One of the most valuable aspects of Shonda Rhimes giving us the backstory of Queen Charlotte and King George’s great love affair in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is the knock-on effect — we get to delve into the lives and the love stories of not just the young king and queen but also those in their orbit. As we’ve watched (and rewatched) the Bridgerton spin-off story, it’s been such a joy to learn more about the beginnings of Lady Danbury’s relationships, good and bad. Likewise, peeking into Lady Bridgerton’s childhood has given us a better understanding of what molded the Bridgerton matriarch into the woman we see in Bridgerton seasons one, two, and (soon enough) three.

But the affair in Queen Charlotte that has us all cheering is between Brimsley and Reynolds, the queen’s and the king’s right-hand men. Played by Sam Clemmett and Freddie Dennis, respectively, young Brimsley and Reynolds are, on the surface, the dedicated and loyal keepers of their royal employers. Their lives seemingly only revolve around what Queen Charlotte and King George want or need, and they must be steadfast in their devotion to such. But in the backrooms of the palace, under the cover of night, Brimsley and Reynolds have fallen in love with each other.

“I remember Hugh [Sachs, who plays older Brimsley in the series] saying when I met him at the read-through that people have been dying for a storyline like this,” says Clemmett. “And he was so happy it was finally here. I realized how much weight that this storyline would have when he said that to me.”

Adds Dennis: “I hope that it’s as well received as it should be. And I hope that the people who have been looking forward to it enjoy it as a storyline, because we’ve loved playing it.”

The two actors found immense support in each other despite the differences in their careers thus far. Apart from one episode of HBO’s The Nevers, this is Dennis’ first major TV role since graduating from the Oxford School of Drama in 2021. And Clemmett has been acting on British TV for the last decade, recently breaking into films with Cherry and The War Below. But Clemmett is best known for originating the role of Albus Severus Potter, son of Harry and Ginevra Potter, in the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. His three-year run as Albus took him from the West End to Broadway, and now in Queen Charlotte, he’s entered yet another fan-driven franchise.

As fans have continued to attach themselves to Brimsley and Reynolds’ endearing love story, Shondaland talks with the two actors, who were quite open and honest about their process and experience on the show. They discuss the backstories they made up for their characters, the ups and downs of Brimsley and Reynolds’ relationship, and that glorious bathtub scene.

Light spoilers for Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story follow.

VALENTINA VALENTINI: Let’s dive right in! What was the first scene that you filmed together?

SAM CLEMMETT: Oh, it was one of our favorite scenes, wasn’t it?

FREDDIE DENNIS: Yeah! We were upset that it was the first scene because we wanted to do it again and again. It was the scene in episode four that ends with Reynolds saying, “No fish around the king.” It’s when Brimsley and Reynolds are spatting over the fact that the king is coming back to Buckingham House. And you can tell it’s the first scene — well, I can tell it’s the first scene — because my hair is completely different to every other scene! They were still working on what they were doing with my hair.

SC: It was quite a big scene for our first scene together. It wasn’t like standing in the back of the shot looking at each other — it was a power-play scene trying to get information out of each other. It set the tone for our relationship, for sure. And I remember that it was your first scene on your first job, right, Fred?

FD: That was the first scene I’d ever filmed. And when it came ’round to the crew show [a run-through of the scene for the benefit of the whole crew, much like a tech rehearsal in theater] and the masses descended, I was like, “What the hell is going on now?!” There were literally hundreds of people walking into this massive room at Blenheim Palace — which was intimidating already because it’s one of Britain’s greatest buildings — but I had only graduated drama school a couple of months before, and I think the largest audience I’d had until then was a play for about 50 people. It was like, not only do I have to do this, I have to look like I expected this.

SC: Literally, fake it until you make it.

shonda rhimes
Sam Clemmett (left) as young Brimsley and Freddie Dennis as Reynolds in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.

VV: Okay, now how about the most difficult scene you had to film together?

