Bridgerton’s Bee Is Ready for His Close-up

“A number of hive leaders were consulted on how a more sensitive and modern portrayal of the bee-human relationship might benefit the show and bring it into the current era.” Photo: Netflix

There was no chance the breakout star of Bridgerton wouldn’t be back in season two — he dominated buzz rankings on social media in the wake of season one — but with the new episodes of the megahit series hitting Netflix today, fans may be surprised to see the Bee in an expanded, high-profile dual role. Given his presence at the center of two major moments involving Anthony Bridgerton, we jumped at the chance to hover with the second-furriest member of the Bridgerton cast.

Born as Bombini Bombus, his agent rechristened him as the mononymous Bartlebee to stand out from his peers when he struggled to land roles upon moving to L.A. He was inspired to pursue acting when he saw 2007’s Bee Movie broadcast on the big screen at a local park, a moment he compares to his first taste of melting ice cream in a trash can. Bartlebee’s big break came in 2015’s Jupiter Ascending, where he played the role of Bee 506. It wasn’t until 2020’s Bridgerton that he made his debut as a featured actor, finally flying solo.

We met over warm drinks — a honey oat-milk latte for him, hold the espresso — to discuss everything from the challenges of costuming to his interest in horticulture. What emerged is the picture of a working artist worthy of the old moniker humblebee, as he lands his first brand-spokesbee deal (for Bridgerton tie-in honey at Bloomingdales, naturally) and ascends the ranks in Hollywood to become the bumblebee to watch. Still, we walked away from the discussion concerned about the personal cost of his deep research process and demanding acting technique as technology makes his livelihood increasingly less alive.

Spoilers ahead for Bridgerton season two and The Viscount Who Loved Me.

Let’s start with the big story from season two: the expanded and reshaped role of the Bee. Last season, you mainly hovered over the brass knocker on the Bridgerton family’s front door and oversaw Daphne’s delivery of a Hastings heir. This season, your character — or should we say characters — take a turn. You’re playing both a killer bee and the Bee. How did this come about?
Bartlebee: When the casting call went out, I’d never really heard of the Bridgerton book series. I was due for a long-delayed vacation, so I downloaded the first audiobook for the flight over just to get a sense of the series’ flavor and how I might be able to pollinate the role. I was so engrossed in the story that I missed an incoming-storm alert and ran right into some hail.

Before principal photography started for season one, I sat down with showrunner Chris Van Dusen and made the case for why a strong bee character could help create unity for the show, which is a concern since the lead couples change with each book and season. I argued that developing the Bee from a mindless agent of chaos to a character in his own right might lend additional depth to this world. The Bee in Bridgerton is no mere drone. I have to say, he got it, and he went even further in season two.

The buzz after season one with the search results, theory videos, and bee-spotting posts — it was wild. The fandom really swarmed.

It sounds like you had a strong foreleg in the show’s development process.
Bartlebee: Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to take anything away from Chris and the incredible team he and everyone at Shondaland assembled for this project. I was fortunate enough that when I slid over a Scrivener file of notes and idea boards, the team listened and ran with the concepts in ways I’d never dreamed possible. We had remarkable cross-pollination.

What were some of these ideas?
Bartlebee: First off, I lobbied hard for Edmund Bridgerton to die onscreen, hard as it might be to watch. As viewers, we needed to see the moment so Anthony’s pain and reluctance to foster a romantic relationship would sustain believability for a whole season of passionate longing. In season two’s source material, The Viscount Who Loved Me, Anthony is so far from present at his father’s death that he blames it on a honeybee. Imagine, a honeybee! And just as Anthony needed motivation, this killer bee required some development.

I’m playing a dual role for Bridgerton. After season one, some fans wondered if Edmund was reincarnated as a bee that watches over the family, but as a fan of romance novels, I preferred to think of this character as a bee making amends for the pain caused by his ancestor so that he might achieve his own third-act happily ever after. The Bee we see in 1813 and 1814 is a young rake in buff breeches, my main role. Like Anthony, he’s haunted by the memory of his father — but he bears more resemblance to Simon, Duke of Hastings, in that his father was a brilliant, tortured thinker taking ideas so far that he hurt his family.

In your mind, the bee that kills Edmund Bridgerton is motivated by ideology?
Bartlebee: There’s no question: The bee character in the flashback sequence who gave his life to deliver the fatal sting was connected to a pro-Bonaparte hive active in Britain at the time. If you take a look at the Scrivener folders labeled “1803(1)” and “1803(2),” you’ll see my notes on what was happening along the southern coast of England near the Dover crossing to Calais in France. Dover is located in which English county?

I’m afraid I’m not … It’s not Kent is it?
Bartlebee: Kent, the location of the Bridgerton seat, Aubrey Hall, which lies directly on the road from Dover to London.

At this point, Bartlebee has abandoned his latte and hovers as I review his collection of digital maps, typed notes, and JPGs of varying quality.

Napoleon Bonaparte was rumored to be planning an invasion of England to celebrate his upcoming accession to the title emperor of the French in 1804. Some very informative YouTube videos and a podcast I encountered in my research suggest he nearly succeeded with the help of bee communities that were recruited because of their location in areas of strategic importance in England.

