As fans campaign for a second season of “Queen Charlotte,” we’re still reeling from season one’s incredible performances, namely Arsema Thomas’s impressive portrayal of Lady Agatha Danbury. In “Bridgerton,” Lady Danbury is an established noblewoman with a reputation for being a natural leader. In the spinoff, however, viewers catch a glimpse at her early life as an aristocrat, including her friendship with Queen Charlotte (India Amarteifio), her complex relationship with Lord Danbury (Cyril Nri), and her beginnings as one of the most trusted — and feared — members of the ton.
For Thomas, the prospect of playing such a well-established and beloved character was “extremely scary.” But that only made her more eager to do the character justice. “As an actor, you rarely get such a complex and challenging character to play, also specifically as a Black woman,” she tells POPSUGAR. “So, to be able to step in my first foray as a professional actor and be challenged by Agath a was really, really fun.” Thomas’s previous works include the short film “Nightwatcher,” the movie “Redeeming Love,” and the pilot episode of “One Touch.”
“It’d be nice to see her story outside of the proximity to whiteness that it has.”
In terms of preparing for such a major role, Thomas took a unique approach from the start. “I made it an active decision not to watch any ‘Bridgerton’ while auditioning,” she says. Though the actor beautifully mirrored Adjoa Andoh’s motions and facial expressions as Lady Danbury, Thomas did not study her predecessor’s movements. “I was worried that if I got the role and had to spend a lot of time trying to be someone else, it would have distracted me from being able to act,” she explains. When the two actors were able to spend time together on set, they created an entire backstory for Lady Danbury, including “her favorite colors and allergies, and what type of kid she was when she was growing up — did she play outside?”
The cherry on top of Thomas’s stunning performance? Her British accent. For Thomas, who was born in Atlanta and grew up in various parts of Africa and India, the accent was fun to work on. To perfect her character’s tone, she drew from her experiences doing accent work in drama school and “pretending to be British for four years in my undergrad because I just kind of wanted to feel something.” She was also grateful to the dialect coaches on set who helped keep her accent in check. “There were times where I would go through a scene and halfway through, I’m like, ‘Sh*t, I am speaking in my American accent!'”
Even though the accent took some practice, Thomas says it was worth it to play such a pivotal role in the “Bridgerton” universe. “I’ve seen a lot of people who had never watched ‘Bridgerton’ because they didn’t think it was for them,” she says, referring to the lack of diversity in the show’s casting.
While “Bridgerton” focuses on white families, “Queen Charlotte” brings the stories of people of color to the forefront. “When I watched ‘Bridgerton,’ I felt a bit frustrated because I was like, ‘I don’t know why we deserve to get a racial utopia when the work in the real world, in our world, is not there.’ It feels like you’ve given candy to a child that doesn’t deserve it. But then, watching ‘Queen Charlotte’ and working on it, it felt so reminiscent of so many situations where Black women have been the spinal column of a lot of change, and you see that in the show.”
As passionate fans work to manifest a second season, no one is more excited to see the progression of Lady Danbury’s storyline than Thomas. “I feel like it’ll be interesting to see Lady D with the Hastings [family],” she says. “I think that relationship is so interesting and it’d be nice to see her story outside of the proximity to whiteness that it has. I want to see her with the POCs of the ton way more. I want to see what her life is like outside of helping Charlotte. What does she actually like to do, especially now that her husband is dead?”
Thomas’s aspirations for Lady Danbury don’t end there: “I want to see her really engage in her freedom of choice and explore, also, as an actor, what it means to finally make decisions for yourself for the very first time.”
Thomas adds, “I think that’s such an interesting thing to play, because usually as adults, we’ve already made decisions before so it should not mean anything. And to play somebody who has been treated as a child their whole life and now who is a fully realized adult, it’ll be really exciting to see what she drinks if it’s not Port wine, her relationship to Coral now that she has all of this free time, what her kids are like — does she send them off to boarding school? Just knowing all of the shades and shadows of Lady D and really why she does the things she does, I think will be super interesting to delve into.”
Ahead, read more about Thomas’s behind-the-scenes relationships with her “Queen Charlotte” castmates.
Who was the last “Queen Charlotte” costar you texted and what did you say?
The last “Queen Charlotte” co-star I texted was, I think, Peyvand [Sadeghian] who plays Coral. We just went and saw a play together. We’re doing a barbecue for my birthday this weekend and so I texted her what to bring. I think I told her, “Bring napkins, please.”
What is the last thing you did with your “Queen Charlotte” costars off set?
I watched a play with Peyvand last week and I haven’t seen the rest of them [recently]. I texted Connie [Jenkins-Greig] if she wanted to grab wine and we haven’t set that up. And Keir [Charles] is meant to come to my barbecue, but I think he’s busy. The rest of them, like India [Ria Amarteifio] and Corey [Mylchreest], I haven’t seen them since we left LA almost two months ago.
What is the last thing you did for self-care?
I got an intense Thai yoga massage two days ago, like she was sitting on top of me. It was amazing. My body was sore but I needed it so bad.
Besides “Queen Charlotte” and “Bridgerton,” what is the last series you binge-watched?
I just finished “From.” I think it’s on Amazon. It’s so f*cking good and their second season is coming out now, but I’m going to wait until the last episode so I can binge it all again. But yeah, super sci-fi, super creepy. Love it.
What is the last song or album you listened to?
I’ve been listening to Davido’s “Timeless” album on repeat religiously. I think everything in there is f*cking choice.
What is the last book you read?
I’m just about to finish “Communion: [The Female Search For Love]” by bell hooks.
What was the last trip you went on?
I just came back from Stockholm, Sweden. It was actually quite nice.
What is the last thing you ordered online?
My god, this is embarrassing: a Squatty Potty. But, like, those things are f*cking magical. I need to get a travel one so that I can take it with me wherever I go.
What is the last gift you received?
I got an African woven fan from a really cool market. Really nice.
What is the last photo in your camera roll?
A screenshot for a script that I’m auditioning for.
When was the last time you were starstruck?
I saw Antonia Thomas and Naomi Ackie at this gifting thingy. I was just shocked. They were chatting and I was like, “Hi!” as if they f*cking know me. My backpack was right by where they were sitting and I was like, ‘I’m just getting my backpack.’ Then I saw Naomi Ackie randomly a day later outside of the Metro and I was like, “Oh my god.” She was like, “Hey.” So very starstruck, love her, big fan.
What is the last piece of advice you received that changed your life?
The last piece of advice I got was from a book by Akwaeke Emezi. The book is called “Dear Senthuran: [A Black Spirit Memoir].” It’s so funny, I’m about to meet her for lunch tomorrow so I will be starstruck then as well. But the advice that they gave is not only should you not care what other people think about you, you shouldn’t care what you think about yourself, either. I was like, “Oof.” That hit me because I think about it myself a lot, but I think the thoughts I have about myself are so imprinted by what society also wants from me that there’s almost, now, zero difference between me, Arsema, and society. So it’s just don’t care about what anyone including yourself things about you.