Bridgerton’s Luke Thompson on the global obsession with the series that brought the world of Regency to life
“I think it’s very easy to look at history and think, ‘Oh, you know, everything was different back then. We can’t possibly identify. We can’t possibly understand what it was like.‘ Well, they were all human. They were all still falling in love. They had family problems. To sort of feel that the world of Bridgerton bridges the gap between us and something a bit more traditional or nostalgic is really great,” smiles actor Luke Thompson who’s reprising his role of Benedict Bridgerton in the long-awaited second season of Bridgerton.
It’s a sunlit Monday morning after the BAFTA Awards and Kiln Theatre fundraiser, where some members of the ton joined forces in a Q&A session. Including Thompson himself. “It’s the first time that we’ve managed to sit down in a group and talk about the show. Last year there was none of this. I did one set of interviews on Zoom. They could see me, but I couldn’t see anyone. And that was it. So to be able to celebrate the series this time around, and to be able to talk about it with the cast and with everyone else, is special,” says the 33-year-old, sipping a cup of tea, while we chat via Zoom. His spirits were high, his wit was sharp, and bursts of laughter cut through our conversation. A sincere passion for the craft and humbleness seem to explain why Thompson and his playfully bohemian yet mysterious character, Benedict, are favorites amongst the fans.
If you’ve already caught up with the first season of the Netflix show that provided the much-needed escapism in some pretty dark hours of winter 2020 (82 million households watched Bridgerton in the first month alone), then you may know where the story’s heading next. The new season of the series follows Viscount Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey), the eldest Bridgerton sibling, who has a dutiful mission to find a suitable wife. But things won’t go as planned when a new family in town, The Sharmas (Simone Ashley, Charithra Chandran and Shelley Conn), joins the ton for this season, with Anthony also meeting his unexpected match. There’s grandeur, drama, scandal, sex and some more that you, dearest reader, should see for yourself.
Bridgerton, based on Julia Quinn’s books, may also have put Thompson in the spotlight, but he’s been honing his talent in the industry for years. He graduated from RADA in 2013 and created captivating performances onstage (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Julius Ceasar, Oresteia, Hamlet, King Lear) and onscreen (In The Club, Dunkirk, Misbehaviour). As we’re yet to see the actor taking front and center of the series, there’s no doubt Lady Whistledown herself would eagerly approve such undertaking. As do we.
“In season one, Benedict was led into that demi-monde world by that artist, but this season will be about him trying to find a little more for himself. And also, finding out what it actually means to be creative and facing the struggle of that. I can identify with this. As an actor, you could spend a lot of time either thinking ‘I’m the worst actor in the world, why would anyone ever employ me?‘ and then going, ‘Oh, actually, I’m fantastic.‘ Being creative means that you have to put both of those things aside. You do not have to compare yourself. You have to try and work on what you’ve got.”
Congratulations on the new season of Bridgerton. I had the chance to watch all the episodes.
The whole thing?!
Yes, yes. Netflix gave me a very special access. (laughing)
I’ve seen it all, but I won’t be giving out any spoilers. If you’re going to spill any tea, this will be on you. (laughing)
I’m well-trained. (laughing)
How excited are you about the new series?
It’s great. I’m so excited about it because, having watched the eight episodes of the show, the new season is absolutely Bridgerton. It’s absolutely what we know Bridgerton is. It’s in that same universe. But it’s also so different because, obviously, there’s a new lead.I think a great thing about the series is that there’s this sort of a conveyer belt of people coming to the floor. It means that each season has a completely different flavour. This one is exactly like that. You have a whole new family coming to the floor, The Sharmas. You’ll also get to know a lot more about the Bridgertons, as you know. And it’s nice to be in something where you feel there’s no comparison.
There can be no comparison as this does feel different to the first series because it has a different energy and focuses on a different character. It’s really exciting to see how people are going to react to that and sort of key into it.
Social media is already buzzing about the new season.
