening room in London, so she knew what to expect in terms of the audience’s reaction. Even still, a seven-minute standing ovation isn’t really something one can prepare for.

So, what was running through her mind all that time?

“I really felt the warmth and the embrace of the movie, and I think just standing next to my fellow cast and we were just kind all in it together,” Emmanuel said. “I was really happy for Francis. Happy for the team and the cast and the entire crew of people who worked on the film because it was such a valiant, triumphant feat. This movie is such an epic piece; it deserved every applause. So I was happy to feel a bit awkward.”

Watch the full interview above to learn why Emmanuel used Oprah Winfrey’s famous line from “The Color Purple” — “You told Harpo to beat me?” — in her improvised audition with Coppola and how she used music to get into character.

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