It's a surprisingly mild autumnal morning when I catch up with Adjoa Andoh. We chat on the phone while she travels - and there's a lot to talk about.


Perhaps one of the busiest women in the country right now, Andoh delights in talking about every one of her projects with enthusiasm and glee; and trust me, there are a lot of things going on for her right now.

We start with her starring role in The Smeds and the Smoos, the latest adaptation from Julia Donaldson to land on the BBC on Christmas Day. It tells the tale of two alien families who have grown up hating each other, for no real reason but ingrained prejudice.

When Janet (a Smed) falls in love with Bill (a Smoo) and elope, the families unite to find their loved ones and discover there's not that much difference between them in the end.

The Magic Light Pictures adaptation of Donaldson's tales are a festive highlight every year, with children and parents sitting down each Christmas Day for the past 10 years to enjoy the whimsy and wit of the bestselling author.

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This year, they've pulled out all the stops, with Andoh playing Grandmother Smoo, Bill Bailey as Grandfather Smed, and with the likes of Meera Syal, Rob Brydon and Sally Hawkins also in the voice cast.

With a great story, star-studded cast and an enviable Christmas Day slot, it must have been one of the easiest yeses of Andoh's career then?

The Smeds and the Smoos
The Smeds and the Smoos. BBC

"Absolutely," Andoh tells me. "The stories are lovely and they're pretty straightforward. The adults might be laughing at one thing and the children at something different - it's available for everybody to enjoy in different ways.

"Julia Donaldson is such a fantastic storyteller and Axel Scheffler is a fantastic illustrator. My kids grew up on The Gruffalo and all of those. Now my kids have grown up, they don't want me to read them stories anymore, so it's nice to get to lean back into that."

The Smeds and the Smoos is not just a nice, reimagined Romeo and Juliet story to tell children, it's perhaps one of the most important stories Donaldson has penned, teaching about acceptance and love.

In the original 2019 publication of the story, Scheffler dedicated it "to all the children of Europe", a thinly-veiled nod towards the continental division caused by Brexit.

Speaking more about these arguably political themes – and, really, the heart of the story – Andoh reasons: "What [the families] find is that they both love their children. And in the end, it's their love of their children and their children being under threat that makes them come together.

"I think a lot of what we find problematic in life are those moments where we just can't put ourselves in someone else's shoes, and recognising the things we feel are exactly the same as the things that other people are feeling. And seeing them as human beings, with the same hope and fears and loves and desires and the same skin in the game.

"For me, that's what I love about the story. One parent goes, 'I love my kids', and the other parent goes, 'I love my kids... oh, we both love our kids and we want our children to thrive - what do we need to do to make that happen?' More than just tolerating, they find they have things in common."

The Smeds and the Smoos is also an important story for Andoh, who explained her remarkably personal connection to the tale: "When my parents got married, my grandmother and my mother's English, white family were very opposed to the marriage.

"Nobody turned up to the wedding or anything. But the minute I was born, everybody came back together." Much like in the tale when the baby Smed-Smoo allows both sides to put aside their differences and come together to love and cherish the little one.

The Smeds and the Smoos is just one wonderful part of Andoh's CV - as many will most likely recognise her from Bridgerton, where she stars as the strong-willed Lady Danbury.

The breakout hit landed on Netflix on December 25th 2020 and has grown in scale and scope since, with spin-offs announced for the already-expansive world. It has often been praised for its truly diverse ensemble cast, especially in a typically white-washed genre – something Andoh is proud of, too.

"We get to produce a show that has lots of will-they-won't-they, lots of intrigue and stuff that takes people away from the pressures and challenges of everyday life – and we get to do it in a way that says everybody is welcome.

"Any race, any sexuality, you can have different ideas about the role of a woman in the world – it's all there for you and you get your say."

Adjoa Andoh plays Lady Danbury in Bridgerton
Adjoa Andoh as Lady Danbury in Bridgerton. Netflix

As for her character, Lady Danbury, Andoh is equally full of praise for the feisty noblewoman - especially in a genre where women can have very little agency.

"She's always strategic and she will always have a finger on the pulse of what's going on around her. She will be doing it not just for her own success, but she will be doing it to support and encourage and protect others. That was really important to me.

"She's a bit like an Oprah character where she comes through and struggles to get into a position of power and success, and then opens the door for other people to come through - a bit like Shonda [Rhimes, Bridgerton creator] actually."

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Andoh added: "Like our grandmothers and our aunties and those women who take what life has given them and tried to make it as good as they possibly can. They love fiercely and they protect fiercely - and they remonstrate fiercely as well. These were all important to me to celebrate in the character of Lady Danbury."

As for the future, Andoh will be playing Richard III in a production she is also directing and will be starring in the upcoming Bridgerton spin-off Queen Charlotte, as well as the third season of the period drama.

That's not all – Andoh wouldn't say no to another Donaldson adaptation either: "If anybody wants to put me in [animations], I'm available!"

The Smeds and the Smoos will air on BBC One on Christmas Day at 2.30pm.

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