I’m not on social media, but I do have a little peek from time to time. (smiling)
Speaking of it, I’ve seen that there are quite a few Luke Thompson fan pages on Instagram.
I know, I know. And they’re all in different languages.
Does it feel weird, or is the attention becoming normality?
It doesn’t feel normal, but it’s lovely. I say this often, but fundamentally, as an actor, you want to live in people’s imaginations. That’s the job, right? It’s also particularly lovely because I think all the pages are international. It’s so nice to go on all these different fan groups—in Spanish, French, and Portuguese. I love it. Even though I’m not actually on social media, occasionally, I’ll have a little look. (smiling)
To be honest, when the first season came out, that was the only way of gauging how people were reacting to the show because we were all locked down. Social media gave us access to how the show was being received and whether people were enjoying it.
I think we’ve all seen the cultural impact that Bridgerton has made. In fashion, Regency Era inspired attire is on the rise. There was also a TikTok musical which you’ve probably heard of. The entertainment industry seems to be very much incited by the series as well. Last week, an American friend of mine shared a social media post about a Bridgerton-inspired dating show. I believe it’s called The Courtship.
Where they dress up in Regency?
Yes, that’s the one!
I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard about it!
The creators of the show did confirm that they took inspiration from the series.
I think the real power of Bridgerton is that it really brings that world of Regency, which can feel a little bit polite, a little bit prudish, and a little bit formal, right to us. Even if it’s reimagined. I think it’s very easy to look at history and think, ‘Oh, you know, everything was different back then. We can’t possibly identify. We can’t possibly understand what it was like.‘ Well, they were all human. They were all still falling in love. They had family problems. To sort of feel that the world of Bridgerton bridges the gap between us and something a bit more traditional or nostalgic is really great.
Making a slight detour to the past, how did the script land in your hands in the first place?
As with a lot of acting projects, you get sent an audition tape. I didn’t have any sense of what it was going to be. Any of that. I got sent two scenes, and they were the two scenes on the swing with Eloise (Claudia Jessie). I just loved the way that the relationship was written. I knew that it was a period drama. And I knew it was Regency, but it felt like a modern brother and sister talking to each other in the way they would relate to each other. I thought that was fun and exciting.
I did a tape and sent it in. A little bit later, I went in to read for another part. I’ve met no one. That was the thing that was so strange to me. I thought for a big project like this, there’d be loads and loads of recalls, and the process would take ages. I did that one tape, and then I’ve waited. Well, I didn’t wait. I almost forgot about it. About a month later, my agent said I had gotten an offer to play Benedict. I’ve asked him,‘Sorry, what do you mean Benedict?‘ (laughing)
I think it’s a testament to the casting and producing team, and I don’t think it’s got anything to do with my acting skills. They know exactly what they want. They always did. And it’s because they’ve got such a distinguished pedigree as a producing company. They just knew what they wanted, and I happened to be right for it. And that was that. It wasn’t a long process or anything. I think a lot of people on the show had a similar experience where they sent in one tape and got a sudden response of ‘We’d like you to do it‘, and you think ‘What?!’
You probably didn’t know that the team was casting all of you guys for the long run?
That’s right. I had no clue. I mean, all jobs are a bit of a gamble, really. A lot of people asked whether we knew that the show was going to be a success. Partly, no, because you never do know how people are going to react. But actually, there was just something about the way that Shondaland worked. You just know you’re in safe hands. You know that they’re master producers and writers. I don’t think I knew about the long run, but, in retrospect, I do sort of look back and think that they knew exactly what they wanted.
That’s the other thing. You look at the show, and you think, ‘God, it spins quite a lot of plates.‘ It’s a bit of a period drama, but it’s also based on Julia Quinn’s novels. It’s also trying to be self-consciously a bit more modern. There are all these different elements. I remember filming season one and thinking, ‘how is this all going to fit together?‘ I think the magic of watching the first series for me was the moment when Daphne and Anthony came to the ball together, and there was Ariana Grande playing in the background on a string quartet. And I just thought, ‘Wow, it all comes together, it fits together as one thing.’ Before, we didn’t really know what the Bridgerton world was like. And now suddenly, going into series two, you know the rules of this world. And it makes sense. It’s its own thing.
