Interview: Adjoa Andoh dishes about playing Lady Danbury in ‘Bridgerton,’ plus ‘Dr. Who,’ ‘The Witcher’ and more
Adjoa Andoh is one of the best actors I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with either in-person, via zoom, or over the phone. Why? There was this level of confidence that I’ve yet to encounter in an interview, ever. Perhaps this shouldn’t have come as a shock as Andoh has been a mainstay for years at the RSC, The National Theatre, The Royal Court Theatre, and Almeida Theatres. She has a resume ranging from Richard III, Julius Caesar, A Streetcar Named Desire, Dr. Who, Invictus, and now, the television blockbuster hit Bridgerton. The last thing she’s worried about is speaking to a reporter from AwardsWatch over the phone.
Even with a resume most would dream of and acting experiences to last three lifetimes, Andoh couldn’t have been any more gracious and even gave me a taste of my own medicine when I asked her about Season 2 spoilers. We even got into how she approached the role of Lady Danbury and what she enjoys most about the role.
Dewey Singleton: Who are more intense fans, the Brazilian Bridgerton fans or the Doctor Who fans?
Adjoa Andoh: Oh my God. I think it might be a photo finish on that one. I think it might be a photo finish. The Doctor Who fans are extraordinary in their attention to detail. So I guess (silence). And it’s because we’re only one series in whereas the Doctor Who fans can tell you what color socks the fifth doctor was wearing in episode. They are mightily intense and detailed.
DS: Now, I would imagine the level of intensity that these fans have, isn’t the same level of intensity that say the EastEnder fans have, but it’s probably just a different type of intensity with them?
AA: Now, I don’t know. I would say there’s something about something like Doctor Who and Bridgerton that there’s a sense of it being more event TV or an event narrative than with something like EastEnders. I was in EastEnders in the late 80s, early 90s. I joined when it was their sixth birthday and they’d been going since 1985. I think that’s much more of a day-to-day narrative that you watch along with your families growing or your kids growing or whatever it is. Whereas I think something like Doctor Who and Bridgerton, there’s something of the spectacular about them, so it sort of plays into a different sort of attraction I think.
DS: My grandmother, when she was alive, my dad’s British, but is no longer with us.
AA: Where from?
DS: Slough .. how do you decide which your next role’s going to be?
AA: I’m a freelance actor. Part of how one decides is who decides to work with me. I’ve worked with some super movie stars who were also worrying about what their next job will be because I think once you got that freelancer head on you never completely relax about what work’s going to be coming your way. But in terms of making choices about the stuff I want to do, I think I’m interested in 360-degree characters who have a hinterland to them, who have a sense of a life lived, who have a future perspective, and have a sense of reality about them that people can sort of key into. So it doesn’t matter that I’m playing a woman of color in Regency, England, who’s a Duchess with power and authority and all those sorts of things. In season one, when my character, Lady Danbury talks about feeling scared of life and having to make yourself the most frightening person in the room so that nobody can see just how scared you are about the world and how you fit in and how people are going to respond to you, I think everybody from all walks of life, of all genders, of all races, of all religions, one or none can relate to that sense of being scared and having to be brave, putting on the face that faces the world. I’m really interested in playing characters that are very specific in who they are, but have a general application because I think that’s what we all are ultimately, we’re all unique individual souls, but there are things that we all encounter and that we all resonate with and for me, that’s where drama can touch hearts is where we trip over those moments where we go, “You’re entirely different to me, but I totally get that. I’ve experienced that,” or, “My mother’s experienced that,” or, “My grandmother experienced that “or whatever it is. That’s the kind of work I like doing and that work, it could be a crime, it could be a comedy, it could be period, it could be classical Shakespeare, it could be Ibsen, it could be something totally modern, urban or rural. It really doesn’t matter to me. It’s about the authenticity of the work. I think that’s what I’m interested in.
DS: I mean, you said you’ve worked with big movie stars. Is it safe to say yet that you may have recently worked with a certain Man of Steel on a project?
AA: I think it’s safe to say that and I think you can even say more and it’s okay.
DS: So did you enjoy working on Season 2 of The Witcher?
AA: Henry’s lovely, that’s who you’re referring to obviously. I did, again. Again, I love science fiction or speculative fiction or however we choose to frame it. In fact, I’m part-funding an award for new writers of color who are writing speculative fiction at the moment. That’s sort of in the territory of novels, but I love it because it’s a way of escaping, but also it’s a way of looking at the world we live in a sort of free and imaginative way. So, I really enjoyed The Witcher. My Polish builders were slightly astonished because obviously, it started as a Polish show. “You’re in The Witcher?” I was like, “Yes, I am Mikhail. I am in The Witcher.” “Oh, wow. Okay.” I think however fantastical something is you still bring that same authentic experience to the work. I record lots of audiobooks and I record lots of sci-fi stuff as well, so I was delighted to be in that world. And obviously having done Doctor Who I’ve sort of dipped my toe in it before, so lovely. And Henry is funny and smart and he was a lovely colleague to work with. It was all good for me.
DS: just want to see scenes where you get to carry a badass weapon and you get to lay out some individuals, just some awesome fight scenes.
