Consider the ton well and truly ready for the return of Bridgerton as season 2 lands on Netflix on 25th March.
With everyone desperate to read more from Lady Whistledown and her scandalous gossip, Radio Times magazine spoke with lead star Jonathan Bailey, who plays Anthony Bridgerton, about sex scenes and how he feels with the spotlight well and truly on him.
If that's not enough, Radio Times also caught up with sisters from the Sharma family, Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran about what we can expect from the newcomers on the scene.
Without further ado, prepare to enter the world of Bridgerton once more below.
Jonathan Bailey: 'Dance scenes and sex scenes help propel the narrative forward'
By: Kirsty Lang
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Prepare yourself for heaving breasts, rakish behaviour and plenty of ballroom dancing. The Bridgertons are back. The much-anticipated second season opens on a shot of their wisteria-covered London mansion. There are horses and carriages waiting to take the eight siblings and their mother to court for the annual debutantes’ ball. It is 1814, but there is no mention of the Napoleonic Wars or the Congress of Vienna. All eyes are on Anthony Bridgerton. The young Viscount has decided to give up cavorting with actresses and opera singers and settle down. Once inside the well-upholstered carriage with his younger brothers, he explains he will be drawing up a list of suitable debutantes and that his intended must be “tolerable, suitable, have good child-bearing hips and half a brain”.
When Bridgerton, based on the Regency romance novels by Julia Quinn, launched on Netflix over Christmas 2020, it soon became the streaming service’s biggest original series, viewed by 82 million households in the first four weeks. The conscious casting of Black and brown actors as British aristocrats turned the conventional world of period drama on its head. This was something radically new, attracting viewers from around the world not used to seeing themselves represented on screen in corsets and bonnets.
There was some disappointment among fans when they learnt that the dishy Duke of Hastings (played by Regé-Jean Page), who married Anthony’s younger sister Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), would not be returning for a second season. But Netflix says the intention was always to mirror the format of Quinn’s novels – there will be a one-season arc for each of the eight Bridgerton siblings as they enter the marriage market.
Anthony Bridgerton is played by 33-year-old Jonathan Bailey, a familiar face on British TV from his roles in W1A and Broadchurch, and an award-winning stage actor. I meet him in the evening as he emerges from rehearsals for a West End play. Mike Bartlett’s Cock is about a gay man who is torn after falling in love with a woman and Bailey is playing the lead. Are there any parallels with his role in Bridgerton? “None at all,” he says, laughing. Bailey is gay, but in keeping with the Bridgerton ethos is playing a straight romantic lead. Was that deliberate on the part of the producers? “No. My sexuality never came up in my initial conversations with them. I don’t think it was ever an issue,” says Bailey.
He knew from the moment he was first cast that he would play the lead in season 2. “I’d read the book so I knew my character, Anthony, would have a lot of stuff to deal with and it would be an interesting progression.” The Viscount is a classic Mr Rochester. He’s brooding and arrogant and in this new season finds himself at the heart of a love triangle with two Indian sisters, Edwina and Kate Sharma, newly arrived from Bombay. “It’s interesting to get behind these Heathcliff and Darcy characters and explore why romantic male figures are so harsh and toxic towards women,” says Bailey.
His mentor going into this second season was Dynevor. Having played the lead herself, she advised Bailey “to get fit, eat healthily and get as much sleep as possible” because he’d be working 14 to 15 hours a day. “Phoebe was great at counselling me, because it’s not something you can explain to your friends and family, who you don’t see for weeks on end. Filming after the success of the first season and during a pandemic made it particularly intense.” Bailey has now written a notebook that he’ll pass on to his successor: “It’s a Bridgerton guide for the next sibling who plays the lead.”
Netflix has spared no expense in making their English costume drama, with a reported budget of $7 million per episode, and the production is epic in scale. Fifty per cent of the show is shot on location in palaces and grand country houses including Hampton Court, Wilton House in Salisbury and Windsor Great Park. The other 50 per cent is shot in a purpose-built studio in Uxbridge on the outskirts of London. Arriving there for a set visit in the autumn, I thought I’d got the wrong address because from the outside it looks like an industrial estate with colossal warehouses. Once inside, though, I felt like I’d walked through the wardrobe into a Narnia version of Regency Bath or London, with cobbled streets and elegant mansions.
