Rise to power

Rise to power

By Michael Pickard
March 9, 2023


Bridgerton creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes introduces spin-off prequel Queen Charlotte, as members of the cast preview what’s in store for fans of the Netflix period drama.

Shonda Rhimes

Since it launched in 2020, Netflix period drama Bridgerton has become nothing less than a cultural phenomenon. From executive producer Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy), the series introduced Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor), the eldest daughter of the powerful Bridgerton family as she makes her debut in Regency London’s competitive marriage market.

But as her older brother rules out potential suitors, the high society scandal sheet written by the mysterious Lady Whistledown casts aspersions on Daphne, who soon finds a spark with the desirable and rebellious Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page).

Romantic and scandalous in equal measure, the series – based on the novels by Julia Quinn – returned for a second season in 2022 as the focus of the story moves to Anthony, Daphne’s older brother. Driven by his duty to uphold the family name, Anthony’s search seems ill-fated until Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley) and her younger sister Edwina (Charithra Chandran) arrive from India.

A third season is now in production, but before that a prequel series will invite viewers to learn more about one of the show’s central characters. Queen Charlotte will follow the young Charlotte’s rise to prominence and power, revealing how her marriage to King George sparked a great love story and a societal shift inherited by the characters in Bridgerton.

Golda Rosheuvel (Queen Charlotte), Ruth Gemmell (Lady Violet Ledger Bridgerton) and Adjoa Andoh (Lady Agatha Danbury) reprise their roles from the main series, while new cast members include India Amarteifio (young Queen Charlotte), Corey Mylchreest (young King George) and Arsema Thomas (young Agatha Danbury).

Speaking at a global fan event previewing the series, which launches worldwide on May 4, the cast and Rhimes discussed what’s in store in the six-part drama and how they found a balance between older and younger versions of the same characters.

Golda Rosheuvel plays the older Queen Charlotte

What was most exciting about getting to tell this origin story and explore another time period in the Bridgerton world?
Shonda Rhimes: I really loving the fact we could expand the universe and show people how the Bridgerton world that they know came to be. Plus, I was fascinated by the romance between Queen Charlotte and King George and wondered how that began.

Where do we find our characters in the early stages of the story?
Rhimes: When we first meet young Charlotte, she is just about to be married off to a man she does not know, and King George is also about to be married off to a woman he doesn’t know. So we’re meeting them both at starting points where they’re very unsure if they want to be married to one another. The king has to get married and she’s forced into this position. Then we see young Agatha before she was Lady Danbury, just when she was Mrs Danbury. We get to see her world, and that’s pretty exciting too. You see Violet as a 12-year-old. There’s something really wonderful about getting to see Violet in that environment and just seeing how her personality evolves. I feel like you can see the Violet we know in this life.

This series also has a storyline set within the current day Bridgerton timeline. How does it weave into the overall narrative?
Rhimes: I’m really excited that we get to tell the stories in two timelines. I feel like that makes it feel special and you get to see how the stories from the past reflect or educate you on the stories from the future. For all of the characters, you get to see the growth and who they become, which is really nice when you’re juxtaposing against the young versions of themselves.

Adjoa Andoh and Ruth Gemmell reprise their roles in Bridgerton

What can fans look forward to in this new series?
Rhimes: One of the reasons why I wanted to delve into the past of these women is romance stories don’t usually include women of a certain age. I really wanted to tell the stories of these women and who they are and how they came to be. So I feel like fans can look forward to some really exciting moments. There’s some very romantic moments and some very surprising moments, which I think are endearing and build the world and fill it out in a way that they’ve never seen before.

India, how did you win the role of young Charlotte?
India Amarteifio: I got a brief to say that I was auditioning for something in the Bridgerton sphere. I didn’t exactly know what it was but I was like, ‘Sign me up.’ I did my first audition but didn’t hear anything back. Then I got another round where I met Tom Verica, our director, and some of the Shondaland team. It was lovely and really cool, really calm. I had a coughing fit, I choked, so much so I had to end my Zoom call and recuperate. So again, I thought this is not going to go my way. Then a couple of auditions later I had a chemistry read with Corey and Arsema, the first time meeting someone not on Zoom. It was a five-month process and we jumped straight into rehearsals and filming.

How is young Charlotte similar or different to the Queen we meet in Bridgerton?
Amarteifio: What’s really nice about Queen Charlotte is there’s so much time between our show and the Bridgerton we’ve all come to know and love, which for us as actors is great because it gives us the liberty of creating our own characters. You know Queen Charlotte, King George and Agatha Danbury but you don’t know the origin story. There’s enough time for them to be completely different people and for us to create new characters.

