“As an artist, you need to always ask your self: ‘Why this story? Why now?’”, says Regé-Jean Web page. The 30-year-old actor is video-calling from his condominium in Los Angeles and expounding on his newest position because the rakishly debonair Duke of Hastings within the Regency-era romance Bridgerton.
A frothy interval drama bolstered by a lavish Netflix price range may not seem to be essentially the most urgent nor most related of creative decisions for Web page to be making. But, he sees the eight-part sequence as a subversive act, due to its numerous forged injecting multiculturalism and a boundary-breaking sense of sexual depth into a historically white, staid setting.
“It’s not color blind casting as a result of I don’t assume it’s useful to place brown pores and skin within the present with out placing brown individuals within the present,” Web page says, referring to the contested notion of casting actors based mostly solely on expertise, moderately than race, which has led in excessive circumstances to an erasure of race, reminiscent of Scarlett Johansson’s much-derided casting as a Japanese cyber-human within the 2017 movie Ghost within the Shell. “This present is a glamorous, bold Cinderella fantasy of affection and romance – I don’t know why you wouldn’t invite everybody to come back and play in it, particularly since we’re serving a world viewers on Netflix. It takes so little creativeness to incorporate individuals, versus how a lot thought and energy it takes to maintain individuals out of those tales.”
Having grown up in Zimbabwe, the kid of an inter-racial couple – his household relocated to London when he was 14 – Web page has turn out to be accustomed to viewing seemingly ubiquitous tales from an outsider’s perspective. “Zimbabwe was nonetheless a comparatively younger nation after I was residing there and its post-apartheid society was solely newly shaped,” Web page says. “Being a mixed-race little one in that surroundings signifies that you need to take into consideration crafting your individual id and also you query why you belong in that world. You’re additionally not on the centre of the universe in Zimbabwe, so that you watch these vital locations like London or New York make their selections and also you experience the ripples of that as they turn out to be waves for the remainder of the world. It’s an outsider’s view that I’ve retained in my work and life immediately.”
This mind-set – from each the dominant and marginalised perspective – is one which has served Web page properly in his profession to this point, particularly in his breakout position taking part in Rooster George, the descendant of Gambian slave Kunta Kinte, within the 2016 reboot of the 70s basic drama Roots. “Roots was an enormous duty as a result of it’s this foundational textual content within the States and it additionally resonates pretty strongly with just about any black group globally,” Web page says. “I used to be made to look at this as a child in Zimbabwe as a result of this can be a world historical past – one which we’re nonetheless reckoning with, even when the British can attempt to detach themselves from that legacy of colonialism and slavery.”
That detachment is one thing Web page sees Roots – and more moderen reveals reminiscent of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe – as having an lively half in tackling. All of them serve to construct a nuanced image of individuals of color’s experiences within the western world. “As British individuals, we don’t typically face what our position in historical past is. We’re solely simply starting to do this,” Web page says. “Storytellers have an extremely vital position in confronting that and persevering with the dialog. We’ve to maintain up the momentum, since we’re beholden to our audiences to offer them one thing of worth and significance.”
A method during which this momentum was stoked through the previous summer time of Black Lives Matter protests was by way of a filmed dance efficiency Web page devised with an outdated buddy, Lanre Malaolu, on the Battersea Arts Centre, entitled Don’t Wait. “I felt this urgency to reconnect with the creatives I knew in London and to contribute to my group at a time once we had been all aside,” he says. “We simply made this piece nearly as artwork for artwork’s sake, but additionally to attempt to assist our group, since I’m all the time asking myself how I could make my abilities helpful to different individuals. In the event you get inventive sufficient, you possibly can determine how.”
Bridgerton, government produced by Shonda Rhimes – the co-creator of long-running soapy hits reminiscent of Gray’s Anatomy and How one can Get Away With Homicide – may appear a world away from Web page’s visceral exploration of id and historical past in Don’t Wait and Roots. However Web page thinks in any other case. “You realise that these characters are coping with very Twenty first-century issues within the present; individuals have all the time had the identical needs and wishes, irrespective of whether or not it’s 200 years in the past or now, it’s simply dressed up in several garments and formed by completely different societal restrictions,” he says. “We’re seeing this Regency romance by way of a feminist lens, inspecting what masculinity means for a damaged antihero like my character and the way he can then permit himself to vary and be cherished.”
The result’s a delicate subversion of the romance style, giving larger company to feminine characters such because the protagonist Daphne Bridgerton, performed by Phoebe Dynevor, and her explorations of sexuality, whereas concurrently weaving within the multiracial narrative of an alternate Regency society. In fact, all of that is nonetheless clothed within the swooning melodrama audiences have come to anticipate from the style and the Bridgerton novels, written by Julia Quinn, creating one thing of a tonal see-saw veering from romance to explorations of race and sophistication.
“Finally, you need to meet a sensible setting on display with some creativeness as a viewer, as that’s what creates a narrative. The second you do this on this present, you’ll lose your self in it,” Web page says. With Bridgerton launching on Christmas Day, he hopes viewers encounter the sequence as a “heat Regency hug – an exquisite escapist fantasy of ambition and romance and a reminder of the thrill of social connection in a yr the place we’ve got struggled to have the ability to see each other and may nonetheless”.
Having been break up between the US and UK for the previous 5 years, Web page continues to be unsure about his Christmas plans, that are depending on lockdown restrictions. Whether or not he’s in London or LA, although, he will likely be eagerly awaiting viewers reactions for his flip within the present, in addition to for a smaller position within the Amazon-hosted 50s-set romance Sylvie’s Love. “I’ll be setting apart a while to interact with individuals and simply mirror on the yr, to see what tales I could be telling subsequent.”
Bridgerton is on Netflix on 25 December. Sylvie’s Love is on Amazon Prime Video on 23 December