In season two, we’ll see more of your character, Benedict. How did it feel to return to playing him? I believe that it’s such a privilege when you have a chance to revisit your character and explore the changes that he’s undergoing together with the audience, whether on stage or screen.
Totally! He’s so fun to play. At the moment, he’s sort of not quite at the forefront, so there’s a lot of mystery about him. There’s a lot we don’t know, and I feel that there’s a lot he doesn’t know about himself either. That’s super fun to play because acting generally is a game of what do you hide and what do you reveal. I think Benedict’s such a perfect version of that because he’s got this front, which is relaxed and playful, but then there’s this other side that we’re just slowly starting to see. It’s really exciting to open up a bit more. Maybe with the knowledge that as the show carries on, we’ll find out more and more… (pausing) It’s really satisfying.
In season one, Benedict was led into that demi-monde world by that artist, but this season will be about him trying to find a little more for himself. And also, finding out what it actually means to be creative and facing the struggle of that. I can identify with this. As an actor, you could spend a lot of time either thinking ‘I’m the worst actor in the world, why would anyone ever employ me?‘ and then going, ‘Oh, actually, I’m fantastic.‘ (laughing)
Being creative means that you have to put both of those things aside. You do not have to compare yourself. You have to try and work on what you’ve got. I think the problem with Benedict is exactly that. He’s so high on himself for a while, thinking that he’s the best, and then, obviously, it’s such a turning point. I have to be careful now because of the spoilers. (laughing) I think this season for him is about that difficulty of trying to find himself within this family that he’s a part of and that he loves very much, but also that he doesn’t quite know where he fits outside as a separate person.
“You look at the show, and you think, ‘God, it spins quite a lot of plates.‘ It’s a bit of a period drama, but it’s also based on Julia Quinn’s novels. It’s also trying to be self-consciously a bit more modern. There are all these different elements. I remember filming season one and thinking, ‘how is this all going to fit together?‘ I think the magic of watching the first series for me was the moment when Daphne and Anthony came to the ball together, and there was Ariana Grande playing in the background on a string quartet. And I just thought, ‘Wow, it all comes together, it fits together as one thing.’ Before, we didn’t really know what the Bridgerton world was like. And now suddenly, going into series two, you know the rules of this world. And it makes sense. It’s its own thing.”
Was the preparation for season two any different? As you were saying, even opening your character and showing different layers of Benedict in this season must’ve required a different preparation.
It was. And strangely, I feel much more relaxed than I did in the first season because I think the success of the previous season, rather than feeling like pressure, sort of feels like a… (pausing) People like the world. The world works. It’s about developing it and taking it on a journey. In the second season, you don’t have to do so much explaining and introducing. We really did hit the ground running, and that felt very different, but then a lot of things were the same. I got to do a bit more horse riding, a bit more… I don’t do much dancing, but I get to watch a lot of dancing. (smiling)
Are you a good dancer?
Let’s put it this way: Benedict hasn’t given me the opportunity to find that out yet. Hopefully, at some point, he will. But I enjoy it, and I enjoy watching others do it. (laughing)
I thought that I should be well-read in interesting facts about Regency before our conversation. I’ve read that Lady Whistledown had a striking resemblance to Mrs. Crackenthorpe. She was an anonymous author behind the Female Tatler gossip column back in the 18th century. Was there something interesting you’ve learnt skill-wise or fact-wise about Regency?
