chat room

Queen Charlotte’s Arsema Thomas Supports Lady Danbury’s Life of Solitude

Photo: Jason Mendez/Getty Images for BAFTA

In Bridgerton, we’re introduced to Lady Agatha Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) as a fabulous anomaly for the time period: a widowed doyenne who commands fear and respect from the ton with nary a man in sight. She seems happy. Fulfilled by being alone, even. Netflix’s Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story gives her a further backstory, and after six episodes, we learn her life has been a tale of survival despite her position as a trusted member of the queen’s court. The younger Agatha, played by American actor Arsema Thomas, endured a loathsome marriage to a man she was promised to at the age of 3, and even though he dies halfway through the prequel series — much to her delight — it presents a new set of problems on par with those of Succession. Is Agatha still a member of the nobility amid the “Great Experiment”? Does her son inherit the title of lord? And does she have to immediately remarry?

Bridgerton already gave us the answers, but that doesn’t diminish Thomas’s intrepid portrayal of the character as she angles her way to a better life. “I never want to be married again,” Lady Danbury explains in the finale. “I spent my life birthing someone else’s heir. I don’t know any other way. Now it’s time that I learn to breathe all on my own.” She may be making mistakes, but there’s a sense of pride in knowing she has the autonomy to make them — whether she’s sparring with the king’s mother over titles, rejecting a prince’s marriage proposal, or having an affair with a married man. And even if that married man is, in fact, the father of her dear friend.

How much did you talk to Adjoa Andoh to get a better sense of Lady Danbury? Were there mannerisms of hers that you wanted to incorporate into your performance but also, say, things you eschewed?
Initially, the director, Tom Verica, told me, “We don’t want you to emulate or mimic anything your Bridgerton counterparts are doing.” There was clearly something they saw in each one of us that was similar. We didn’t know what we were auditioning for; I only got scripts for Penelope Featherington and Colin Bridgerton from season one of Bridgerton for the audition, so it was all quite secretive at the beginning. But then when I got the Queen Charlotte script, I reached out to Adjoa because I wanted us to build the same history — I could take her through her 20s, and that could maybe inform what Adjoa does with her in the Bridgerton era.

Adjoa was really generous and gracious. When she did seasons one and two of Bridgerton, this script had not been written. There are decisions she made that don’t align with what Queen Charlotte is about now, so she had to change that, which meant we could build her together. We had a long chat. It was nice to recognize that we’re similar naturally. We have a similar cadence, a similar fire in our bellies for justice, and we’re also both daddy’s girls. Both of our fathers are West African, so there was stuff that was effortlessly similar in the way we breathe life into Agatha.

What did you two find yourselves changing about the character?
Adjoa thought Lady Danbury was in love in her marriage. When we see Herman Danbury, that’s obviously not the case. So then she had to think, Okay, where did that love she fights for in the Bridgerton era come from? Where does she see that in her life? We were able to say maybe it’s a love of friends, or maybe there’s a love that we don’t know yet in between.

The introduction to your character is from the vantage point of an unsatisfying sex scene, and we quickly discover how equally dispiriting Lady Danbury’s marriage is. Was it difficult to reckon with the state of her younger life, knowing what we’ve seen of her in Bridgerton?
I didn’t expect it, but when you see it all, it makes sense why she’s the impactful woman she is in Bridgerton. She went through such a long time being shut up. She’s had to suppress so much in her life, so she understands why freedom is such an invaluable thing to have and to hold. It’s the reason she chooses to be alone. It’s a beautiful choice to have. If she was in love and a widow, and sad … I mean, that’s a different woman. That’s Violet Bridgerton. They’re two different flavors of very strong women who hold their families down, but you can see they’ve had different journeys in life.

What’s the reason for her endurance in her marriage?
She doesn’t really have a choice. When you grow up in a society where there’s only one road ahead of you, you don’t know what another road could look like. I think of it in the way our world is now. We don’t know what a world would be without capitalism. What does that look like? It’s been so ingrained in everything that we can’t even fathom another option. Agatha will always be a second-class citizen in this society. She will always be seen and treated like an ornament to be looked at, something to churn out babies and heirs. The options are not great for the single woman in the Georgian era. It’s only when given the title, the freedom, and the space as a lady-in-waiting to the queen that she’s able to recognize her agency. She doesn’t even fight against Herman at the beginning, but then she starts to, a little bit, and then he dies and she fully blasts off.

What are her dreams and desires? And can she attain them without the help of men?
You see her attain them without the help of men in the Bridgerton era. That is her fully formed self. Now that she’s found herself, her dream is to just enjoy herself. To find every bit and crevice of herself and excavate it, and bring it out into the light and let it have its time to shine because it’s been locked away for so long. That’s why you see her have the den of iniquity she mentions in Bridgerton season one, this space where people can just be and no one is there to judge. Her dream is to have that be her life — to be Agatha and not have that world look upon her or judge her.

