We caught up with the actor to talk about her new partnership with Johnnie Walker and Diet Paratha.
For the South Asian community, representation in the entertainment industry still has some way to go. Though we’re slowly seeing more diverse casts on screen, there are few TV series and films that genuinely shine the spotlight on characters from diverse backgrounds, putting them front and center of love stories and showcasing their full range — outside of palatable, western ideals that have long reigned supreme.
The second season of Bridgerton was one that struck a chord with many, as its lead heroine Kate Sharma (played by Simone Ashley) went against the genre’s tried and tested and gave a voice to a culture and a community that’s rarely been represented on screen. For Ashley, “Representation is so powerful because it’s important for people to see themselves and to know that they belong and that they’re capable.”
“It’s about giving people the confidence to know that they are worthy, just like their other peers, no matter what culture they’re from, or their heritage,” the actor tells Hypebae. It’s for that reason, Ashley joined forces with community platform Diet Paratha alongside Johnnie Walker, to support their “Bold Steps” campaign, which aims to provide mentoring and support for South Asian creatives through Diet Paratha’s Family Tree mentoring programme.
For the next iteration of the partnership, Ashley worked alongside Johnnie Walker to support the design of a new, limited-edition bottle, created by illustrator and graphic designer Kushiaania, representing self-expression, feminine strength and joy.
We caught up with Ashley to find out more about her work with Diet Paratha and Johnnie Walker, her experience with filming Bridgerton and why representation is more important than ever.
Scroll down to read the full interview.
You’ve starred in cult-loved TV series like Sex Education and Bridgerton, can you give us a little background on how you got into acting?
I started out singing and I studied classical music when I was younger. Playing the piano and doing classical singing, that led me to musical theatre, so I trained in that for a while. Then I decided that I really wanted to do more screen acting because I had such a big love for film and the art of film. That’s kind of how I started out. And just like most actors, I started auditioning and just kept going until I was lucky enough to discover the right roles for me.
That’s a pretty impressive skill set! Previously, you’ve spoken about the lack of representation in the industry and now you’ve joined forces with Diet Paratha and Johnnie Walker for a really important mentoring programme which helps to combat that. How did that partnership come about?
I had heard of Diet Paratha before, and I was always so impressed with everything that they’re doing and inspired by the platform that they created. My agents received an offer for me to partner with them and very immediately, we made it happen. It just involves a lot of creative conversations, I was very increasingly involved with the process of the campaign and the message that we wanted to convey speaking with our amazing director, and Anita from Diet Paratha. It’s been such a collaboration, and it was a whole team of South Asian women, which was amazing. It was kind of a no brainer for me to just do something that helps support the community and keeps adding those foundations that we need for representation inclusivity and allowing everyone to have their voices heard.
It feels like a really organic partnership, too. Why was it important for you to get involved in the programme and give advice to those hoping to enter the industry?
With the platform that I have now, it’s important to me to use that to help create more space for others. Diet Paratha is all about representing the South Asian community and welcoming people into that community and including them and being a South Asian woman, so I was really excited about it. For me, it’s always about looking at the next generation of artists and just making sure that we’re trying our best to create a better future. When I was younger, starting out in acting, there were certain things and there still are certain things that are challenging. But I think, the more things that we do like this, the more it creates a future where we don’t have to have these conversations as much as we’re having now.
Exactly. How do you think that something like this would have helped you when you first started out? What kind of things were you missing?
We weren’t really having as many conversations [about representation] as we are now. I think maybe it was more of a taboo subject. And in a way, it still can be. I think it’s about giving people the confidence to know that they are worthy, just like their other peers, no matter what culture they’re from, or their heritage. Representation is so powerful because it’s important for people to see themselves and to know that they belong and that they’re capable. It wasn’t as loud when I was starting out, but it’s getting louder now, which is a really positive thing.
Definitely, it helps to build people’s confidence — seeing others who look like them and knowing that there’s a place in these industries for all of us, right? And in the coming months, (release date pending,) you’ll be starring in the third season of Bridgerton. How has the experience changed for you since the success that came from Season 2?
Exactly. The special thing about Bridgerton is that every season focuses on a different love story. It’s been really exciting, just kind passing the baton to Luke and Nicola, and their love story, and watching them do their thing and supporting them. Kate and Anthony’s story has softened quite a lot in the third season and there’s lots of things that we’re all really excited for the fans to discover about their relationship and their love story. After 11 months of filming the second season, then coming back, I felt like it was a bit more relaxed for us in a way, because we’ve done our season. We’ve done all of that. So it was nice to just hand it off, and watch the next love story unfold.
I can imagine. The response to Season 2 was so incredible. Has that sunk in for you? Have you been able to process people’s reactions, particularly in terms of the power of its representation?
More so now. Sometimes when you’re in it, it’s hard to have that that clear vision and really take everything in, we had crazy schedules and everything was so loud. Now, I feel like I can really listen to it with more clarity, now I can really take it in. And, you know, I’m discovering my own voice, as I journey on in my career as well. We’re so grateful for the amazing fans of the show, and especially for the support for the support from the South Asian community. When you’re filming something like that, you don’t predict or expect anything, you do it for the work and your craft and creating something beautiful. So it’s amazing to have that experience, but also to have such a supportive, warm response from people. I feel very lucky and very grateful and it’s something that I want to continue to do with my career.
Yeah, definitely. It was amazing to watch. I think everyone else who experienced that also feels very lucky and grateful that it exists. My final question for you, what else is going on for you this year? What are your other plans and goals?
I am travelling around a lot in May for some exciting things. And then in June, I start shooting for a movie that’s yet to be announced… So I can’t answer too much about that, but watch this space!
Author: Navi Ahluwalia
Published on May 5, 2023