India Amarteifio as the young Charlotte meeting the future king (Corey Mylchreest)

How did you reference or adapt Golda Rosheuvel’s performance and make it into your own?
Amarteifio: Shonda and Tom and everyone at Shondaland were very clear from the beginning that they didn’t want me to emulate anything that Golda had done. They were very clear on the fact this Charlotte is her own. I am in control of who she becomes and the script aids that. The writing is so strong that you get glimmers of the Queen Charlotte we see in Bridgerton. It’s just nice to be able to play someone who’s really free, young and youthful and going into this whole new experience a bit like me. Coming into the Bridgerton family and fandom is very overwhelming and amazing and there’s so much to take in, and it’s very similar to Charlotte’s experience of coming into the British monarchy as a migrant. It was great to channel those nerves into the performance.

Corey, we don’t know much about King George from Bridgerton. How did you prep for this role?
Mylchreest: James Fleet, the older King George, does such a great job of showing him when whatever it is has taken hold of him, that you don’t know who he is when he’s younger. My job is to discover that. Both of our characters [King George and Queen Charlotte] are real characters so there’s a lot of history to dive into. There’s a brilliant biography of George by Andrew Roberts and there’s so much new information since 2015, since the opening of royal libraries. We know more about him now than we ever have. I delved into a lot of research. The character that is written as George is slightly different from the research, so blending the two of them became quite important, as well as trying to bring your own personal or imagined connection to those life experiences. I think of it as a triangle between those three things. I find music incredibly useful, and a character book filled with journal entries from him and backstory and script analysis. The rest of it was just with these guys on the day.

Queen Charlotte launches worldwide on May 4

What challenges do Charlotte and George face in the early stages of their story?
Mylchreest: Both King George and Queen Charlotte are two characters who are experiencing some kind of pressure. Queen Charlotte’s is much more systemic and King George’s is much more of a familial and personal basis from the crown, which for him is also his family. But the stakes also involve the entire country. We discover that these two people are constantly trying to escape their duty. Queen Charlotte is literally trying to jump over walls to escape her duty. George is a little more subtle but they’re both trying to do that. In that moment, you have two people who live in a world and a society where no one really allows themselves to be seen with them or sees anyone else. These two people are actually desperate to be seen for who they are and not their roles and duty. That’s the spark of their love and that’s what grows.

Arsema, what drives Agatha at this stage in life?
Thomas: She’s from England, so she’s seen society like this all of her life. In her mind there is no chance of it changing, and so there is that frustration in the stagnation of where she is. Then when she meets Queen Charlotte, she represents this change. Her coming is almost a catalyst for Lady Danbury finally stepping into the power that she’s always had but never had the opportunity to go for.

What inspiration did you use to prepare for your role?
Thomas: I did a lot of reading. Because Lady Danbury doesn’t exist in historical records, it was really fun to read fiction about women who were in similar situations. I read Tar Baby by Toni Morrison, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I made a very big Spotify playlist specifically for this character I listened to all the time.

Arsema Thomas as the young Agatha Danbury

Golda and Adjoa, did both of you meet and speak to India and Arsema about your characters?
Adjoa Andoh: We had lovely chats on the phone and talked about the character and the history and how that person would have been in the world at that time. Arsema asked me how I felt about Lady Danbury, what did I do with the character and how I thought she navigated the world and we worked backwards. As an actor, what a gift and a rare opportunity to get to talk to someone playing a younger version of you.

Golda Rosheuvel: We did meet, we had a chat. Being a veteran actress, I’ve been in positions where I’ve done a role somebody else has done, from Laurence Olivier [Othello] to Emma Thompson [Angels in America] and to take on somebody else’s idea is really interesting. But for me, I wanted India to be authentic in her own skin taking on this role. It had to come from her own truth. To be able to give that to the next generation, to the next amazing actress coming up in this industry, is such a great privilege. That was my first and foremost thing for India to do – to take it, be authentic and tell your truth.

The new series tells stories over two distinct timelines

How was working on the series different from working on Bridgerton?
Gemmell: For me, it wasn’t that different because our world we three inhabit is still very much that Bridgerton world. We had familiar faces from crew, we had DOP Jeffrey Jur, we had director Tom Verica, so it’s like coming home.

Rosheuvel: These guys [the younger cast] would be in the morning, we’d be in in the afternoon and India and I would high-five in the corridor and pass the baton. In that George and Charlotte relationship, to have the air of the younger characters there on set as myself and James are coming in was really interesting and really beautiful to absorb. I welcomed that in that respect, but it was familiar.

What do you hope fans take from Queen Charlotte?
Amarteifio: All of us put so much love and time and energy – we gave everything to this and we just hope that at least one person comes away feeling some kind of emotion, whether it’s happiness, sadness, joy, whatever that is. For me, at least, I will feel fulfilled because if we can evoke some kind of emotion and tell some kind of story and it resonates with someone and someone feels seen, someone feel valued and spoken for, then I think that’s all we can do as actors.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,