Queen Charlotte Star Arsema Thomas on the Revelry and Responsibility of Playing Lady Danbury

queen charlotte a bridgerton story arsema thomas as young agatha danbury in episode 105 of queen charlotte a bridgerton story cr nick wallnetflix © 2023
Meet 'Queen Charlotte' Star Arsema ThomasNICK WALL/NETFLIX

It’s not entirely surprising that Arsema Thomas, who stars as Lady Danbury in the new Netflix series Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, studied at Carnegie Mellon University. After all, the Pittsburgh institution is known for turning out stage and screen performers at the highest level. But what might raise an eyebrow is that Thomas didn’t study drama while she was a student; instead, she majored in biophysics.

“It was funny because I would see all of these actors at the drama school, and everyone would always be like, ‘Let's go watch a play,’ and I'd be there seething with such jealousy,” Thomas says with a laugh. “I didn't know what it was, but I was just like, I want to be there so bad. And then I never even watched a play there, which is such a shame.”

But surely things changed when she attended grad school at Yale, home of one of the world’s most respected drama schools? “I went to Yale for my master’s program, but I didn’t have the heart,” Thomas, who was born in the U.S. and grew up mostly in Kenya, explains. “It was the manifestation of the shame of not having the bravery to go for what I wanted when it was so clear to me. So, I graduated with my master's degree in public health, and then I knocked on the door of the dean of the drama school and I was like, ‘How can I make this what I live for rather than this thing that I am too embarrassed to talk about?’”

arsema thoma queen charlotte bridgerton netflix
Arsema Thomas plays Lady Danbury on Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, the new series streaming now on Netflix. Philip Friedman

It must have been good advice. Thomas left Connecticut behind, relocating to Paris, then South Africa, and finally London to attend drama school and chase her dream. Now, just a few years later, Thomas is starring in one of the year’s most anticipated projects, playing the younger version of a character (played on Bridgerton by Adjoa Andoh) who’s among the most beloved on the massively popular Shonda Rhimes-produced series.

“I was at drama school, getting into the peak part of my second year, when this audition made its way into my inbox,” Thomas explains. “I didn't know what was going to happen. As an actor, there are so many auditions that you get, some for things that you never end up seeing happen. So, this was one of those things that I threw into the ether hoping that maybe I hear something back—and then I did.”


Thomas did another round of tryouts and was tasked with presenting scenes from the first season of Bridgerton. “I'd never seen the show,” she admits, “so I was able to put my own spin on it and hope for the best, that whatever I was serving they would like.” It wasn’t until the end of 2021 that the scope of what Queen Charlotte—which tells the origin story of some of Bridgerton’s most compelling characters, and comes complete with its own rocky romances, sharp-elbowed social climbing, and contemporary Easter eggs hidden in a Regency-era world—came into focus.

queen charlotte netflix bridgerton
Corey Mylchreest, who plays King George, India Amarteifio, who plays Queen Charlotte, and Arsema Thomas, who plays Lady Danbury in Netflix’s new, Shonda Rhimes-produced series Queen Charlotte. Philip Friedman

“I met with the amazing group of producers on the show and the director, Tom Verica, and realized that it was a good meeting,’ she says. “And between that moment and binging the entire first season—and season two when it came out—it all started to become very real. I was aware of how impactful this show was for so many people and how different it was. It meant that there was a lot of responsibility when putting on the shoes of this character.”

That responsibility came in part because Thomas was such a fan of Andoh’s portrayal of the same character but was also due to the formative experiences the character has during the first season of Queen Charlotte. “There is something different about Lady Danbury,” Thomas says. “I think she speaks for all of the girls that didn't really fit in anywhere and the women they could become. To be part of the sequence of events that makes this great woman is not only an honor but is also therapeutic in a way because it allows me to have a sense of optimism for myself.”

Optimism for Thomas doesn’t seem to be in short supply. “Arsema kills me, because this was one of her first jobs,” says Rhimes, who wrote a forthcoming Queen Charlotte novel with Bridgerton author Julia Quinn. “When I told [the cast] that they email me at any and ask me any questions, almost nobody took me up on it in a serious way—but Arsema did. She was asking really powerful, specific questions that led to how intellectual she is and how much she processes at a time. She would come back to me with all this historical information that she had read and wanted to discuss it and figure out how it layered into what we were doing. She was amazing.”

queen charlotte netflix bridgerton arsema thomas
Before she was a star of Queen Charlotte, Arsema Thomas was a biophysics major at Carnegie Mellon University. Philip Friedman

India Amarteifio, who plays the show’s title character, adds, “Arsema is very clever and well versed in the world. She’s headstrong and knows exactly what she wants; I don't think she's too dissimilar from Lady Danbury in the sense that she's a woman who knows what she wants and is going to get it. I would not want to see people stand in her way.”

That certainly doesn’t seem like it’s going to be an issue. For now, Thomas feels confident that Queen Charlotte is going to land with a similarly sensational impact as Bridgerton did; she says, “There’s a Swedish word for the moment you realize that everyone has as deep and complex a life as you do, and that’s what I hope people take away from Queen Charlotte. The central characters of this story are people who are usually on the fringes of other stories, and at this moment they all come to the forefront with complexity and wit that’s never been given—and that’s going to create change.”

And as for what’s next, well, that remains to be seen. “I would love to do something in the sci-fi and fantasy world, something very much not based in our reality,” Thomas says. “And I would love to also do something quite serious. It'd be amazing to engage with dramatic and heavy content, and maybe to use that as a comparison to make my own life seem quite light.”

You Might Also Like