AA: The thing is in Nenneke, who is the character I play, she’s a healer and she’s a wise woman. So she may be doing things, but maybe not with a big badass weapon. She may have a slightly more organic way of achieving her goals shall we say. (laughs)
DS: Say no more. I don’t want to have a spoiled. I am a fan, but I am excited about what you’re going to be bringing to that season. Now, let me connect the dots here. And tell me if I’m off base. Lady Danbury, it is well-known that she is throughout the Julia Quinn universe. It is not just the Bridgertons. Connecting the dots, I have read and it has been reported as well, that Shonda, Shondaland, her whole production company are committed to this character, the whole Bridgerton series, the whole Quinn universe, they’re referring to it as. Could we see Lady Danbury in other Shonda-backed shows? I mean, are you going to be sticking around for a while in things other than the Bridgertons?
AA: Certainly there are talks of it, about what we do and how we go forward. And obviously, it’s an enormous, thrill, delight, and a privilege for me to work with Shonda. She’s the godmother of TV drama I would say at this point.
DS: Oh, I think you know where it’s going. And I think the fans know. We’re just waiting for that announcement, more Lady Danbury that’s what I’m thinking. Moving on … never mind that there’s a Netflix publicist listening to my every word. Nevermind that… Never mind that at all … it’s just you and I. Let’s pretend she’s not on the phone. Just go ahead and tell me everything that’s going to happen in season two of the Bridgertons. Tell us all the secrets, all the spoilers because the fans want to know. We won’t mind.
AA: So then when the Martians come and then there’s the high-speed car chase, and then they get on the zip flyers through the air, and then there’s the shark hunt underwater sequence. I just think everyone’s minds are going to be blown, Dewey. (laughs)
DS: At what point does the TARDIS show up in Regency, England?
AA: You’d have to take me outside and shoot me. I can’t possibly tell you. (laughs)
DS: (sighs) Look at you protecting the secrets. Look at you protecting the secrets. (laughs)
AA: Got to be done. (laughs)
DS: Now, in all reality, obviously if we even hint at anything, it’s going to ruin the experience and that’s the beauty of the Bridgerton series. But can you give me at least a little bit of a preview of what’s to come? Are the fans going to be satisfied? Can you just give us something to share?
AA: Okay. So first things first. It’s Christmas. Do you want to open your presents before Christmas day? Why would you want to do that?
AA: So having said that, I think if you loved season one or if it surprised you or you were taken aback by what you thought it was going to be and then you watched it and then it was something deeper or richer or more spectacular or funnier or sexier or surprising, any of those things, you will not be disappointed by season two. You’re going to get more and different from all of that. Will that do?
DS: Yeah, I think that was incredibly right down the middle. You didn’t go too far. You didn’t give me a little bit. You gave me just what I needed and I’m in. What do you enjoy most about playing Lady Danbury?
AA: I think I enjoy the freedom that she exhibits to be entirely herself, hard-earned freedom. I don’t know what you were like in your twenties Dewey, but I was desperate not to be a horrendous mess at all times, desperate not to annoy people or look too foolish or be too loud or look too stupid or any of those things. Now, I don’t care and I don’t think Lady Danbury does either. I think she’s earned her stripes in life. And I think she has an appetite for life, a lust for life, as Iggy Pop would put it, that I adore. I think, as a species, we have to keep it moving. That’s what we’re built for and Lady Danbury keeps it moving with great joy and appetite and delight. I find that very encouraging. I think particularly at a time when we’re all feeling like we thought we understood the world, oh, actually no, we don’t understand the world. Or we thought we have control, oh no we don’t have control. I think the people who have exhibited that energy, which is about, “Well, we are where we are. Now, what are we going to do?” I love those people. And I think Lady Danbury is absolutely one of those people.
DS: What’s the toughest part of playing this role?
AA: Corsets. Have you seen what I looked like in real life? Surely you have. They try and make me look like something out of Regency, England, rather than the scrapping punk that I was… So corsets and wigs, but mainly corsets because corsets, they’re not comfy after 12 hours. They’re just not. That’s the hardest thing. Everything else about her is an absolute delight.
DS: I can’t imagine they’re comfortable after 10 minutes let alone 12 hours. I mean, that’s insanity.
AA: You have to actually not think about it until you take it off and your ribs go, “Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you.”
DS: I will tell you that your character is the emotional backbone of season one in many ways. Your toughness rubs off in the most important moments and moves that narrative along beautifully. That’s why your performance not only was pivotal, it was brilliant because you did it in such a way that was just seamless. It was just kind of woven into the fabric of this sexy, updated look at Regency England. I really have a lot of respect for what you brought to season one.
AA: Oh, wow. Wow. Thank you. That’s really lovely of you to say. I’ve worked a lot for companies like the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Radio Drama Company. I did EastEnders for a while. I did Causality. So there are these things where you have to work in a collegiate fashion with all the other members of the company and I feel that Bridgerton is a very collegiate show. Kelly Hendry has just cast it fantastically well, because it’s a show where people are full of generosity and fun and care and delight at the position that we all find ourselves in as artists. So I have to say that I think a lot of the love and the affection that people have from Lady Danbury comes from working in that collegiate environment. I think the world is tough. The more love that we can put into it, the more generosity and care and concern and seeing other human beings and valuing them, that’s what I want to do with the rest of my life really. It’s a cliche, but it is all about love and relationship. If we can sort of promote that, I’m not saying it in a drippy way, but if we can promote that in a vigorous witty, funny, cliffhangery whatever way, and then I’m down. That’s the work I want to do.
DS: Well, on that note, this has been brilliant. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you to the Netflix publicity team for setting this up across the pond. And enjoy the rest of your evening now.
AA: Bless you, Dewey. Lots of love. Take care.
The entire first season of Bridgerton is available to stream on Netflix. Adjoa Andoh is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix