From Harper’s BAZAAR
When Lady Danbury speaks, you listen. The discerning noblewoman of Bridgerton, played by Adjoa Andoh, commands attention when she enters the room—often with an assist from a stately top hat, and always with a powerful voice. In a town full of gossips, she speaks her mind outright, loud and clear. But on the phone from South London, Andoh’s robust alto—which has narrated audio books and performed in plays and radio dramas—switches to a soft squeak as she calls out to her dog mid-conversation. “Come on! Let’s go!”
She and her pup are taking a sunset stroll in a park near home, when we reach her. Though freezing and muddy, the walking grounds are an extension of home, next to the church where Andoh got married, the school her kids attended, and the area where many of her friends live. From where she’s standing, she can see London’s skyscrapers blend with the horizon. Birds chirp in the background.
It’s perhaps a welcome moment of peace and quiet following the pandemonium of Bridgerton’s big debut. After premiering on Christmas, it became the fifth-largest show to debut on Netflix with over 63 million households streaming worldwide. “How mad is that?” Andoh says of the staggering numbers. In a time of isolation and political unrest, the Shonda Rhimes-produced period drama was a welcome balm. “It’s such a strange time,” she says. “On the one hand, we’ve got COVID, and lockdown, and people worrying about their futures. You’ve got crazy-town on Capitol hill. We’ve got Brexit. And then in the middle of all this uncertainty, we’ve got this little shiny nugget called Bridgerton.”
Andoh hasn’t followed the tweets about the show because she’s from the “cassette generation,” as she puts it, but if you’re looking for a history buff, she’s your woman. The actress was already familiar with the Regency period before Bridgerton. Her mother was a history teacher, she grew up reading English novelists like Georgette Heyer and Jean Plaidy, and her past work included narrating a history on the Hanover dynasty (the house of Bridgerton’s King George III). The real work came in figuring out where the discerning Lady Danbury fits into it all. “Who are the people she likes, who are the people she’s suspicious of, what is the world that she knows, what are the other world’s that she knows and doesn’t talk about?” Andoh said of dissecting her character. “She has an appetite for life, a sort of delight in the delicious that I really [wanted to show].”
Here, Andoh weighs in on Bridgerton‘s race conversation, what it’s like to work with Regé-Jean Page, and hopes for a possible second season .
Lady Danbury has become kind of a fan favorite.
Do you think so? … I like Lady Danbury. I see a lot of my mom, and my aunts in her. I just see a lot of all those women who have had to just get on with life, who’ve had to pull up their skirts, and girded their loins, and go, “Okay, what’s the next thing I have to deal with? Okay. Let’s deal with it. Let’s deal with it with humor, and optimism, and cheerfulness, and a good healthy dose of skepticism as well.”
I don’t think she’s a woman who suffers fools gladly. … And I just think there’s a lot of aunties, and moms, and godmothers, and all sorts who are like that. I suppose I wanted to pay tribute to them with Lady Danbury. You can be an older woman and still be full of fire, and fun, and some wickedness, have elegance, and flamboyance, and be fabulous, and do all of those things as well. And you can also be someone with a lot of heart, and perception, and vision. I wanted to say hooray to those women.
Lady Danbury and Simon have a really strong kind of mother-son rapport. What was Regé like as a scene partner?
Regé’s lovely. He could be my son age-wise. I have kids his age. What I love about Regé, I suppose we share a sort of an African-British history in our own personal background. We share a real love of music, and of debate. We have great debates about politics, about philosophy, all those sorts of things. When we were hanging about we’d get deeply into, and I think what I love about him is he’s a very thoughtful, skillful man. And I really enjoy working with people who are in their heads, and their hearts, and he’s certainly one of those people. So, working with him as a professional person was really great, as well as working with him as a man, and a personality of his own because he’s a really smart actor. And it’s great because you sort of have to joust back and forth with each other.
And we did that a lot, and we really enjoyed it because we knew we were doing it in a loving way to get the best, and the most out of the scene for each other’s benefit, and for the benefit of the show. Professionally and personally, he was an absolute delight to work with. And I think that’s a friendship that will sustain.
A quote from Lady Danbury, from Simon’s younger years has stuck with a lot of audiences. She says, “I made myself frightening. I sharpened my wit, my wardrobe, my eye, and I made myself the most terrifying creature in any room I entered.” What did that line mean to you?
When I read that, I was really thrilled that Chris had given it to Lady Danbury because I think that a lot of people in life feel like that. I’m not surprised that that’s the phrase that’s resonated with lots of people. … That way of having to try and overcome your fear by pushing yourself out into the world in a way that dazzles so that nobody sees what’s going on underneath, I think lots of us do that. I don’t necessarily think it’s a good thing. I know it’s a way of surviving.
It’s very interesting when you have to deliver those words to a tiny little boy who’s standing in front of you. I found that very moving. You get lost in the character, so I’m looking at the little boy who could be my son, and I’m saying this to him. And as a mother, I have said not dissimilar words to my children at various moments in their lives when they’ve been feeling wounded, or sad, or confused. And I was also looking at my little four-year-old self, and saying that back to her. So, I think it’s something that really resonates with lots of people because I think it’s something that lots of us experience in life. And it doesn’t matter if you’re 52, or 12, or 22, or 72, we all experience that stuff. And that tiny little bit of us that’s about three or four never goes away.
