As season two’s co-starring lead, Ashley takes the pressures in stride and leans on her fellow actors for support.
When it came to getting cast as the female lead in Bridgerton’s second season, what could have been a long, arduous process for an actor actually happened faster than any other acting job for Simone Ashley. In under two weeks in February 2021, Ashley got the scripts, put herself on tape, had a few Zoom meetings and a chemistry read with star Jonathan Bailey (Anthony Bridgerton), and then was chosen to portray Kate Sharma. Since Kate is the new, complicated love interest for Anthony in season two, Ashley was then thrust into horseback training, wig fittings, makeup tests, and rehearsals.
That kind of fast-paced life of a TV actor isn’t new to Ashley even though her career is young, comparatively speaking. Ashley attended the Redroofs School for the Performing Arts in Maidenhead, England, before going on to study musical theater at ArtsEd (which counts Julie Andrews, also known as the voice of Lady Whistledown, as an alumna). From 2016, she cut her teeth in British television with small roles in shows like Broadchurch, Guilt, Casualty, and Doctors. And after only three years doing so, she landed a role on Netflix’s Sex Education — a move that arguably might have propelled her to becoming Kate Sharma.
The Sharmas are the latest aristocratic family to enter the world of Bridgerton, bringing along with them plenty of gossip, gallantry, and — because this is Bridgerton — beguiling drama. Kate, along with her younger sister, Edwina (Charithra Chandran), catches the eye of Lord Anthony Bridgerton, who, after his heartbreak last season, is begrudgingly looking for a wife this marriage season. There is an immediate connection between Anthony and the two Sharma siblings, but Kate declares that her sole aim is to find Edwina a husband, as Kate — at the ripe old age of 24 — believes herself already a spinster not needing and not worthy of love. Of course, it’s all a bit more complicated than that.
“There were lots of aspects to Kate that I related to and empathized with,” says Ashley. “She is quite strong-minded and strong-willed and a little stubborn. And she keeps herself to herself. Throughout the series, as she opens up more and is more vulnerable, [it’s] endearing because of the values that she holds and the priorities that she fights for, and that’s her family. So, everything that she does, no matter how stern that might come across — actually, I don’t like to use the word stern; I’m going to use the word fierce — no matter how fierce she might come across, you can’t help but find her endearing because, at the end of the day, she’s doing it out of the love to her sister and her family.”
And while it’s hard — even for Ashley — to not spoil the emotional roller coaster that is season two of Bridgerton, we talk to the actor about rooting for Kate, how she really feels about the Kanthony ship name, and not giving in to the pressures of coming into such a popular TV show.
VALENTINA VALENTINI: Kate seems very clear about what she wants from life. But there’s a lot for her to understand internally first, right?
SIMONE ASHLEY: Kate comes in very strong-minded. The Sharma family have just returned to London from India, and she’s on a mission. We discover there are some very high stakes about her intentions, but we understand that she’s on a quest to help Edwina find a true love match and to protect her family. Kate is incredibly reserved but very observant because she’s always got to be switched on to know what’s happening around her in order to protect Edwina. But then, obviously, Anthony comes along, and I think Kate starts to surrender to this idea of falling in love and letting someone in. Anthony and Kate really resemble each other in that they understand each other more so than anyone else ever has. And at first, she doesn’t like him because she’s never met someone that kind of gets to her in that way or encourages her to be vulnerable in that way, whether she wants to or not. We see her soften and play, and we earn her trust more.
VV: Freedom and independence are core to Kate’s beliefs for herself as a woman. What were your conversations like with creator Chris Van Dusen about how to portray this forward-thinking woman amongst a period story, regardless of its fantastical elements?
SA: It was so liberating and so much fun to play a character like that. Because you’re listening to your heart, you’re speaking your instincts, you’re sharing your opinion, and no matter what controversy that might spark, she’s brave. And it’s fun to be brave. She really flies in that sense. I like that she’s a bit of a rule breaker, and I’m excited for viewers to see that kind of character in this world. And with Chris, I would send him voice messages all the time. We used it like a walkie-talkie, really. We had very open communication, and for that I’m very grateful. He answered all my questions, shared ideas, and allowed me to share ideas. Because I was so enthusiastic to do this incredible character justice and to make her as believable as possible, that open communication is such an important part of a creative process. I want everyone to root for her as much as I root for her.
VV: Let’s back up a bit and talk about Kanthony! How do you feel about that nickname?
SA: I love it! I never thought of that, to be honest. But me and Jonny say it to each other all the time — we’re like [puts on an endearing baby voice], “Kanthony. Kanthy-pants.” It’s so sweet. It’s a ship name — which, I think, that’s like an Instagram term I’ve recently learned. But I mean, it wouldn’t really work the other way around — it would be “Ate,” and that’s not cute. Kanthony is cuter.
VV: When I spoke to Jonathan Bailey, he made an interesting point: that Kate and Anthony are so different from Daphne and Simon because Simon was in this position of know-how and sexual power, and he could help teach Daphne this stuff. But with Kanthony, there’s a much more level playing field. Do you agree with him?
