“I’m not a political person,” Golda Rosheuvel tells me during what is our fifth interview about her role playing Queen Charlotte in Bridgerton and now, the new prequel series Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, streaming on Netflix. The first time I spoke to her was way back in 2020, when Bridgerton was, for TV audiences at least, still a little-known show that was to premiere on the streaming platform during a dark time in our collective history. The show became a light that we didn’t realize we needed until it was there, on our screens, in our living rooms, as we hunkered down to keep one another safe from a worldwide pandemic.
At the center of the regal, ripe-for-escape world of Bridgerton was, of course, a queen, one who ruled over the aristocracy of Regency England. And that queen — in all her splendor and presence and power — materialized through Rosheuvel, who, from the jump, never minced words when it came to expressing what playing the role of Queen Charlotte meant and still means to her.
“I don’t aspire to be [a political person],” continues Rosheuvel, “but the parts that I say yes to have something to say. The roles that I’ve gone, ‘Yeah, I’m really interested in playing Othello as a woman,’ open something up for me as the actress to explore this role in a different way. So then, by osmosis, the audience explores the role, and that language, and Shakespeare in a different way. Therefore, it becomes political.”
I ask Rosheuvel to clarify what being a political person means to her.
“It means that history for me is important, absolutely,” she explains. “But moving forward and creating space for diversity, inclusion, representation is what I’m interested in. That forward motion, that ‘What do we do now?’ How can we express a community that works together as one? I think that’s what I do with the characters that I portray. And just because [the show’s] a period drama, and people see it as old, as something in the past — I don’t see it like that. I see it as something that will push the conversation forward for the future.”
Through their creator and executive producer, Shonda Rhimes, Bridgerton and now Queen Charlotte are delivering a reimagining of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton book series that allows us to travel through history in a different way. It’s no secret that within the historical context of the Bridgerverse, women were thought of as the lesser sex. Marginalized, segregated from power, and reminded constantly of their duty to do nothing more than produce heirs, women of this era — and let’s be honest, even women today — were rarely recognized for their talents, intelligence, and equitable place in society. But in Rhimes’ version of things, women’s strength, fortitude, aptitude, and resilience, despite these constraints, are front and center, and the queen, through Rosheuvel’s performance, illustrates that parallel universe.
Rosheuvel was born in Guyana to a Guyanese father and a British mother who met while singing in a choir in Barbados. Rosheuvel’s family moved to England when she was 5 years old, living with her mother’s brother for a time west of London. She grew up in Hertfordshire and Essex, north of London, amongst manor houses and country estates, taking Sunday promenades. In those spaces, she, along with her brother and father, was one of the only people of color. Because of her dual heritage, Rosheuvel was familiar with both worlds, but when it came to her career, because of the color of her skin, Rosheuvel always played Black roles. And it wasn’t until portraying Queen Charlotte in 2020 that Rosheuvel, now 52, got the chance to represent her mother’s background — she’d never previously been given the chance (arguably, neither had any other Black actress) of portraying European royalty or aristocracy on-screen. Thus, playing the queen has been completely celebratory for Rosheuvel.
“I really do love her,” she says. “And every day, she surprises me.”
“How so?” I ask her.
“I always describe part of acting as advocating for the characters that we play,” Rosheuvel explains. “So, there’s an element of them taking over and being in control. So, she surprises me in the way that she will react to something. And while I know it’s me that’s doing it, I work on instinct; I never do much research because, from between action and cut, that’s where the magic happens. I never know where the twists and turns are going to go. And I know that I’m Golda Rosheuvel in control of that, but it’s fun to explore and play. That instant instinct can make things change on a dime.”
Rosheuvel’s acting instincts have been honed through dozens of plays on the British stage and before that, singing in choirs with her mother — the first thing Rosheuvel ever sang publicly was Mozart’s Requiem. Her father was a Church of England priest, which she felt also instilled its own theatrical influence. Rosheuvel was always going to the theater, to the opera, and listening to classical music, jazz, and reggae. She was also quite the athlete — she was her school’s captain of the netball and hockey teams, and swam and played hockey for the county. She truly enjoyed both the sporty and the artsy sides of her early life, but an ankle injury when she was about 16 solidly pointed Rosheuvel’s path toward the arts.
