Suffice to say, Netflix's Bridgerton kept us going at the start of 2021 as lockdown 3.0 began, the sheen of Christmas wore off and freezing cold temperatures set in.
Packed full of high drama, Regency costumes, steamy sex scenes and gorgeous filming locations, the technicolour period drama — based on the Julia Quinn novels of the same name — notched up 82 million streams in its first month.
Now Bridgerton has been crowned Netflix's biggest series ever (and secured a second series) — something Adjoa Andoh (who plays the formidable Lady Danbury) is still struggling to comprehend when she chats to Red.
'I think the timing was great, in terms of when the show came out,' she says, admitting that although she knew the script was special from the get-go, she had no idea it would end up being such a hit. 'I still can't get my head around the fact that [that so many] households have watched it so far. It's all kind of surreal isn't it?'
Fifty eight year-old Andoh was a familiar face amongst the newish Bridgerton cast. She is known as much for her stage work as TV and film roles in Doctor Who and Brotherhood. But, the call to confirm she'd secured the role of Lady Danbury was certainly a career highlight.
'I was in a cafe in Queens Park with my friend and I did get up and run round the cafe,' she laughs. Being a huge Shonda Rhimes fan, she accurately predicted the Grey's Anatomy and Scandal producer's golden touch would be in full effect on Bridgerton.
'[It had a] great cast, great script, great production value — proper turn-the-page storytelling, where it takes the romance and plotting of the era and gives it this sort of psychedelic super, Shondaland twist,' she says.
Although the colourful drama has only recently become a must-watch with Netflix fans, filming feels like a lifetime ago for the cast. They wrapped in March, just before the first lockdown, which now feels like a 'parallel universe' for Andoh given the year that then unfolded.
She can understand why Bridgerton has provided the perfect escapism, noting that there's 'great joy' to be had in beautiful people parading around in regal costumes, against elaborate backdrops. Oh, and the steamy sex scenes of course.
'Bridgerton was like this release — we can do something non Covid-related for a minute and just look at a lovely frock or a lovely building, and wonder 'will they?' or 'won't they?' Who's going to sh** who... all that kind of stuff', she said.
Considering the sizzling connections on screen, it's hardly surprising the cast all became like family off-screen, too. Something Andoh puts down to Rhimes' brilliant casting.
'It’s a really cheesy sort of thing to say, but we did actually all really get on,' she says, describing her colleagues as 'super-smart, super gifted actors,' who just 'come in, do the work, have a laugh, are nice to the crew and go home'.
With an almost-40 year acting career behind her, it was inevitable she'd be working with some familiar faces, with Andoh revealing she already knew 'loads of people' on set and enjoyed working alongside her old pals — as well as making some new long-lasting friendships.
'Rege could be my kid,' she joked when asked about her close relationship with Rege Jean Page — who plays heartthrob the Duke of Hastings in the series — admitting that despite them both 'laughing a lot,' they also enjoyed heated debates off-camera and 'arguing the toss'.
'I just loved working with him,' she said. 'He's really thoughtful, a smart actor and a very generous person to be in a scene with.'
Handy then, that the Duke and Lady Danbury happen to share a lot of scenes together in the series — as for which other relationships will be explored more closely in future seasons, Andoh's guess is as good as ours...
'I have no idea! That's in the secret safe of the show-runner and team of writers,' she admits, but she hopes the Lady's relationships with Queen Charlotte, Lady Bridgerton and gossip queens Eloise and Penelope are delved into further.
'[The two girls] have got that sort of appetite, will and vigour that [Lady Danbury] loves... and she and the Queen have been locking rounds for a while now, so it'll be interesting to find out more about their history.'
A history Andoh herself is fascinated by as an actor — being raised by a history-teaching mother — she describes herself as part of the 'cassette generation', who grew up reading Georgette Heyer or 'her generation's Julia Quinn'.
With period dramas having a history of white-washing their casts, she's thrilled that there's now an opportunity to be in one, especially considering the evidence that a huge portion of the population at that time was Black.
In the Regency era of the 1800s, Queen Charlotte — whom historians now believe to be descended from Prince Alfonso III of Portugal and his African concubine mistress — came over from Germany to rule. She brought with her the Christmas tree, but also her mixed race 'mulatto' skin that many disapproved of.
Andoh tells Red that, as well as there being '20,000 Black people' living in London at that time, there seems to have been 'a lot of interracial couplings in court circles,' just like in Bridgerton.
Does knowing this, combined with the gorgeous costumes Lady Danbury was outfitted in, make Andoh long to have been a part of the real Regency scene? 'I think it would have been exhausting frankly,' she says.
For all the gorgeous interiors and court costumes — or 'swag and beauty' as Andoh calls it — she reckons it would have been difficult to survive at court if you didn't know how to read the room, even if you were part of the inner circle.
Luckily, Lady Danbury seems to have no problem doing that. Her air of intelligence and awareness radiating through everything from her deep, regal voice to the 'Regency air' swagger of her cane.
'There is something of my mum in Lady Danbury's swagger,' Andoh says, explaining that she wanted to celebrate 'those women: your mum, auntie, godmother who haven't always got through life in a straight-forward or easy fashion, but managed to keep a real appetite for life and a sense of humour'.
The actor says she was allowed to have an input into Lady Danbury's look, working alongside Bridgerton's 'stunning' costume designer Ellen Mirojnick to create a style that embraced both 'the masculine and the feminine'.
'If you were standing 6 inches away, the detail you would see on all the costumes would be mind-blowing!', she says.
One costume in particular that caught people's eye was the (slightly unrealistic) tangerine and psychedelic green outfits worn by the Featheringtons. Turns out Andoh was as obsessed. In fact, her favourite character is pushy matriarch Lady Featherington (played by Polly Walker): 'There's something about this woman trying to keep afloat, in the face of insurmountable odds — she's paddling furiously whilst trying to look like she's gliding'.
So, how has Andoh found lockdown away from Bridgerton's success? And what has been keeping her entertained?
Having appeared in countless TV and film roles and voiced over 200 audiobooks so far — juggling many hats is probably a familiar feeling for Andoh, who describes herself as working 'flat out' over the past year — despite the pandemic — looking to Radio 4 podcasts and boxsets to help her unwind.
'I don't really listen to audiobooks,' she explains, probably due to it being her day job. She does however, listen to a Radio 4 drama every night — something she picked up from her father, who listened to the BBC's World Service every day growing up.
These are the radio shows she recommends:
As well as watching herself back on Bridgerton — Andoh has sunk her teeth into all the same dramas as the rest of us lately, naming The Queen's Gambit and The Serpent as just a few of her recent obsessions — as well as squealing with joy over good friend Russell T Davies' latest hit It's A Sin (which she's yet to find time to actually watch).
These are the TV dramas she recommends:
'I would be a superfan of Russell rewriting the telephone directory,' she exclaims. 'I think he's brilliant— he's the loveliest man and he's as smart as they come. He is Mr Television for me.'
She added: 'I've always been really honoured to be associated with his work in any way' — Andoh did two seasons of Doctor Who and Channel 4 series Cucumber with him — 'I just think he's excellent.'
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