Lady Danbury’s conversation with Augusta in the finale is significant — they recognize each other as admirable adversaries but only after she breaks down and cries. Can you tell me about filming that scene and why you think it was a necessary jolt for the character?
That scene does a lot for what a lot of people hope for feminism, which is that we’re able to, as women, regardless of race, realize our similarities rather than focus on our differences. That tends to be the largest issue with a lot of different waves of feminism: It’s been focused on the plight and struggles of white women. To see a Black woman and a white woman see each other as women first and their race second was so impactful to the narrative and for viewers to see. But filming it was very daunting. The script had changed to a new route for the scene. I was having to conjure up a lot of what Agatha was feeling from the very moment I stepped into the room. It was so much she had on her chest. Usually, this is a woman that can keep it down, suppressed, and locked away. Maybe small bits come out to her maid, Coral, but usually no one knows. She has no one to really turn to.

So to have it all build up and to turn on the heat so it bubbles over while listening to Michelle Fairley deliver her lines … that’s what you’re supposed to do as an actor. It was one of the most challenging moments on set for me. I was like, How do I cry without making it seem like I’m joking? How do I feel all of these things and let them out at the right time? Michelle was so generous by giving me the space and the lines again if I needed them. She also came in even harder so my natural impulse would be to just release it all.

Do you recall the scene’s original route?
I can’t remember. It might have been something that was reversed.

Augusta implores her not to “lose control of your fate.” What is Lady Danbury’s fate?
What she was saying was “Don’t lose control of your choices” because our fate inevitably is the choices and decisions we make. For Agatha, what she hopes for is that idea of being able to choose her fate. That moment is also what causes the spark of saying “no” to Adolphus. Because in that moment, she would’ve lost control of her fate. He was telling her what the rest of her life would look like. It was like seeing sparks — you connect things and then they explode. Red flags are coming up; alarms are blaring in her head. This is what losing control of your fate would look like.

Lady Danbury continues to live her life without a romantic partner, as Bridgerton has shown us, but I was still surprised she rejected the prince’s marriage proposal.
I don’t think there’s ever a world where she would have agreed to that. In that moment, she realizes it wasn’t specifically Herman she needed to get away from; it was the institution that is treating women as second-class citizens. It was marriage she needed to get away from. It was men and their thinking that they needed to be there for her that she needed to get away from. It becomes very clear to her that in order for her to discover herself, she cannot be with somebody. Not just yet. And probably, as you see, not ever. It’s not in her style. It’s not her portion.

Do you view her affair with Lord Ledger as being about empowerment, or was it morally ambiguous? I’m curious about the intentions behind it.
Lord Ledger is on that same intellectual island Agatha’s been on her whole life. He’s talking to her the way she speaks, and he’s engaging with her and her mind in a way no one has done before. He’s talking to her like a human being. There’s still a power dynamic that doesn’t allow Agatha to be 100 percent honest with Coral; that same dynamic exists between Agatha and the queen. But with Lord Ledger, it’s different. Because of their walks and their chats, she’s able to engage and oil the cogs in her mind again. She realizes what she actually wants. I don’t know if it’s empowerment, but rather that moment allows her to recognize and realize who she is. It’s like a mirror is being held up to her and she’s like, I love this person. It’s a self-love moment.

What was your understanding of Violet and Lady Danbury’s final scene together as adults? Is there a knowledge of the affair in their silence?
For sure. They also know why they’re both probably not going to talk about it. The power of silence is magical.

I’m curious about how Lady Danbury views the idea of friendship. Even in the future, I kept debating whether she, Violet, and Charlotte are actually friends or if their relationship is more transactional. Has this woman experienced true friendship?
I don’t really think she has. There’s something so isolated about Agatha but not in the same way as Charlotte, where she’s physically isolated. Agatha’s mentally isolated. She thinks very differently than a lot of other people around her, and that makes her feel like she can’t talk in the way she wants to. She’s really good at holding back or putting on a friendly face, and that might be the way she’s had a lot of friendships. There’s the friendship she has with Violet, and you start to see it become a true friendship when they flash to Bridgerton in the show; they start to become much more honest with each other. That’s what a lot of the relationships or friendships, at least in our older counterparts, are lacking because what people are saying, thinking, and writing about you means so much in society. People are inevitably closed off because they can’t truly be their authentic selves.

Do you like to think Lady Danbury’s garden remains in bloom in the interim between Queen Charlotte and Bridgerton?
I 100 percent think so. Lord Ledger is definitely not the last person. She’s clearly a woman who, as you see over the course of the season, knows what she wants when it comes to sexual pleasure. When it’s awakening her, she realizes she doesn’t need to be in a marriage to seek that. I think she finds her own community where she can be that person. But for sure, he’s not the last.

Queen Charlotte’s Arsema Thomas Supports Agatha’s Choice