INTERVIEW

"That is not history": Adjoa Andoh, the other "Bridgerton" queen, challenges the usual period dramas

The beloved actor discusses Lady Danbury being "rattled," where she can go next and the power of wielding that cane

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published June 17, 2024 1:31PM (EDT)

Daniel Francis as Lord Anderson and Adjoa Andoh as Lady Agatha Danbury in "Bridgerton" (Liam Daniel/Netflix)
Daniel Francis as Lord Anderson and Adjoa Andoh as Lady Agatha Danbury in "Bridgerton" (Liam Daniel/Netflix)

Since this was my first time speaking with Adjoa Andoh, the “Bridgerton” actor who makes Lady Agatha Danbury a force second only to Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) in formidability, I begged her pardon before asking about her character's other defining trait: her outstanding fashion. 

In 19th century Grosvenor Square, and in a sea of effervescent pastels and ruffles, Lady Danbury is a vision in saturated plums and burgundies sculpted by lines and high collars that could slice brie. The Queen has her artistic pompadours and diadems; Lady Danbury crowns herself with her signature hat, worn at a jaunty tilt. In Julia Quinn’s novels, the character walks with a cane. Andoh’s interpretation of that accessory implies anything but infirmity. 

“For my iteration of Lady Danbury,” Andoh shared in a recent Zoom conversation, “it is a stick that has swagger.”

Each new “Bridgerton” season redirects its focus to another of the titular family’s children, inviting us to tag along as they seek a suitable match that balances social politics and romance. While the circumstances of each courtship shift with each character, Lady Danbury is a regal constant. A loyal friend to the family’s matriarch Violet Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell) and one of the queen’s most trusted confidantes, Lady Danbury is a character – bolstered by Andoh’s performance – one aspires to know and, maybe, to become.

Smitten viewers may hope that she remains ever thus. Not Andoh. “To me, that's not interesting . . . it's not life,” she said,"because none of us are in aspic. It's almost like the fiction of the magical Negro. It doesn't exist because we're humans. We're not gods or monoliths. I don't want to watch that. And I don't want to play that. I want to play someone who has to navigate life like we all do, because there's learning in it, and there's drama in it, and there's interest in it.”

In the latest “Bridgerton” storyline Lady Danbury’s calm is unexpectedly rattled by the unannounced arrival of her long-absent brother, Lord Marcus Anderson (Daniel Francis). For most of the season we don’t know why Lady Danbury had a falling out with her brother, but discover the truth in the seventh episode, “Joining of Hands.” 

“What would happen if Lady Danbury had a relationship?"

When they were children Marcus ruined Agatha's plans to escape her family, resulting in her father marrying her off to an older man she couldn’t stand. This is where her story picks up in “Queen Charlotte,” where the character’s younger version is played by Arsema Thomas. 

Regarding this new revelation, Andoh says, “OK, so here’s where Adjoa goes into a bit of a heavy turn. But you know, I have been thinking about D-Day, and the 80th anniversary of the war, and all the different people who had the most awful hardships in their lives, who don't want to discuss it. . . . I know we're talking about fiction. We're not talking about real life, terrible war experiences. Nonetheless, I reflect on those stories, and I reflect on grandparents who never talked about their wartime experiences and other experiences.

“Her brother and all of that childhood, she never talks about it,” Andoh continued. “She never raises it. Why? It was painful, and it was hard, and she is trying to move forward. So I think when you say she's rattled when he appears, you are right. Because he's rattling the edifice that she has created in order to go forward, in a way that she finds comfortable and one she can manage. And for me . . . a character rattled? A formidable person off their game? It's fabulous to play.”

In addition to her extensive activism work, Andoh’s career spans decades and includes credits on long-running U.K. TV series such as “EastEnders,” “Casualty” and “Doctor Who” along with an extensive list of theatrical roles, including directing and starring in a production of William Shakespeare’s “Richard III.” (Elsewhere on Netflix, she also pops up in Season 2 of “The Witcher.”)

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“Bridgerton,” however, brings together a vast community from different countries and cultures, all linked by an affinity for romance and the story’s inclusive interpretation of Regency-era storytelling. Which, as Andoh points out, is closer to the truth of how Britain was and is. 

Shonda Rhimes’ interpretation of that period, as shaped by creator Chris Van Dusen, who handed the showrunner reins over to Jess Brownell for this new season, is a refreshing response to those of us who grew up watching all-white period productions on PBS, courtesy of “Masterpiece Theater.”

"I want to play someone who has to navigate life like we all do, because there's learning in it, and there's drama in it."

Andoh says this production “gives us the opportunity to be less ahistorical in our representation of the past. So all those ‘Masterpiece’ things that you would have seen with an entirely white canvas are ahistorical. That is not history,” she said. “You know, this is a tiny little island in the North Sea that punched above its weight, went all over the world, colonized, took, stole brought back did all the things that Great Britain did in order to become ‘great.’ It went out to the world, and the world came to it.”

Through the show’s popularity, that’s still happening – and not just among the “posh-os,” as Andoh describes the upper class. Part of the promotional tour for the show took her to Johannesburg in South Africa and Warsaw, Poland. “Africa, flew to Johannesburg to celebrate ‘Bridgerton’ — Africa in all its variety, all its communities. Same thing in Poland. All of Central Europe came to Warsaw to celebrate ‘Bridgerton.’”   

Andoh thinks of the show’s global fandom as “a big tent. And it's a tent that says, ‘Your gender, your race, your religion, your sexuality, I don't care. Do you like the show? Come on in. You're welcome.’"

She added, “I'm interested in the places where we come together and when we just engage with each other at what I would call a soul level.”


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Surmising what we can from the ending of Season 3, it looks as if the show intends to cash in some of that currency it’s built with fans to introduce queer romances in its fourth round of episodes. 

As Andoh reminds us, change is always afoot in the ‘Ton. So what does that mean for Lady Danbury? The actor floated some possibilities. 

“You know . . . with Violet, she talks about gardens in bloom and all of that,” Andoh said. “What would happen if Lady Danbury had a relationship? How do independent, powerful women — and this is a 21st-century question as well — who have made a life for themselves, how do they make space for their hearts? How do you accommodate the heart space into a world that you've made quite safe and secure?

“I would love to see a bit of that as well,” Andoh concluded. So would we.

All episodes of "Bridgerton" are streaming on Netflix.

 


By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

MORE FROM Melanie McFarland


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