Her first professional job came around age 18 while she was still in school at London Studio Centre, when she took six months off and toured Europe with a production of Hair. After graduating with a diploma in acting, she landed a role in director Simon Callow’s Carmen Jones at the Old Vic Theatre, then went on to star as Mary Magdalene in the 1998 British tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, Lady Macbeth in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s 2010 production of Macbeth, Mercutio in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre 2017 production of Romeo and Juliet, and a year later, the title role in Othello at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre. In film and TV, she had a small but memorable role as Shadout Mapes in Dune and has been part of many shows throughout her 23-year screen career, including Coronation Street, EastEnders, and Luther.
“There have been ups and downs,” Rosheuvel says when I ask her what her career trajectory has been like. “But I think the downs have been more of a frustration. [There was a time when] I needed to understand how the industry sees me. [Because] this industry can be frustrating as a Black artist. You never really get the opportunities that your white counterparts get. And I was going up for good parts, but they weren’t substantial — parts like ‘young wayward mom with child,’ or ‘lawyer,’ or ‘doctor,’ or ‘police officer’ — archetypal parts that Black artists will go up for. And I kind of came to this revelation for myself, going, ‘I don’t mind playing the doctor, the lawyer, the wayward mom, but now I want that to be either the storyline or part of the storyline.’”
Rosheuvel stopped saying yes to roles if they weren’t serving her, and as she says, “Things started to shift. But that was because I took control. I asked the questions for myself.”
Not long after she made these changes to her career, she was called in to audition for Lady Danbury for the first season of Bridgerton. As she describes it, it was one of those auditions where the lines are seared into your brain, but as soon as you get into the audition room, they disappear.
“I remember saying to [casting director] Kelly [Valentine Hendry], ‘I knew them outside!’” says Rosheuvel. “But she was very nice and told me not to worry. I got through it, [but] I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get that role.”
It was only a few hours later that Hendry called Rosheuvel to tell her that they’d like her to audition for the queen. Rosheuvel and her partner were packing to go meet friends in France for Christmas and New Year’s, but Rosheuvel said to her partner, “We need to get this done.” Over the next 30 minutes, they prepped for an on-tape audition and sent it in.
“The reason why it was so quick is because I knew her,” says Rosheuvel. “I just knew her. There are times in an actor’s life where a part just lands, where you just know. So, I went off, had Christmas, and in between Christmas and New Year, my agent called me and said that [they] loved it, and it was going to Shonda Rhimes. When everyone was back in the office after New Year, I got the phone call: ‘We’d like to cast you.’ I grew up on period dramas. So, to be able to have this opportunity to be in one, it was, ‘Yes, please. Where do I sign?’”
Nearly four years after that moment, Rosheuvel is not only getting to explore Queen Charlotte on a deeper level, but she’s simultaneously handing the reins to India Amarteifio, who is helping to tell the queen’s story.
Rosheuvel points to two small moles on her forehead and cheek, explaining that the makeup department re-created them on Amarteifio’s face for the show. It only serves to further marry their already strikingly similar appearance, but Rosheuvel is quick to bring to attention that she had nothing to do with shaping Amarteifio’s portrayal of young Queen Charlotte.
“I very much wanted her to take the role and make it her own,” says Rosheuvel, who never wanted to impart her own interpretation of the queen to the young actress. “I don’t own this role; it’s not mine to have and to keep. I love sharing. I handed the role over, and she did it brilliantly. It’s magic, absolute magic.”
Indeed, so much of Queen Charlotte’s payoff is the dive into the younger years of this indelible matriarch — but the icing on the cake is the exploration of a queen we were already familiar with, but hardly knew at all. Rosheuvel points to the emotional conversation in the final episode of the series — where Brimsley points out that Charlotte’s devotion to her husband may have clouded her abilities as a mother — to solidify this point:
“That scene really explains everything that we see in Bridgerton. It’s about duty, it’s about family, it’s about love, it’s about complex relationships. It’s ‘Did I make the right choice all those years ago? Yes, I did make the right choice. I love this man.’ It’s all of that stuff in one moment of a lifetime.”
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 Instagram at @ByValentinaV.
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