Bridgerton's Simone Ashley on How the Second Season Focuses on 'What Women Want'

CUL PS Simone Ashley
Simone Ashley attends a dinner to celebrate the launch of Valentino Make Up at NoMad London on November 17, 2021 in London, England. David M. Benett/Getty

"I want to be seen for my talent. I don't want to be seen for the color of my skin."

Imagine you're an actor looking for your next gig, and then poof, you're cast as the lead on Bridgerton, but have no idea how big the show actually is. That's exactly what happened to Simone Ashley, star of the second season of the Netflix period drama (March 25). "I didn't have a furnished apartment where I could sit down and be like, 'Oh, this is what everyone's talking about.' I was just always on the move." This season focuses on a new pair of love interests. "Each season is based on a different sibling coming out into the marriage market in the 18th century and finding love." Ashley plays Kate Sharma, the love interest of Lord Anthony Bridgerton, played by Jonathan Bailey. While Ashley's character was written to reflect the actress's background, it's not the focus of the season. "As an Indian woman, I want to be seen for my talent. I don't want to be seen for the color of my skin. And I felt that they understood that, and that's what they put into the show." Instead, the focus is on "what women want. It's about what we fall in love with. That's kind of rare."

Considering how massive Bridgerton is, were you nervous to take on the role of Kate Sharma?

Normally, I would have all those feelings. Like every other artist, I've spent so many hours waiting for the phone to ring. But Bridgerton fell in my lap at a very weird time in my life. It was the pandemic and half of my life was in Los Angeles and I was in London couch surfing. I was a bit like, where am I going to be? Life was nuts. I was filming Sex Education season 3 in Wales. I didn't have my feet on the ground. I was really like, what am I going to do when I wrap on Sex Ed? Then Bridgerton came. I didn't even have a TV. I didn't have a furnished apartment where I could sit down and be like, 'Oh, this is what everyone's talking about.' I was just always on the move. It was one of those shows where I got the job and by next week we were in it. We were in wig fittings. We were in rehearsals. So if I'm honest, I didn't get a moment to process any of that. And I don't tend to go on social media too much. It sounds so weird that I'm even saying this, because now obviously when I look at my phone, I'm like, wow, I realize the scale of the show. I think another thing was, maybe it was stuff that I was going through in my life at the time, but I really resonated with the character and the love story. And me and Johnny Bailey had amazing chemistry that it felt very easy. I felt very lucky to walk into that role and that job.

Bridgerton’s Simone Ashley
Bridgerton. (L to R) Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton in episode 204 of Bridgerton. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022

It's wild that you were couch surfing and then all of a sudden you're on literally the biggest show in the world.

I remember being like, I just need one thing. Whatever it is, a commercial, I'll do anything. I just needed one thing, because I don't know what I'm going to do.

And then the world brings you everything.

Fell in my lap. It was really weird. It's actually weird saying it out loud now because I obviously don't sit around thinking about that all the time. I try and just do the work.

Can tell us more about this new season and your character?

It's interesting. I've never really spoken about that before. But I guess one thing that comes up, obviously, Bridgerton is known for its romantic scenes, but season two is quite different to season one. When we were rehearsing these sex scenes, we had an amazing intimacy coordinator and she was like, it's really important for us to portray the woman receiving and experiencing pleasure. And I was like, gosh, it's such a small detail, but it makes such a massive impact. And then I was talking to Julia Quinn and Johnny [Bailey] about telling the story from the female gaze and I started to understand it and realize it more. It's about what women want. It's about what we fall in love with. What Julia Quinn did with these amazing novels is it's all told from the female's point of view. That's kind of rare.

Bridgerton's Simone Ashley
Bridgerton. (L to R) Adjoa Andoh as Lady Danbury, Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma in episode 201 of Bridgerton. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022

Season two is still in the Bridgerton world we came to know in season one, but from a different perspective. Can you tell us more about this new direction?

Each season is based on a different sibling coming out into the marriage market in the 18th century and finding love. So for example, season one was based on the Duke and Daphne and Simon's story. Then it moves on to the next sibling in the Bridgerton household, which is Anthony Bridgerton, his backstory and him finding his match. And you learn more about the family. What's so amazing about the show is it really is a ripple effect. Even though it's about different siblings, you learn more and more about their family and they just grow stronger together. So I can only imagine by like the end of all the seasons, I wouldn't be surprised that they had superpowers. [laughs]

This is your first proper period piece. What was it like going back in time, and did you enjoy the pomp and circumstance of it all?

We had an amazing costume designer and an incredible costume department. It was such a privilege to be wearing such amazing dresses and costumes. You learn a lot about what women went through at that time and how it influenced their lives, their posture and their behavior. I've never been in a period drama before, so I was really lucky. I got to do horse riding training and dance rehearsals for ballroom dancing. It's such a beautiful language and it's a fairy tale. Even though there are dramatic stakes and scandals as there are in all of the Shondaland Universe. I just feel very lucky that my first [period drama] got to be the most colorful and romantic one.

Considering the scope of a production like this, how did COVID protocols impact your process?

I think we're incredibly privileged to have had access to go to work as much as we have been throughout this whole pandemic. As a production, we were very mindful of that. It may have been a bit more restrictive for us to socialize, and maybe do things we would have done normally if there wasn't a pandemic, but the fact that we were filming when certain people might have been in lockdown, or certain industries or people were struggling, it was a very privileged position to be in. I don't take that for granted, and I don't think anyone in the cast took that for granted. It was certainly an obstacle at times. But wasn't that how it was for everyone, no matter what industry? I think we were all just very grateful and we just all kept positive.

Bridgerton really was the leader in showing an authentically diverse cast in a period drama. How has that continued in season two?

It continues because that's what Bridgerton is. It's kind of in a world of its own. It's inclusive. I think what's so powerful about Bridgerton is it includes actors from all different kinds of backgrounds, and it's not so heavily commented on. I think in season one, there was an acknowledgement of certain character's backgrounds, which was incredibly important for them to include. But I think what's so wonderful about the show is it's inclusive, but it doesn't dehumanize anyone. It's all about real people with real problems and feelings that anyone can relate to. As an Indian woman, I want to be seen for my talent. I don't want to be seen for the color of my skin. And I felt that they understood that and that's kind of what they put into the show. In season two, [showrunner] Chris Van Dusen had an incredible idea of making sure there was diversity in his writer's room, and that one idea kind of brought me on to his set. Because we had Geetika [Lizardi], who was of Indian descent, and she came up to Chris and said, "Look, why don't we make the leading actress Indian? Why don't we make this character an Indian character? I think it would be an amazing idea." And Chris and her had discussions about it and he was like, "Sure." I think it just goes to show in Hollywood and film and TV and the whole industry if you are a showrunner or a producer or writer, how just having that idea and how much of a difference it makes.