Napoleon almost invaded England with the help of bees? Is there proof for this theory?
Bartlebee: The signs have been there all along. Napoleon’s emblem? The bee, a concession made after a little-known treaty with a key hive in the Île-de-France that augmented the otherwise disastrous “whiff of grapeshot” with a phalanx of worker bees early in his military career.

Okay. So how did this play out in the show?
Bartlebee: In my imagination, there were once two households, both alike in dignity, in the Kentish countryside, one human and one bee. The Kent hive didn’t initially respond well to the antenna put out by their French cousins regarding assistance with an invasion, but eventually the prospect of a united Europe with no borders and shared learning proved too much for the elder bee. Imagine: no more divisions like chalk and cheese, just a unified land of milk and honey. He planted his stinger with the aim of bringing Enlightenment scholars together.

So you believe Edmund Bridgerton was the victim of an assassination plot? How would the bee have even known the murder plot would work? Most humans aren’t allergic to bee stings.
Bartlebee: The answer is right in the text if you read it closely enough. It mentions that Edmund’s brother Hugo died the same way. He was the first victim, a test case for the assassination that would open the road from Dover to London for French troops because of a leadership vacuum in the county. Anthony stepped in at just 18 years of age to unknowingly save the nation.

This is a tremendous amount of backstory for a character that appears onscreen for less than a minute.
Bartlebee: The motivations of the elder bee inspire everything and introduce an otherwise invisible schism in the Bridgerton family. Observant fans have noted that Benedict and Eloise wore some bee symbols in season one, a clear signal that they’re Bonaparte-curious even as their brother maintains his stalwart defense of England’s southern border. Those scenes on the swing set between Eloise and Benedict? What we didn’t see was them swinging closer to the bosom of France.

Getting back to the essentials since I know your time is valuable: How did you prepare for the physicality of your dual role?
Bartlebee: I worked with a specialized trainer to fine-tune my nutrition and fitness, especially in light of the demands of season two. The Bridgerton team had a very specific look in mind for these characters, and it was my job to deliver that as best as possible for the camera. As a male, I don’t have the natural size of a queen, but I was able to achieve something close to Her Majesty due to a pre-shoot bulk that included a number of specialty nectars plus targeted thorax and pollen-basket work.

I have to ask about that scene in The Viscount Who Loved Me — the one where Anthony sucks bee venom from Kate’s breast because of the fear it might kill her. In the book, that fateful sting sends the warring couple to the altar after they’re spotted and misunderstood. How did that scene need to change for a Netflix audience?
Bartlebee: I don’t want to give too much away in case viewers haven’t reached the big moment yet. I will say that you get one “garden debauchery leading to marriage” plot every four seasons, max. Daphne tripped down the stone path into legally binding love first, so Anthony’s garden scene needed to be reimagined a bit. Bee-instigated breast-sucking due to a young man’s trauma doesn’t hit the same way in 2022 as it did in 2000, when the book was published. A number of hive leaders were consulted on how a more sensitive and modern portrayal of the bee-human relationship might benefit the show and bring it into the current era. I’m proud of how the scene came out.

Your colleagues on Bridgerton note that you have a very intense working style and are known to insist on certain lighting and wind conditions for your scenes. They claim you’re a practitioner of the Stanislavsbee Method. 
Bartlebee: I take the physicality of my work seriously, and I know that my bees need to perform the role without the benefit of words. For a long time, I struggled to find products that worked for me and showed my hair to its best advantage, but I finally discovered the secret in my own nest: propolis. I want to share this discovery with others, so I’m actually launching a fair-trade propolis hair-care line later this month at Ulta. It’s good for all hair types and even works on wings!

You clearly had an outsize impact on the roles of the killer bee and the Bee. You’ve developed these characters in ways few performers would. But both bees were added in postproduction. What is the truth about your involvement in Bridgerton?
Bartlebee: Yes, the bees in Bridgerton are computer animation, added in postproduction. I modeled for the technical artists and did some explanatory flying on set and even stood in for my digital self during early rehearsals. Ultimately, though, I couldn’t become the bumblebee the producers needed despite my best efforts. All of the floral arrangements made it hard for me to hit my marks, and things got pell-mell during pall-mall — I almost died thanks to the mallet of death! The lawyers and insurance people got together and barred me from the set, supposedly for my own protection. I don’t know if CGI was the plan all along or if I’m the reason a real bee isn’t seen in Bridgerton. It’s a failure that haunts me. I know it’s not me in the show, but I’m in there, somewhere in the characters.

I guess I took the concept of these roles and flew with them because the Regency world resonates with me. We too have a hierarchy, a demanding monarch, and a sense of inborn destiny. I act at the pleasure of Her Majesty. I could be recalled to the nest at any time. It’s just that when I rode atop the Hastings carriage in season one, I felt the wind in my wings in a whole new way and began to dream bigger. If eight Bridgerton siblings can each get a season of falling in love, why not a bee?

Bridgerton’s Bee Is Ready for His Close-up