I was shown around by the production designer Will Hughes-Jones, who oversees teams of highly skilled carpenters, drapers, set painters and prop buyers. We began our tour at the home of the Featherington family. Opening their large blue front door with its ornate knocker was like walking into a real house, with carpets, stucco walls, chandeliers, thick swags of fabric draped over the windows and lots of ornate furniture. “The Featheringtons are very blingy – they’re the Kardashians of the series – so they want the latest thing,” says Hughes-Jones, who has done huge amounts of research into the period to get every detail right. “There was a very fashionable Regency designer called Thomas Hope who was into black and gold. He was the Versace of his day, and we have remade furniture from his original catalogues.”
Apart from the attention to detail, the other striking aspect of the set is the scale of the rooms, which are very spacious, with high ceilings, partly because they need to look grand but also big enough to accommodate the cameras. There can be 500 people on set for the ballroom scenes, which can take up to five days to shoot.
The first ball of season 2 is particularly spectacular, as it was filmed in the Great Conservatory at Syon House in west London. Because it’s under the Heathrow flight path, they had to film in the middle of the night. With 100 extras and a Steadicam operator following his every step, Bailey couldn’t afford to put a foot wrong. “Last year I was at the back of the shot, sipping lemonade and giggling with my on-screen brothers during the ball scenes. This time I had to focus, but when we finally stepped out onto the dancefloor it did feel like a performance.” This shouldn’t have proved a problem for Bailey, who won a best supporting actor Olivier award in 2019 for his role in the West End revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical, Company.
Bailey says his two biggest challenges were the dancing and the sex scenes, which, in his words, are “the heart of the show”. He had private sessions with the choreographer Jack Murphy, who worked with him on illustrating Anthony’s character through dance: “I think the dance scenes and the sex scenes help propel the narrative forward and you can see relationships change as characters dance together.”
For the sex scenes – of which there are many – Bridgerton employs an intimacy coordinator. “It’s amazing how that whole industry has just come on, even in a year. There are new tricks to the trade – little cushions – and it’s amazing what you can do with a half-inflated netball,” he says. My brow furrows with confusion. What exactly do you do with a half-inflated netball? “Well, if there are two people doing a sex scene, the rule is they must have three barriers separating them and there are certain acts where a half-inflated netball can allow for movement without having to connect physically. It’s pretty silly really and we have some hilarious moments, but it makes it less awkward.”
Bailey grew up in a large, close-knit family in Oxford, so he understands the Bridgerton sibling dynamics. “I’m the youngest of four, which is something I spoke about with [the showrunner] Chris Van Dusen when we first met. I think it gives me a perspective of what being the oldest is like. But the difference between me and Anthony is I’m the only boy and I’m really close to my three sisters. Family is so important,” he says with feeling. Is that one of the things that attracted him to the series? “Absolutely. What can go wrong with a big lavish fantasy show which is essentially about family?”
Simone Ashley: 'I did a bootcamp to learn to horse ride for Bridgerton'
By: Kelly-Anne Taylor
Couples locking eyes across ballrooms or stealing brief glances over pianofortes seem archaic in comparison to Bridgerton’s reimagining of Regency England. The cast is diverse, the costumes are vibrant, the Bridgerton soundtrack consists of classical covers of chart-topping hits and there is a lot (and I mean a lot) of steamy sex.
Season 1 ended with Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) happily settled into married life – and now the spotlight falls on Viscount Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey), the eldest of the Bridgerton clan, as he sets out to find a dutiful wife. His head is turned by Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran), an educated, stunning young woman who ticks all his boxes (ie she’s unassuming, malleable and devoted). However, something stands in Anthony’s way and it comes in the form of Kate Sharma, Edwina’s older sister, an unashamedly opinionated woman who doesn’t think Anthony is a suitable match for her sister.
Taking on the role of Kate is Simone Ashley, whom you may recognise from Sex Education, as the vain Olivia. And it was, in fact, her role in Netflix’s hit teen drama that caught the eye of Bridgerton’s showrunner, Chris Van Dusen.
“It wasn’t a long audition process. It all happened so quickly,” she explains over Zoom. “It’s only recently that the penny has dropped. The first season of Bridgerton came out and everyone was talking about it. Within two weeks I was auditioning for the role of Kate – I self-taped, met Johnny [Bailey] and then I got the part. Before I knew it I was in wig fittings and at horse-riding training.”
Everything is about to change for the 26-year-old Ashley, who was born in Surrey and at 16 moved to London, where she couch-surfed while trying to break into the industry. She completed nine months of a three-year course at drama school before quitting, travelling to LA and landing her first role. Praise has been attributed to Bridgerton for its diverse casting, but the lack of representation on screen never fazed Ashley when it came to achieving her own goals.
