By Sara Radin
Bridgerton, the new period romance from Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, mixes all the highly stylized drama of Grace Mercy West Hospital with the pomp and powdered wigs of Regency Era England, as eight siblings duke it out for love, status, and, well, dukes. But when a controlling older brother comes between young beauty Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dyneover) and a superior suitor, causing her to fall out of favor with the queen and one particularly biting gossip columnist, she hatches a plan to redeem herself in the eyes of society. She strikes a deal with Duke Simon Bassett, a decided bachelor with a playboy reputation, to pretend to be madly in love. She hopes the handsome facade will spark jealousy in prospective husbands; he hopes it will curb the pressure to marry from his aunt, Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh).
Cool and serious, even when wearing a brocade waistcoat, the duke is played by the 30-year-old actor Regé-Jean Page, who originally hails from Zimbabwe and moved to London as a teenager. Cutting his teeth in the city’s theater scene, his small-screen break came in 2015 as the unlucky teacher Guy Braxton on the popular British series Waterloo Road, and he cinched the lead role of Chicken George in the Emmy-winning drama Roots the following year. Bridgerton is his second Shondaland production, following the courtroom thriller For the People. Though Page says he had to suppress his own sense of humor to bring the dashing yet sometimes cold Duke Bassett to life, his joy radiated through the screen of a recent Zoom call as he expressed how much of a privilege it has been to be part of this production. “The man does not allow himself the happiness that he has so much access to just kind of right around the corner,” he says of the character. “It reinforced the value of a sense of humor to me.”
A visual feast of elaborate parlor rooms and glamorous ball gowns based on Julia Quinn’s popular book series The Duke and I, Bridgerton has all the cozy trappings of your next Netflix binge. Meanwhile, with his striking good looks and solid acting chops, Page is a star — and a heartthrob — on the rise. Ahead of the drama’s release on Christmas Day (December 25), MTV News sits down with Regé-Jean Page to learn about his acting journey, finding the humanity in his “broody” character, and the ideal, couch-ready outfit for streaming Bridgerton on Netflix.
MTV News: How did you get into acting? What was it about acting that interested you?
Regé-Jean Page: When I was a kid, I wanted to be an explorer. I wanted to go out into deep, dark jungle somewhere and find places in the world that hadn’t been discovered. But then I discovered two things. One, that most of the world had already been visited and two, that would involve encountering entirely too many, very large spiders. So the next best thing, in my mind, was acting.
I got to explore people. I got to explore different ways of life, different places, different jobs, different ways of thinking. It seemed like the thing that gave me the most access to the most different types of people. And then at some point, kind of halfway through university, I discovered that people pay for that if you do it really well. And I was like, wait, you can make a living out of this? So I gave that a go and, thus far, it seems to be going right.
MTV News: Now I want to be an actor.
Page: It’s also long and tiring and miserable and it rains on you all the time, but you have to keep going.
MTV News: How would you summarize what Bridgerton is about?
Page: Bridgerton is a lot like the period dramas that you know and love, but nothing like it’s forerunner. It’s faster, funny, sexier, and more glamorous. It’s a little bit Jane Austen with a touch of Gossip Girl and maybe Fifty Shades of Gray.
MTV News: I love period films and TV shows, the costumes and everything. It seems like such an awesome show.
Page: Well, I mean, I think the joy of when I finally saw the trailer is how indulgent we managed to get it. It’s like, yes, you love your period dramas, but also with fireworks and more color and more glamour and more dances and more romance and more heartbreak. It’s all over that, but bigger and thrown through the Fourth of July.
MTV News: How would you describe Duke Simon Bassett in a few words?
Page: Broody, wounded, and charming.
MTV News: What are some of the challenges your character endures? Were there any experiences to which you could relate?
Page: Simon’s a fairly typical, tall, dark, mysterious, broken man — an anti-hero. I think, like a lot of men, a lot of his problems are of his own making. He has a lot of pride. He has a lot of walls and defenses up. He thinks that the only way to be strong is to be dominant in all aspects. The lessons that he learns about finding strength and vulnerability and being able to love and be loved, this is kind of the show. This is the stuff of romance fantasies and, luckily, that’s what we’re making. But I think that those lessons are fairly universal and most guys, if they allow themselves, can probably relate to that. And I’ll confess that I did a little bit, too.
MTV News: Was there anything specific you did to prepare for this role?
Page: I’m not sure there’s anything I didn’t do for this role. They had us in infinite preparations and classes. We had etiquette lessons, body language lessons, writing lessons, boxing lessons, so many dance classes. But everything is communication. Everything is how people communicate with one another and how they express themselves.
MTV News: Sounds jam-packed.
Page: It was. It was a lot, it was intense, but it was worth the experience.
MTV News: Was there anything you learned about yourself?
Page: One of the most challenging things about Simon was suppressing a sense of humor for about six months at a time. The man does not allow himself the happiness that he has so much access to just kind of right around the corner, just behind the door. It reinforced the value of a sense of humor to me.
MTV News: How does it feel to be part of such an exciting production, one that was created by Shonda Rhimes?
Page: It’s a big deal for a lot of people that I know and love and work with. It was incredibly exciting. It’s huge. They’ve pulled zero punches with this. At one point, we had a bigger crew than Star Wars. There is nothing on a higher level of ambition than this show at the moment, and it’s a real privilege to be at the center of that.
MTV News: Tell me a bit about the clothes you had to wear. What was it like transforming yourself into this person from another era?
Page: Stubborn, mostly. Very restrictive and tight, but very glamorous. The wardrobe is extravagant and glamorous. It’s a little bit like walking into a room with, I don’t know, Rihanna and Beyoncé.
MTV News: What are some of your future career aspirations? Is there a specific character you’d like to play?
Page: Honestly, my favorite thing about this job is being surprised. The roles that I enjoy are the types of roles I couldn’t have imagined a year ago. I like the fact that, as an actor, one day I can be the president. I can be an astronaut. And the day after, I can travel 200 years into the past. I like that I get to access parts of the world and people that I don’t understand and then get to understand them through [acting]. And I hope that’s what you also share with an audience when you do the job right. So the ideal role I’d like would be one that I couldn’t even put into [words]. I don’t even know if it exists.
MTV News: What do you hope people take away from watching the series?
Page: An awful lot of fun. It’s such a lovely, warm, huge, glamorous, romantic, loving place to escape to. It’s this big warm hug for Christmas. So I hope that they put slippers on, put on a nice warm slanket, and escape into the wonders of Bridgerton.