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Actor Arsema Thomas on why she’s been waiting for her role in Bridgerton her whole life

Arsema Thomas plays Lady Danbury in Netflix series Queen Charlotte

In the enchanting world of Bridgerton, where love, scandal, and intricate storytelling converge, Arsema Thomas is the latest emerging talent to steal viewers' hearts. Portraying Young Agatha Danbury in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, Thomas had never even seen the original before landing this career-making role.

A few weeks post-release, we sat down with the rising star to unpack their beginnings as an actor, the show’s reception and future aspirations. Keep reading to learn more about how the series’ iconic sex scenes are coordinated, why Arsema wanted to get cast before tuning into the show herself, and how the people behind the scenes have influenced her…

Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story was released on Netflix a few weeks ago and it’s your first major role. Has your life changed already since release?

It's so strange because people say ’get ready for your life to change’ when landing a role like this, so you always expect the most drastic and biggest changes. But to be honest, the day of release almost felt like any other day, although of course everything has changed in the meantime. But I still have to clean the dishes and take out the trash.

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Can you tell us a bit about your journey as an actor? How did you get started and was this always your dream?

I had this inkling that I liked acting after my parents took me to a couple of classes as a kid and I realised it was the perfect outlet for me. I don’t really know when I started to think that this was it for me. I just remember feeling like it could never be for me, because I didn’t see myself in any of the content I was consuming. I didn’t look like anybody in it.

My parents were also worried because, if I went in and massively failed, it could destroy me, so they just wanted me to have the safety net of knowing that I had something to fall back on financially. Every university programme I went to had a great drama school and it started to bother me severely to see people who were able to do the thing that I always wanted to do but didn’t have the balls to do.

That was extremely confronting, so in the summer of 2017 I met with the head of the Yale School of Drama and asked her what to do next. She told me to apply to a summer programme and see if I liked learning about acting as much as I liked doing it. And I found out that I did.

So, knowing that, I moved to Paris without telling anybody beforehand and applied for whichever program in the city that would take me and give me a student visa. I got into Cours Florent and then I never looked back.

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Could you tell me how you were cast as Young Agatha Danbury?

I had actually never seen the show before! I don’t know if other actors feel this way, but when you see something that you feel like you could have been in yourself, it starts to bother you to the point where it becomes difficult to watch. I felt like I couldn’t watch it because I wanted to be in it myself, so I just ended up avoiding it.

I had an agent at the time in London and I told him that I wanted to be on it, because I wanted to have a reason to watch it other than to be a fan. They’d already started filming season two at this point, so he said there wasn’t much they could do.

But then, about two weeks later, he was like, ‘actually I just got this on my desk, maybe this is what you're looking for.’ It didn't even say what I was auditioning for, but it was a scene from season one of Bridgerton. I think the fact that I’d never seen it actually helped me because I could then put my own perspective on it.

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It’s been a few weeks since the release, what has the reception been like so far, as Bridgerton is such a beloved show?

That's such a good question. I think people are perceiving it well but that could also be because my whole Instagram algorithm is just showing me Queen Charlotte content. It’s probably not a real representation of the way it’s perceived, but people are definitely engaging with it. It’s been very nice to see people enjoy it because it’s been in the works for so long.

How would you introduce your character to someone that’s never watched the show?

She is the definition of hard exterior, soft interior. She’s a tough cookie with wit to boot but as tough and witty as she is on the outside, she is quite vulnerable on the inside. She fights for everybody in a way that’s quite reminiscent of some revolutionaries and civil rights activists. And I think to do that, you have to have a lot of empathy.

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Did you work with your co-star who plays the older version of Lady Danbury in preparation?

From the moment we got the parts, our director, and even Shonda Rhimes, wanted them to be quite independent from their OG counterparts in Bridgerton. Just from where Lady Danbury is in her life here, is aeons different from her older version. But I still wanted there to be something tying them together, like a shared history and a shared love of similar things even.