SA: I think so. They definitely pass the hot potato — let’s put it that way. I think she learns a lot from him, but actually I think he learns a lot from her as well. They both teach each other to surrender to the thought of falling in love. They both calm each other down too and can kind of hold the reins in — pun intended, because we ride horses quite a lot in this show! But, yeah, I think what makes this one so special is that they truly meet each other’s match.
VV: Not to pit one season against another — we love all the Bridgerton stories — but did it cross your mind at any point that you were coming into this juggernaut of a love-story anthology to play the romantic lead and that you might need to live up to some expectations there?
SA: I fell in love with the relationship between Kate and Anthony, with Chris’ ideas and this world that he’d created, with the beautiful writing, and with the fact that it was centered around the love of family. I was just so ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work, so enthusiastic to bring this story to life, that I put my energy into the work in that sense. Any nerves that I experienced, I would just acknowledge them, and then let them go and get lost in this love story. It’s natural to feel pressures, but there was something about Kate where I just rooted for her and empathized with her so much that it made it easy to get lost in her story and switch off from the pressures surrounding it.
VV: Speaking of that familial love, there’s another important love story going on this season — that of Edwina and Kate’s sisterly love. What was it like diving into two at once?
SA: With Bridgerton, it’s all about family. We’re introduced to and follow the lives of many families in the ton — the Bridgertons, the Featheringtons, the Sharmas, the Cowpers. We can all find things in them to relate to or root for. It was very important for us to explore the love between Edwina and Kate, and I always thought that from the beginning that, yes, there’s the love story between Anthony and Kate, but then there’s the love story between Edwina and Kate. Charithra truly is a diamond in real life. She brought such a warm energy to set every day. She was so much fun, always positive, always in a good mood, always bringing it. I really appreciated that from her, and I’m just honored that I got to work with her and bring this sister relationship to life.
VV: Do you have any sisters?
SA: No, I don’t. I have a brother.
VV: Oh, that’s interesting because Charithra doesn’t have sisters either.
SA: Right! She’s an only child.
VV: Tell me then about playing that together, especially since you two are both Tamil women. What was it like to come together and incorporate bits of Indian culture into this season?
SA: I think Chris did it so gracefully and so thoughtfully. The Haldi ceremony in episode six is so much fun, and it’s so beautiful. We filmed it with [director] Tom Verica. The set was amazing — it had very warm tones of red, orange, yellow, and it had real, delicate Indian flower decorations. It was really authentic, and I love that we got to have conversations with Tom about our own personal experiences of these ceremonies or things added within that scene. Filming with Shelley [Conn] and Charithra felt like family to me, for sure.
I also love this scene in episode three where Kate is applying coconut oil to Edwina’s hair. It’s just this moment that so many sisters from so many different cultures can relate to — what it is to have that kind of routine between sisters. [Pauses.] Oh, it makes me emotional even thinking about it. It’s just so sweet. And it’s not performative; it’s not commented on the scene. Chris did an amazing job of really sewing in this beautiful heritage throughout the season, a heritage that I’m so proud of.
VV: How about all the sports this season? Did you bring your A-game to the pall-mall course?
SA: I’m super-sporty! I’m all in when it comes to sports and games. I can be a bit overenthusiastic and combative, for sure. We got to ride, to go hunting, to dance, and to play pall-mall. There’s a montage scene in episode three where we’re all playing pall-mall, and there’s a shot where Kate gets the ball in the wicket. I actually did do that — we were playing for real. So, those reactions of Kate jumping up and down and Anthony kind of laughing, that was all quite real.
VV: Jonathan told me how competitive he is too — which is funny because so are your characters!
SA: We’re both very driven, very ambitious. We both like to get it done. And we both don’t like hearing the word no, I think. We like a challenge, and that was definitely evident on set. Our energies kind of kept each other going in that sense. I’ve said this in other interviews, but we had each other’s back throughout that whole series. We were both very focused on our own work separately as two actors doing their craft in private, focusing on our characters and our work. But when we came to set together, it was spontaneous, and we acted in the moment and reacted to each other. I’m grateful for that.
VV: Have you learned anything about yourself or the world at large from playing Kate?
SA: I think these are things that I’ve always felt, but I’ve learned more to not doubt myself, to listen to my instincts, to speak up, to not people-please. This show and this whole experience have given me the confidence to do all those things and to love myself more, as cheesy as that sounds. It’s also helped to just relate to people more and to let people in more, to play more, to get out of my head more. This is a hard job, you know? Filming it was hard, just as any other shoot would be, but representing the show is hard too. It takes work to get to know yourself, and to want to share something positive, and to sit with yourself as to why you’re doing this job. I hope to continue working and telling amazing stories that I’m enthusiastic about and to make people feel just as happy as I do when I’m doing it all. So, yes, that’s one thing I’ve learned.
VV: One thing?! That sounds like a lot of things.
SA: [Laughs.] Yeah. I guess this role has changed my life in a way. I find it hard to actually admit that to myself.
Written by Valentina Valentini
Published March 23, 2022