Arsema Thomas is still pinching herself over landing a juicy role in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, from the world of prolific producer Shonda Rhimes. “It feels surreal. This doesn't happen for every actor, even if they're amazing,” she tells EBONY. “For it to happen to me and to have been such a good experience, I'm enjoying every moment of it.”
Thomas, who was working as a butcher's apprentice in London when she landed the role, plays Young Lady Danbury, a character established by British actress Adjoa Andoh in the Bridgerton series.
Thomas reveals she actually knew very little about the series when she auditioned. “I did not know what Bridgerton was. I thought it was the name of the street or town," shares the actress. "But I am very familiar with the work of Shonda Rhimes. I love the way she tells a story and builds out her characters and what they have to say.”
"When I was auditioning, I made it a point not to watch anything that I didn’t want anything to influence me," shares Thomas. "But there was something clearly about the way that I portrayed her that aligned with what Adjoa crafted."
After Thomas' first table read, "I reached out to Adjoa and asked her everything I possibly could about Lady Danbury: where do we think she was born? What do we think she likes to eat? Does she have any favorite writers?" reveals Thomas. "We were in a Zoom call, and I was looking at the bookshelf behind Adjoa, and she and I have the same books, like the autobiography of Angela Davis and more revolutionary women that we look up to and aspire to be. It was clear that we had the same foundation for Lady Danbury from the beginning."
As Lady Danbury, Thomas has learned a few things about the character. “You'd never assume that Lady Danbury would, at one time in her life, be answering to a man and being told what to do or caring what anybody thinks. To see her be that and then come into her own, to really engage with her freedom and start to fight for what she wants was, it’s really amazing as an actor to be able to play with all these different sides of the human experience,” says Thomas.
Queen Charlotte the series is a work of fiction, but identifying Queen Charlotte’s African ancestry and Black aristocracy is very much real. According to many respected historians, her Highness was directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a Black branch of the Portuguese royal house. “I read a lot of history books and dived into images about what that would have looked like,” Thomas shares.
While there’s no official talk of a Lady Danbury spin-off, “If Shonda writes something for Young Lady Danbury, I would 100 percent do it," Thomas declares. "There's no way I'm saying no.”