I chatted to Adjoa Andoh because I wanted to create little things like what her childhood was like, where she goes in the house when she’s scared; small details that were fun as an actor to play with when you have another person in the same role. They were decisions Adjoa had made in the seasons prior, so I wanted to honour the woman that she built.

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What is the biggest challenge you faced in bringing her to life?

What was really challenging for me was actually adjusting to the time period she lives in. It was a completely different world I had to build for myself in order to make it believable. Agatha knows this world more than anyone, she’s advising Charlotte constantly, so I had to make that seem natural.

So that was one thing, but then also just acting in costumes was very different from when I did it in drama school. Between the time that you go in for your take and the moment you put on the costume there’s maybe two to three hours. Because of the level of accuracy in the costumes and the focus on the details, I had to find ways to feel Agatha comfortable, rather than Arsema comfortable.

Were there any specific scenes or storylines that stood out to you personally?

Yes, actually. I think a lot of the scenes I had with Michelle Fairley who plays Augusta have really stood out to me. One, because it was nice to play next to somebody who also had to put on an accent during a scene. But also, she was so giving in those moments and the writing in these scenes was so fucking impeccable that it made it the easiest job I've ever had to do.

I knew in that moment what Agatha was feeling as she said those words. A lot of black people have been in similar moments but have never been able to arm themselves with the language to regain their power. There's something beautiful about being able to go back to that argument in a way and say what you always wanted to say in those moments.

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Bridgerton celebrates the diverse love stories we’ve not seen enough of on screen so far, how much did it mean to you to be a part of this show?

It felt like a full circle moment; it felt like I was finally doing what I was meant to be doing. It felt purposeful. It’s that moment where it beautifully overlaps - everything that you fight for and that you feel in the real-world colliding with something you’re getting paid for. It’s rare that that happens.

In my opinion, Bridgerton could have pushed the bounds even further and to feel like I’m now part of that being pushed further is one of the most exciting things I could imagine. It’s beautiful to feel a part of a moment where something goes over to a place we’ve never been before.

The authenticity of the sex scenes in Bridgerton has been celebrated, and there’s a big focus put on making filming these a safe space, by working with an intimacy coach on the scenes. Could you tell me a bit about that experience?

There's something really beautiful about, number one, reading the script. It says things like ‘and then they get it on, but only to the point where both actors feel comfortable.’ To see Shonda explicitly write that is amazing because it means that our comfort is a priority in the thought process.

I never even had to be worried about doing something I wouldn't feel comfortable with because it was already defined in the script. I even had two intimacy coordinators! That meant it was somebody else’s priority to make sure I was comfortable, and I was able to just do my job.

Every time we said cut, someone would check on me to see how I was doing. Then also, these scenes are really more about the narratives rather than gratuitous sex.

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What’s the biggest thing you learnt from being in this show that you’ll take forward to future projects?

What was really nice about this project was that it was new for a lot of us in the cast. We came in not knowing how other sets work, so we were able to almost say ‘f you’ to the hierarchy where usually the cast comes on top and the crew below.

There were beautiful moments where it felt like just one family regardless of the departments that we were in, where it didn’t matter whether you were in the title sequence or not. We would help each other out and that’s something I’ve learnt; that I like it when everyone around me is happy too, that's something I’ll definitely take forward.

What can we look forward to seeing from you next?

There's some stuff that I'm not allowed to talk about just yet, but I’ll be super excited to announce when I can. After doing this, I’m honestly just so hungry to do anything. I love stories, and I just want to read another story that I love and that I can be a part of! This has cracked open the entire world for me, which is scary but also super exciting!

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Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is out now on Netflix

Photographer Elizabeth Weinberg

Fashion Tosha Hartzog at The Wall Group

Fashion Ass Phill Jorda, Kaci White & Imari Alexander

Hair by Miles Jeffrey at The Wall Group

MUA Kymberli Williams

Casting & Production Jheanelle Feanny

Editorial Director Philipp Raheem

Words by Cailin Klohk


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