FD: I can think of one that I found very hard. Sam, can you guess what I’m going to say?

SC: Are you going to say, “A gesture?”

FD: Yes! I was going to say, “A gesture.” It’s the scene where Brimsley tells Reynolds that he needs to make the king do something to consummate the marriage, that he needs to show her a gesture. I hated doing that scene so much. It was also freezing that day, but I just felt very green that day, and I just felt completely out of place and slightly like an impostor. I wasn’t performing very well, and we just had to go again and again and again.

SC: I knew that Freddie wasn’t enjoying it, and it was ridiculous because he was brilliant in it. I don’t know why, but just sometimes we get in our heads about stuff. And once that happens, it is so hard to get over that.

VV: When did you two find out that Brimsley and Reynolds would have a relationship?

SC: I found out that Brimsley has a relationship a couple of days after finding out I got the part, but I didn’t know who with and in what capacity.

FD: Same.

SC: It was only when I got the second episode in its entirety that I realized that the relationship would be with the king’s man, Reynolds.

FD: I suppose that was quite close to the time of the read-through [when a full cast does a table read-through of the whole project]. And there we were, looking at each other from across the room, you and me, and thinking, “My love.” [Both laugh.]

queen charlotte a bridgerton story freddie dennis as reynolds in episode 102 of queen charlotte a bridgerton story cr liam danielnetflix © 2023
"In Reynolds’ case, the conflict between his love for George and desire to protect George, and not being able to share all those issues with the man that he loves...that was a fascinating thing to play."

VV: What were your thoughts about getting to play out this storyline?

FD: It was particularly exciting because of this conflict between duty and desire. What’s wonderful about the Reynolds and Brimsley’s storyline is that they have such a competitiveness that is brilliant to play as actors, but also, by the end, you really see how much they love and care for each other and rely on each other as their own personal support systems. In Reynolds’ case, the conflict between his love for George and desire to protect George, and not being able to share all those issues with the man that he loves, Brimsley — that was a fascinating thing to play.

SC: One of the things I realized the more we were doing it was this idea of how isolated in their roles they would have been; they don’t have anyone else to be themselves with other than each other. I found that very touching to play throughout, and the moments that we do get with one another, they mean so much. Whether it’s five minutes or 20 minutes, and it’s rarely any more than that, the stakes of that and what that means is fascinating to dive into.

VV: Sam, how much did you talk to or take from Hugh Sachs in your portrayal of young Brimsley?

SC: I absolutely talked to him before I started making too many choices, and he gave me lots of ideas and told me of the backstory that he’d created, which was very useful. I mainly started with his physicality and how he holds himself around the queen. Because the physicality of someone in that position is so important. [Director] Tom [Verica] had sort of said, “Look, you’ve got a blank canvas. You’re the one creating the beginning of this person’s life.” So, I kind of had free rein amongst all of that to throw my own stuff onto it. I didn’t get too caught up trying to replicate everything that Hugh was creating; I took bits and bobs and then built from there. And I think Hugh’s done a similar thing and has looked at aspects of what I’m doing to inform his role. It was a working relationship throughout the filming process.

FD: One of my favorite things about watching Queen Charlotte is that so much of the love that you see between us two comes through Hugh’s portrayal of older Brimsley and Reynolds’ absence. Maybe it’s just because I played Reynolds and Sam played Brimsley, but one of my favorite parts of the story is seeing how Hugh carries that absence with him in every scene.

VV: Freddie, you didn’t have an older counterpart to look to. Was that helpful, or did it make it more challenging?

FD: I would argue that it makes it easier, actually, because there’s less pressure to portray something in a similar way to someone else. There was more creative freedom on my part — although you may disagree, Sam — to make Reynolds my own. But at the same time, I sort of fell in love with Reynolds in a way, and his absence pains me. I would quite like to know what happened to him down the line. I think that’s going to be a question on a lot of people’s agendas.

