Actor Simone Ashley, known for her role in zeitgeist-defining Netflix series Sex Education, is now joining the cast for the highly anticipated second season of period drama Bridgerton
Following the show’s success as one of the most-watched shows on Netflix of 2021, Ashley says, “The second season is much grittier. There’s a lot of drama and a lot of sexual tension. My parents will be watching it – but not with me!” Ashley tells Net-A-Porter’s digital title, Porter, in their latest cover feature.
Surrey-born Ashley plays Kate Sharma, a new arrival to London and the love interest of the eldest Bridgerton brother, Anthony (played by Jonathan Bailey). “It’s like a fairy tale, but, you know, it’s not a typical fairy tale because these [are] two incredibly complex characters. For want of a better expression, [it’s] fucked up people with a complicated history,” says Ashley.
Intricate, forbidden romances are what the show does best; Ashley’s character, Kate, is headstrong and sharp and when she meets Anthony Bridgerton, the two instantly clash. This, however, wasn’t reflected in their off-screen relationship. “Johnny and I have incredible working chemistry together. It was explosive on set,” says Ashley. “There was no real time to hang out, but we did manage to sneak off for a drink together one day when we were filming on location. We’ve always had each other’s backs from the start; it’s a partnership.”
When the show’s first season arrived on our screens at the end of 2020, it brought a much longed-for dose of glamour, never-ending balls and salacious gossip. Ashley admits she was late to the party to watch it. At the time, the 26-year-old (soon to turn 27) was filming season three of Sex Education. “We were in Wales shooting, but I remember everyone was talking about Bridgerton – it was so incredibly popular; then, two weeks later, I got a text saying they were interested in me for season two.”
These titles might be breaking ground, but South Asian women are still underrepresented onscreen. As a woman of Indian heritage playing the lead role of a major drama, Ashley discusses whether she felt an increased sense of responsibility for the job. “Of course I am deeply proud of my heritage [but] no,I’m not a spokesperson for Indian people, I’m an actress. For me, my responsibility is to read the script, do the work, turn up on set and do a great job. That’s it. I guess everyone deals with it in their own way, but I am an actress at the end of the day. Opportunities should be open for any individual, and I just think us being there is enough.”
It’s that element of diversity in roles which has always drawn Ashley. “I am interested in some culturally specific parts, but I want to go up for roles that anyone can go for,” she explains. “I love movies about the human experience, [and] characters with a really interesting journey, who I really want to fight for. And it’s got to be fun at the end of the day – whether it’s a drama or a comedy – because you’re giving up months of your life for it, [so] why wouldn’t you want to have fun?”
This is an excerpt from Porter’s cover feature. To see the full interview with Simone Ashley read Porter.