What do you imagine Lady Danbury’s friendship with Simon’s mother was like?
Oh, I imagine that those two young women laughed a lot. I imagine that they had great fun, great chats. If you think of the friendship between Penelope and Eloise, I think that’s what her friendship would be like with Simon’s mother. That they had dreams, and hopes, and ambitions for their life. They were full of fun, and mischief. I think for Lady Danbury to see a close friend die in that way, in those circumstances, at that age, would have been a sorrow that she would carry with her for the rest of her life. And anything that she were able to do to protect, raise up, love, encourage the child of her dear friend would be something that she would certainly put her shoulder to the wheel of making sure that he was okay.
I have seen some comments about how viewers would have liked to see more conversations about race in the show, but also others that say they were content with not having to witness the suffering of people of color on screen. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.
Here’s the thing. I’m absolutely clear that I’m not interested in color-blind casting. Those days are gone. I am who I am. And so for me, looking at the cast across the piece, I was really interested in going from Queen Charlotte. So, Queen Charlotte, many historians will absolutely back this now, is the descendant of Alfonso III of Portugal, and an African… Well, she would have been an African woman. She would have been enslaved, or his mistress, or his concubine. The Portuguese were the first big slavers. So, I would go with she was enslaved. What happened to her somewhere down the line, I don’t know. But that is who Queen Charlotte is descended from.
When she was born, there was concern about her, this is a quote, her “wide nose, and her ugly thick lips.” When she came to the courts in England, people talked in disparaging terms about her “mulatto” appearance. So, it’s there. And once you look at paintings of her, once you know that, you can absolutely see the African heritage in her face. You can. So, for me, that’s a really interesting starting point to sort of talk about, well, if we don’t know that Queen Charlotte was of a variety of heritages other than ones that we are expecting to think she is, what else don’t we know that is a fact? So, a fifth of the British Navy at this time [were African]. If you go to Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, and look at the frieze of Nelson as he’s dying after the Battle of Trafalgar, he’s being held by an African sailor. There is a presence of a multiplicity of races in this country that’s never been acknowledged in a costume drama until this one. Now, this is a Shonda Rhimes drama. It’s not a historical documentary.
So, the show takes historical fact, and then it runs with it. And it makes it into its own thing in its own delicious world. That’s what it’s doing. Slavery is still happening across the world. There’s a level of poverty and destitution that’s happening across the world, and none of these things are featured in this show. However, to ignore the fact that people of color were present in society at the time would be wrong. People of color also received status, title in society at the king’s behest. We spoke with a leading historian, Dr. David Olusoga, who [discussed] more ways in which this presence would have been in the country at the time from a historical perspective. And so elements of the truth of these situations are woven into the fantasies that Julia originally wrote in her novels, and come together in this sort of hyped up, Shondaworld of Regency England. The Featheringtons would never have been seen in tangerine, and lime green, and all the other fabulous colors that you see them in, that’s factually incorrect. However, the cut is correct.
So, it’s you take some facts, and you take some imagination, and you weave them together to get the effect that you want. That’s what drama does, and this show is no different. But I would say, this show is more factually accurate by having people of color in than doing a show of this period with only white people. That’s my final word on that.
It really has shed light on something that we have, as a society, very much ignored, especially with the perpetuity of very white-dominant stories from this era.
It’s so lovely that you can be of any background, anyone can go, “Oh, yes. I see myself reflected in it somewhere.” I absolutely love that, and then having been welcomed in, you can just get lost in the story as it unfolds.
If we were to get a Season 2, what would you like to see explored with Lady Danbury? I personally would like to see her have some suitors.
[Laughs] Of course, she should have some suitors. Come on.
I think she should have some [suitors]. Well, I don’t know. I think Lady Danbury operates in high society, and then in slightly funkier society as well. I think that’s definitely already going on. So, I’d love to see more of that. I would love to see more of her friendships develop. I love her friendship with Lady Bridgerton. They both do strategizing. I think Ruth Gemmell is a goddess. She’s a brilliant actress. I would love to see the friendships of the older women. … I just imagine this little gang of Lady Featherington, Lady Danbury, Lady Bridgerton, and the Queen. Can you imagine the four of them together? That’s a good bunch of women there. I’d love to see some stuff with them.
I really think that Lady Danbury could be a real plate of encouragement for Penelope and Eloise. I think she’s got space in her to be an encouragement for the Bridgerton boys. And also, I’m really intrigued by the relationship of her and the Queen. I think Lady Danbury and the Queen have some history. They’ve been in the top echelons of society for some time. Who got to court first? Lady Danbury or the Queen? How did they support each other? Did they support each other? That stuff’s really interesting to me.
But finally, the last thing that I’m quite interested in is if Will Mondrich were to stay, he’s trying to make his way in the world as a businessman. I wonder if there’s any leg up to be given there. That would be interesting. And then obviously, of course, there’s a sort of grandmotherly role with Simon and Daphne’s baby.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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