Don’t Rule Out Martins Imhangbe as a James Bond Contender

Erica Gonzales
·9 min read
Photo credit: David Reiss
Photo credit: David Reiss

From Harper's BAZAAR

Bridgerton spoilers ahead.

Since the release of Bridgerton, Regé-Jean Page, who plays the strapping Duke of Hastings, has emerged as a new contender for the next James Bond. But let’s not overlook his equally deserving costar, Martins Imhangbe, who plays the duke’s best friend, boxer Will Mondrich.

“I mean, I’ll have to put myself into the mix,” Imhangbe confidently laughs when I mention the speculation around possible Bond casting. “But, yeah. That would be awesome. That would be amazing [to have Regé] as the next James Bond.”

Bridgerton marks an impressive TV debut for the theater actor, whose credits include Death of a Salesman and The Tragedy of King Richard the Second in London. In a role created for the show (Will wasn’t originally present in Bridgerton’s source material—the romance novel series by Julia Quinn), Imhangbe brings a grounded, gritty contrast to the adaptation’s gaudy, lavish atmosphere. “I think it works so well to have those opposites, to have the boxing as a means of release, as escapism is, as survival,” he says.

After securing the role of Will, Imhangbe trained three to four times a week with coach Cuong Hua at The Commando Temple, a London-based gym. They worked on strength and conditioning, and various styles of boxing—heavy bare-knuckle combat and less fancy footwork given Bridgerton’s 1813 setting. “It was very savage. And it was just about knocking out your opponent as brutally and as quickly as possible,” Imhangbe explains. Add in those 19th-century breaches, “It’s like you couldn’t step out of place,” says the actor.

Like his costars, Imhangbe is stunned by the show’s explosive success. “It’s sort of taken the world by storm, and I’m so proud to be a part of it, especially for what the show represents as well,” he says. Since the premiere, family and friends he hasn’t seen in years have reached out to congratulate him. And he may not admit it, but thirsty tweets have been directed at him (or Mondrich) too. “Right,” he says brushing off the attention with a hearty laugh.

Below, Imhangbe discusses his bromance with Page, what he wants to see next for the Mondriches, and more.

Will is based on a real figure, a boxer named Bill Richmond, who is known as Britain's first Black sports star. How did it feel to re-create history in a way?

That was very exciting for me 'cause I knew about Jack Johnson, the first Black boxing heavyweight champion of the world, but I didn't know anyone prior to him, because Jack Johnson was such a huge icon. So to learn that Bill Richmond came before him—he was also an icon, and he was so revered and respected. He was an entrepreneur, and he provided so many opportunities for up-and-coming boxers. He's part of the reason why we have people like Muhammad Ali and the boxers we have today! It just blew my mind.

Bridgerton is being celebrated for featuring a diverse cast in a period piece, but some viewers were also hoping that it would address race more deeply. Is that something you were curious to explore, maybe how Will or Simon might have navigated the time period?

I think we see that slightly with Will, I think more so with Will than Simon, but I think we do see that. There's a scene with Will and Lord Featherington when he touches on how his dad was in the Dumore Regiment [a British military unit in the Revolutionary War made of people who had escaped slavery] and how he fought for his freedom. So we see flashes of that, and also the fact that Queen Charlotte married the king and how much of a moment that was in terms of people being free to love who they want. So I think it does touch on it.

And also, the Black experience is the Black experience. I think we live it, and we see it. I don't think it always needs to be emphasized as much, because it is what it is. And if you see a person of color on-screen, that's their experience. Whatever situation they're in, that's the experience that they're living. So we see it.

What I love is it doesn't focus on oppression. It's not always about oppression. We can also be liberated and have moments of liberation, and it doesn't always have to be negative. I think that's captured really well in the show.

Will and Simon's bond is really strong; they have a very real brotherhood. Tell me about working with Regé.

Oh, man. The bromance was real. That was real bromance off- and on-screen. I'd definitely consider him a brother of mine and got really close over shooting. I knew of Regé before, but I think working alongside him, I really appreciate him as an artist and as someone whose work ethic is just second to none. He works extremely hard, and I'm so proud that he's getting all the recognition and the praise for what he's done, because there's times where he would open up to me about how tired he was and how he was feeling. And I could only imagine taking on such a huge role. I'm extremely, extremely proud of him. And this is just the beginning. It's just the beginning for Regé, and I'm really excited to see more of his work and to hopefully work with him again.

It's just the beginning for you too! Do you feel like your life changed after the show hit Netflix?

Yes. I do feel like it has slightly changed, and I'm just so excited for the opportunities to come. As actors you sort of wish for your work to resonate and to have an impact within the industry and beyond. And I feel like this is my first venture into that realm. Let's just see how it all unfolds. It's quite exciting and quite scary at the same time.

You have an extensive theater background and you were in Death of a Salesman before this. What was it like to transition from that to a Shonda Rhimes-level Netflix show of this stature?

It wasn't as difficult as I thought it might be. At first, you kind of get overwhelmed by how big the production is—Netflix, Shonda Rhimes—and you're given this great opportunity to really take on this amazing role. There's always that sense of, are you going to do it justice and are you going to do a good job? That imposter syndrome creeps in, but I was very well looked after. And that's by the actors, and that's by the production, that's by the producers. Everyone had my back and was championing me.

And I was very open and honest with saying this is my first job, and I wasn't afraid to ask questions. I'm so grateful for that, because I've spoken to other actors who had their first TV experience and they always felt like they couldn't speak up, so they sort of just got lost within the production. But I always felt like I was seen and I was heard.

It's good to feel that you can be supported, especially in a new environment.

Yeah. And I'd love to credit Chris Van Dusen, the showrunner, because he was always open for conversation and he never once turned me away. He was always willing to collaborate and to discuss the character, and it felt like I owned Will. It didn't feel like Will was imposed on me. It felt like it was a dialogue that we had and I was able to own the character, which gave me that freedom, that sense of liberation.

Photo credit: David Reiss
Photo credit: David Reiss

Part of Will's appeal is that he is a genuinely good guy who is looking out for his children and his wife. What did you make of that difficult decision he had to make between his honor and his family?

I loved the contrast of being a hard-core fighter and also being a loving family man. I thought it was pitched really well with the writing and the production, because sometimes you can have a boxer and that's all they are. All you see is a brute, you see someone who just enjoys violence. But with Will, you see a different dimension, as boxing being a route to escape, to gain financial freedom. It's a means to an end. There's more to it than just hurting people. If he had a choice, he wouldn't be boxing, in my opinion.

So I love that contrast, and that was true to the times. A lot of people didn't have much options, so they'd just done what they could to survive and provide for their families. And boxing was one of the things that Will had in his arsenal. It's nice to know that he was ambitious as well. He's looking beyond it. And he's got his wife who's also supporting him in that world. She's his rock. And I love that family dynamic, where he's seen as this strong man, but he's also subservient to his wife. His wife is very strong and powerful, and then they work together as a team. I think that's beautiful to see.

What do you imagine is next for Will and Alice? Where would you like to see them?

Well, they're rich! [Laughs.] They are rich. I guess I would like to see what he does with the money. I would love to see his entrepreneurial side come in, his business side, and what that strategy would be. And maybe some backstory? Maybe a little backstory to Will and how he met Simon or how he met Alice. That would be quite nice just to see where he's coming from.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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