Queen Charlotte‘s Arsema Thomas Doesn’t Care For Royalty
Warning: Spoilers about Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story incoming. When I ask Arsema Thomas how they perceived the role of the British monarchy in modern society, she responds by citing a question that’s obviously been put to them before: “Whenever people ask, ‘What would you do if you were queen for a day? I would say I would dismantle the monarchy.”
With the dubious relevance of royal families more under the microscope than ever since Queen Elizabeth II’s death in 2022 and the contrast in which Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story tackles the subject of race, Thomas tells StyleCaster that it just “doesn’t make sense” to celebrate what is, ultimately, “a social hierarchy that is based solely on your race and the family that you’re born into,” especially when you have Nigerian and Ethiopian heritage; two nations that “decimated by a specific Empire.”
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Indeed, the Netflix series of just six episodes—a prequel to the hit Bridgerton—paints a more tumultuous and therefore impactful picture because, by the time its chronological successor series begins, diversity within the Ton has largely been accepted. With as a young Lady Agatha Danbury, we get to see the court in its infancy, and, as Shonda Rhimes told ET: “We discussed race and it’s not swept under the carpet. You are introduced to these really tough … topics from the beginning. It just feels great to be on a project that is [on] the forefront of leading that change.”
We learn that Agatha’s ladyship is given to her by King George’s mother, Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley) in an effort to expand Charlotte’s court and in doing so, ushers in a royal-adjacent cohort that is much more representative. StyleCaster spoke with Thomas about learning who Lady Danbury is and exploring the catalyst for becoming the self-assured powerhouse we know her to be.
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Were you a fan of Bridgerton before you got involved in this prequel?
I’d never actually watched the show prior to auditioning, I had just been always a fan of Shonda Rhimes. I watched Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, and so when the audition came in my email, and they said that it’s from Shondaland producers, it was like, ‘I don’t care what it says, I’d love to be a part of this storytelling.’ [laughs] It’s a type of storytelling that I enjoy, which is this subtle political conversation in the subtext of the dialogue.
I do want to talk about the moment in which Lord Danbury dies in an almost comical way—during one of your rather unpleasant sex scenes. What can you tell me about the significance of that moment?
I think Agatha recognizes that, because of the gender norms, she cannot actually do anything with him physically there. I think it’s Princess Augusta, honestly, that starts to… Almost force her to speak up for herself and you see that in their interaction in episode two.
As she starts to realize how difficult her husband is being in terms of engaging with progress, she sees that it’s only without him that she can become her truest self. But there is like grief and sadness afterward, so it was such an interesting thing to play with. I think she was just shocked. The ridiculousness of it—the way he died—and the fact that in her mind, she’s thinking ‘I’m free, I can do whatever I want,’ and then realizing later that even without a man life is still quite difficult.
It’s interesting because in the next scene, we see her when she’s older and it’s clear she’s still making decisions to spite him.
Yeah, it’s interesting because, in a real way, it’s like he’s stolen her youth and her childhood.
The bond between Lady Danbury and Queen Charlotte is quite special, how did you and India Amarteifio work on that chemistry?
There is something amazing about seeing the directionality that Agatha gives Charlotte when it comes from a place of selflessness and authenticity. Her need to tell her the truth on how to lead, and how to create change for a segregated society because of where Charlotte comes from.
That also creates this beautiful complexity in their relationship, because there is this power dynamic, even in the visual storytelling of Charlotte being light-skinned, and Agatha being dark-skinned. There are obviously two different Black women narratives happening alongside each other dispelling the myth that to be Black has to be part of a monolith. To be acting also across another Black woman, there is something beautiful in that because there is an isolating feeling, being just personally ourselves in this world as actors.
There’s a moment where you can see the beginnings of the world we see in Bridgerton and it’s that conversation where Lady Danbury tells Charlotte: “The palace walls are too high”. A short but very significant exchange.
Yes, it’s something really impactful because you’ll also see then that Charlotte repeats those words to George. What it really does is create the path for the diverse Bridgerton world that we enjoy, because it is true, the walls of the palace were too high.
It’s a difficult thing to kind of have to process and there is an act of reminding that she needs to go through and I think no one else is doing that. So, the honesty that Agatha gives her in that moment, is also really impactful to see because she does take a risk. This is during a time when you can be beheaded for talking back to the Queen.
I want to talk about your beautiful costumes. Can you talk me through the mechanics of getting dressed?
We do hair and makeup first and that takes two hours. Then they wait until the very last second because being in a corset for much longer than you need to be is not favorable to anyone.
Then it is a thing of putting on the corsets then putting on the underskirts and putting in hip pads or a bustle, like something that gives the skirt volume depending on the style. Then an overskirt, then another corseted dress on top of that, and, sometimes on top of that, a cape, then a hat and gloves.
I’m exhausted just thinking about it. How much would you guess all of that weighed?
I would say, my heaviest dress was maybe—I am being hyperbolic— but I would say a good 15 kilograms (33 pounds), just because of all the embellishment. And it’s crazy because the heaviest dress is the dress that I had to wear during the biggest dance scene. Corey [Mylchreest, who plays King George] was stepping on it the entire time. And I was like, ‘I hope this doesn’t make it onto the camera’. [laughs].
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is available to stream on Netflix.
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