That’s a really good question. In England, we tend to mix up the Regency Era with the Victorian Era, which is very different. Victorian Era is much more repressed, proper and formal. You realize when you read a lot about the Regency that it really wasn’t what it was at all. Such things as men’s fashion… Regency is sort of a big moment for it in terms of the appearance of people. There were real Regency men who suddenly became the people to look at, as in people that you wanted to dress like. I think it was Beau Brummell, who lived around this time and was one of the first dandies essentially. What’s also been fun to explore through the lens of Bridgerton is how vivid this period of history is. Even if it’s in a slightly what if world. To be able to go into costume fittings and be fitted again and again with these amazing waistcoats, coats, and everything else is a real eye-opener.
Were you allowed to keep any accessories?
No, no. I think the team has to save them for the next season. (laughing) If I could have anything, I’d probably have the painting in the Bridgerton house of us three—me, Johnny, and Luke. That painting is huge! It’s as big as it looks on the screen.
Did you actually have to sit in for that painting?
It was a combination. We sat in, and then the team did some wizardry with the photos and stuff.
That’s a great choice!
It’s very big though, so I’d have to find a big enough wall for it. That’s sort of one thing that I think it’d be fun to keep. (smiling)
The incredible chemistry amongst the cast seems to be truly special. I’m going to spill some tea now. Quite literally. I’m talking about the tea-drinking scene with yourself and Luke Newton. That must’ve been fun to play. How did you create such infectious chemistry on-set, and I imagine outside the set as well?
It’s a mix as it’s very difficult to separate them both. The casting team, as I was saying earlier, has done such a good job. We do get on, and I think the show is so convincingly written in terms of what it really is to be in a family and to be siblings. It’s all there. It’s all there written. You sort of start with that. Also, when you have eight siblings, you develop a sort of very different connection with each. The scenes with Claudia are different from those with Luke, and different from those with Johnny. It’s so nice to build on those connections and make them feel specific, because they all are. As with Luke, our stuff tends to be quite fun. Particularly this season. That whole sequence was just great fun to do. Great fun. (smiling)
The third book in Julia Quinn’s series is An Offer from a Gentleman, and it puts the love story of your character at the front and center. We’re yet to hear if the third season of the series will follow this book on-screen as well. Do you feel any pressure when thinking about it?
I don’t know what’s going to happen next season. I genuinely don’t know. They’re not wed to the format of the books, so all sorts of things could happen. To be honest, at this stage I don’t have enough information to feel any pressure. However, even in the long run… (pausing) No, I don’t feel pressure because I think it’ll be so exciting to open Benedict up. Fully. The very structure of the show allows it to feel very different every season. Hopefully. It means that there isn’t any pressure because you just have to do your own thing, right? If I felt like I had to compare it to what came before, that would be very stressful, but I don’t really feel that way. I think the show allows for each character to bring something very different. Talk to me in a few months or years, and then… (laughing) But no, I don’t. I feel really relaxed about it.
Would you say that Bridgerton was your most liberating acting experience, or does this title belong to your performances on stage?
It’s so difficult to compare. In many ways, they’re very similar in the sense that you’re still acting. Sometimes I feel that filming is a bit like Cubist theater. Do you know what I mean? It’s like theater but just completely taken apart and put all over the place. They’re very different experiences, but they do have a similarity to them. I couldn’t pick. I think I’ve always been attracted to doing things that are different from each other. Being in a Greek tragedy, and I’m thinking about a show which I did a few years back called Oresteia, was so satisfying. I was so full of it. And now I’m full of this. That’s what’s so wonderful about the job. You can go from one to the other and do something totally different. Sometimes you’re doing a big, intense classical play, and sometimes you’re doing Bridgerton. I wouldn’t want to choose because the pleasure is in contrast. The pleasure is in the difference, right?
What will you be working on next?
Well, I can’t say too much. I’m currently working on a show… All I can say is that it’s happening in Europe. That’s all that I can give you. (laughing)
And after that, there’ll be season three of Bridgerton at some point this summer. I’m very, very lucky to have that to look forward to. It’s sort of unheard of for me as an actor, before Bridgerton started, to actually have a sense of security and a sense of what’s happening next. I feel very, very lucky to have that indeed.