VV: We are just dropped into and then pulled out of their relationship. Like, we don’t know how or when it started, and we don’t know how or when it ends. But I do know that actors often create backstories for themselves to help with character building. Did either of you do that with yours?

FD: The main thing I tried to get my head around with the backstory was Reynolds’ relationship with George, and why he was thrust into such a position of relative power at such a young age, looking after, arguably, the most powerful man in the world at that point. I always felt he was about my age, 25 at the time. I did a lot of backstory work on how Reynolds grew up with George, and how Reynolds’ family had worked alongside the monarchy for decades; his father was the most powerful butler in the country, and he was going to be the same. That’s why Reynolds was sort of born into this world where he was destined to take over lead butler duties from a very young age. I imagined that he met Brimsley while on the job, and he always thought he was slightly better than Brimsley because of that destiny he felt he had. But then, he subsequently fell in love with Brimsley, and that was a difficult thing to contend with but also very joyous.

SC: Brimsley grew up in the court with his parents, so he’s also known about this position for a long time. And then there is someone coming over to marry the king, and he has finally been given the opportunity to serve someone of such power. He’s a perfectionist, he knows the ins and outs of this job, he has been waiting for this moment. Subsequently, he is sort of filled with constant anxiety because he wants to get everything spot-on. So, he’s finally gotten the opportunity to do what he’s always wanted to do, and then he meets the tornado that is Queen Charlotte, who, understandably, doesn’t know what the hell is going on, why she’s being married off to the king of England, and what the etiquette is of being the queen of England.

I second everything that Freddie said when it comes to the backstory between the two of them and how their relationship was sort of born, and his arrogance of the position that he holds, and always slightly being a bit bitter about that, which leads to the power play between the two.

queen charlotte a bridgerton story sam clemmett as young brimsley in episode 102 of queen charlotte a bridgerton story cr liam danielnetflix © 2023
"One of the things I realized the more we were doing it was this idea of how isolated in their roles they would have been; they don’t have anyone else to be themselves with other than each other."

VV: Well, I know what my theory is as to why it ended: You guys both love your job so much and the people you serve so much, that ultimately and sadly, that was more important than your love for each other.

FD: I’m glad you didn’t think that Reynolds died!

SC: [Laughs] There was a constant joke running on set that Reynolds dies. If anyone asked, “Where’s Reynolds?” The answer was always, “He’s dead.”

FD: He fell off a horse and broke his neck in episode five [both laugh].

VV: Was finding the romantic chemistry on-screen hard for you two?

SC: No. We became such good friends so quickly.

FD: It was surprisingly easy, actually. We did have help from Lucy Fennell, who was our wonderful intimacy coordinator on set who helped us choreograph specific moves when it came to the intimate scenes. But actually, Sam became — this is a bit cringe — but Sam became one of my best friends in the world really quickly. We found such a sense of play in our time together on set. I truly loved working with him. I loved working with you, Sam. That joy made it so easy.

SC: Those intimate scenes can be awkward because you’re doing something intimate in an environment where there’s dozens of people watching, and you see the ludicrous nature of the whole thing. But we would just laugh a lot, which makes the whole thing so much easier. And that stems from, like Freddie’s already said, us becoming such good friends so quickly.

VV: Freddie, why do you say it’s cringey?

FD: Because I don’t think I’ve ever said to Sam that he’s one of my best mates. It feels embarrassing, and I’m being very English and awkward now.

VV: Sam, are the feelings reciprocated?

SC: They’re absolutely reciprocated! If I have a lot of stuff going on in my personal life, I share that with Fred. He’s become a support system outside of work as well. Yeah, he means a lot to me. Oh, cringe!

VV: You guys are so British! It’s so funny. But I guess it could’ve gone the other way. Sam, you’ve had quite a few more jobs than Freddie, and in big productions, and for Freddie, it was his first job. Did you mentor him in any way?