“I’ve never had a sense of doubt about anything in my career. I just thought, ‘I can play this part.’ I think it’s amazing that they decided to cast an Indian girl to play the lead. It’s good for me. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
“I was quite a westernised kid. I grew up between here and California, watching Disney movies and Tarantino films and listening to Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones. I went to an English-speaking school. Because of that environment, it [representation on screen] was never really something I considered. I remember watching Mindy Kaling and being, like, ‘Wow!’ But I also watched Cinderella and there was never a shade of doubt there: the thought, ‘I couldn’t be Cinderella because I’m a brown girl’ was never in my language.”
Preparation for her Bridgerton role meant learning to ride, attending dance rehearsals and undergoing accent training. “I’d only ridden once before with some friends in Wales,” she recalls. “I did a bootcamp to learn to ride for this. I like scary sports and, having high adrenaline, I love a challenge. My character Kate is a born rider – she has been riding since she was out of the womb, basically. I had to learn so fast and the fear kicked me in the arse – ‘Even if you’re scared, you have to overcome this’. It was a big confidence-builder, and I really enjoyed it.”
The intimate scenes that Bridgerton is renowned for also require confidence. Was she nervous about performing sex scenes?
“I wasn’t apprehensive. I’ve always been really confident in my sexuality and in my body. Like most teenage girls, there were years where I was insecure and in my head about myself, but I’ve learnt to really have fun with it, enjoy myself and love myself more.
“I am also confident that I can speak up if I’m not feeling comfortable with anything on set. We were in a very safe environment and we worked with an incredible intimacy coordinator who encouraged us to portray what it is for the female character to experience pleasure. That’s important for us to see, because it’s not like it doesn’t happen.”
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Charithra Chandran: 'No one would think there would be two Indian women playing period drama leads'
By: Kelly-Anne Taylor
Most actors, when cast as the lead in a hit Netflix show, would relinquish their back-up career plan. Not Charithra Chandran. The Oxford PPE graduate plays Edwina Sharma in season 2 of Bridgerton, but still has a job offer from a global management consulting firm up her sleeve. You know, just in case...
“I graduated in 2019. I had a job offer at a company and they offered me a year out – to travel or do a Masters. I thought, ‘I’m going to use this year and get all the acting out of my system and then I can settle into the 60-hour-a-week job,’” says the 25-year-old Chandran. “Six months later, the pandemic happened. But before that I’d had the best six months of my life doing local theatre and short films. Something clicked – I had finally found my purpose.”
But acting didn’t always seem an accessible profession. Chandran was born in Scotland before moving to India at the age of two with her father for a few years. They returned to the UK, where she attended boarding school from six to 11, moving back to the family home in Oxford during her teenage years.
“I was that obnoxious child at three years old who would put on a play and make all the family sit and watch – but I never knew I was going to be an actor. Factually, I knew there would be fewer roles open to me [as a woman of Indian descent]. Bridgerton totally changed that. Even a few years ago, I don’t think anyone would ever think that there would be two Indian women playing the leads in a period drama.”
Landing her place in the drama was a long slog. She originally auditioned for the role of Kate, but was unsuccessful. Then she was asked to audition for Edwina. “I was at the allotment with my mum when I got the call from my agent saying, ‘You’ve got a screen test with Johnny [Bailey] and Simone [Ashley] and it’s tomorrow. Oh – and you’re the only one they’re considering.’ Edwina represents the reality for
so many women, especially in India, so I really wanted to do justice to the role.
“India is progressing so beautifully and rapidly now, but I think it would be fair to say that, for a lot of women, their plight is still to be the perfect mum, wife and daughter – which are all such important things. As an Indian, your family is the number one thing in your life.”
In the series, Kate says in reference to her sister Edwina: “She has to work twice as hard as everyone else.” Did that resonate with Chandran? “Minorities are often alluded to as being there to tick boxes, to fill a quota. I cannot tell you how unbelievably invalidating that is. It penetrates our minds and makes us feel like we’re not worthy of success. I had people at university tell me, ‘You only got the lead in that show because they needed to have a person of colour in it.’ It makes you doubt everything.
“If I’m being really honest and vulnerable, in my head I’m like, ‘Oh God, if people don’t like me in this or if I’ve done a bad job, I’ve ruined it for my entire community.’ When you are a minority you invariably feel the weight of representing your entire community. That’s not imposed by anyone – but it’s something I feel.”
Bridgerton is streaming now on Netflix, with the second season due to land on Friday 25th March 2022. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our guide to the best series on Netflix and best movies on Netflix, or visit our TV Guide.