SC: For me, any job I go on to, I’m still incredibly nervous — impostor syndrome kicks in at some point. We were there for each other. Whether it’s someone’s first job or not, you become each other’s rocks. It was a very equal playing field in that sense. I never felt the duty to go, “Come on, Fred. I’ll take you through this.” Because I remember my first job and really not wanting anyone to know that it was my first job. Just trying to put one foot in front of the other and get through it without really knowing what was going on.

FD: It’s like that silly bit from Madagascar, “Smile and wave boys.” [Both laugh.] I completely agree, though, and actually, I think you’d have to be a slightly horrible person to not be overwhelmed by what we experienced, first job or not. Particularly those first couple of weeks on set at Blenheim Palace, which I would argue is Britain’s most beautiful and famous palace, and we were walking around and had the place to ourselves. I’d been studying in Oxford and running along the outside of that palace pretty much every day for a year and had never been inside. So, it was incredibly overwhelming. We were all slightly terrified because the production value was enormous, the size of the team was enormous, the scale of the project was beyond any of our wildest dreams. So, we all sort of helped each other through it.

We were there for each other. Whether it’s someone’s first job or not, you become each other’s rocks. It was a very equal playing field in that sense.

SC: You’re coming into a world that already has a huge fan base and is incredibly successful. You’ve got Shonda Rhimes at the helm of it, so I would defy anyone to not be intimidated by that. And I’m sure the same goes for the crew and Tom as well.

FD: And Tom set the tone. We have Tom to thank for pretty much everything because he created such a happy set, and that made everything so much less intimidating. He held all of our hands at points through the filming, and I’ll be forever grateful to him for that.

SC: Since seeing all the episodes too, I also feel an immense pride in everyone in the cast and crew because what we’ve seen is beyond what I expected of the show. I was genuinely quite blown away. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a project where I’ve watched it and gone, “Wow, this is actually quite special.”

FD: Extraordinarily special.

VV: Backtracking just a bit, the relationship between Brimsley and Reynolds isn’t the smoothest of relationships. There were a lot of ups and downs, a lot of emotional range that you two have to play while also kind of not being emotional because that’s your characters’ job, to don that mask.

SC: Without a doubt, that was the hardest part, constantly treading this line and having a conversation with Tom about how far we can push something — can we show that we have an opinion about what’s going on here in front of our very eyes in this moment, whether there’s dialogue or not? And a lot of the time, particularly in the beginning three or four episodes, it’s a lot of holding your position; you’ve got to do your job. It becomes a challenge of how you hold all of this weight without doing a thing, without showing it, while maintaining this position. It’s very hard.

FD: I completely agree. And we spoke about this endlessly on set. It was so difficult to find the balance between all the feelings of love, care, and frustration that Brimsley and Reynolds have for each other, but also for the situation that’s unfolding around them. As the queen’s man or the king’s man, you’re not allowed to show a thing. It has to be so subtle and understated, and at times I admit to feeling like I wasn’t even portraying a human. And I wanted to show Reynolds’ profound humanity because I believe that he was, is, a deeply sensitive character. How do I show that without showing that?

SC: I think one of the loveliest scenes, and we had about half an hour to do it, is in episode six in the bathtub where we talk about the potential of our future. It’s just them two, underground in the palace, being very intimate and delicate with each other, being able to just have a conversation without the duty overtaking them. It was a nice way to round off this aspect of their story in these six episodes.

FD: I relished the opportunity there, and I’m sure you did too, Sam, of being significantly more gentle, more human. I could have stayed in that bath forever.

SC: I wish I was still there.

Valentina Valentini is a London-based entertainment, travel, and food writer and is also a senior contributor to Shondaland. Elsewhere, she has written for Vanity Fair, Vulture, Variety, Thrillist, Heated, and The Washington Post. Her personal essays can be read in the Los Angeles Times and Longreads, and her tangents and general complaints can be seen on Twitter at @ByValentinaV.

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