India Amarteifio Takes the Bridgerton Throne
India Amarteifio's life is about to change significantly, but not that she'd let you know it. The London-born actor is slipping on her corset and crown to take the lead as the younger incarnation of the Bridgerton character made iconic by Golda Rosheuvel, Queen Charlotte. As someone who devoured Bridgerton in a way I'd never before feasted on a television series, I could barely wait for our video call—which we had arranged for the days following our Summer Issue cover shoot—to flicker into focus. Ahead of our meeting, I'd already watched a handful of preview episodes of Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, the prequel of the Netflix sensation. Twice. "I hope you liked them?" enquires Amarteifio. Her tone conveys genuine interest but also hints to an understanding that, yes, as with anything that evokes mass passion, there are going to be high expectations placed upon this series. Being the terrible liar that I am, I'm thankful I did; I really did.
If you were to accidentally stumble into our Zoom call, you might assume us to be two old friends catching up on the mundanities of life. As I ask her if she's getting used to this sort of thing—chatting with journalists and being photographed in incredible clothes—Amarteifio readjusts her glasses to sit on the bridge of her makeup-free nose and grasps the cuffs of her gargantuan grey hoodie. "We're starting to do a lot of pre-press junkets. It's good! Good to keep my brain ticking along and to keep exercising that muscle," she says. Amarteifio is clearly a deep thinker. A few minutes into our time together, I have to remind myself that she is 21. Having acted since the tender age of 11, Amarteifio has a solid work ethic, one that is seldom matched by someone twice her age, let alone a person of her years. We start our conversation there, with her childhood.
Photo:Makiyo Lio; STYLING: Bernadette dress from MATCHES; Nodaleto shoes; Minka Jewels ring
"My mum will say I was really naughty. I just think I had a lot of energy, but we'll agree to disagree," she laughs. "Whatever it was, she wanted me to channel it into something. She tried me at kickboxing and karate, which didn't work. Then I tried dance. I think the discipline and the structure and the routine was something that really, still as an adult now, really settled me and gave me focus. So yeah, I was a dancer—I grew up wanting to be professional. Then I tore my hamstring apart, and it made me realise how fickle [the dance industry] was. … The life of a dancer depends on your body and your appearance, and that wasn't necessarily what I wanted. Acting came naturally from that. I had an agent already, and I said to them, 'Hey, I'm looking to really focus my attention more on the acting side.' Since then, I've been incredibly lucky to grow quite consistently." And grow she has.
She may have cut her teeth treading the theatre boards, but it didn't take long for Amarteifio to make the leap from the stage to screen. Amarteifio has worked consistently since 2013, counting series such as The Interceptor, Line of Duty and The Evermoor Chronicles amongst her long list of credits. It's this diligence, determination and hard-fought experience which has led her to where she is now—a throne.
By the time you read this, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story will have premiered, and a significant portion of the world's population will have watched it. If they're anything like me, they've probably done so twice. Amarteifio knows this was a huge undertaking, but not for a second does she, nor I, feel that she wasn't ready for it. "It's definitely been a journey. This is not a show that happened overnight for me," she explains. "I don't think I could have done this job if I hadn't worked from the age that I had. Being in the Bridgerton world would have completely overwhelmed me otherwise. I'm grateful for the things I learnt at such an early age. Knowing how a set works and even little things like being able to read a call sheet, it's all just one less thing to think about when you're having to lead something. I grew up watching all my friends lead various projects. They were Annie or Matilda, and I was always playing the best friend or, you know, the side character. This role came about, and for me to take the lead, it felt like the right time. I was ready for it."
Photo:Makiyo Lio; STYLING: Roksanda dress and shoes; Liv Luttrell earrings and ring
As we continue our chat, I begin to wonder if there's anything Amarteifio isn't ready for. To reiterate, she's a thinker, but it becomes apparent that it's not herself she's analysing. It's her craft. There's a wisdom beyond her years built upon this considered approach to her career but also an intuition that she isn't afraid to follow. Her decisions are led by both her head and her heart. "I read the role, and I just thought, without being cliché, I really felt like I could do this more so than any other role that I've ever played and also read for," she says. "It just felt right, everything down to the smaller details like my age and the fact I looked like Golda [Rosheuvel]. But also, everything I'd been taught and learnt and was passionate about was leading to this. I wanted to delve into it completely."
I get the sense that Amarteifio is the sort of person who has her priorities straight and to try to lead her astray would be futile. My observations are confirmed when our conversation steers to her inner circle. The fact that she's speaking to me from her grandparents' sofa warms my heart in inexplicable ways. Then there's her mother, who, in recent weeks, has been by her daughter's side for countless TV interviews, press junkets and photo calls, with Amarteifio blowing kisses to her as she sat in the audience during her appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Her family bonds are beautiful to witness and learn about.
"I live with my mum still; we're super tight," she shares. "It's imperative for me to have a very good sense of community and keep these connections alive during filming because not only are you in a role for so long and playing someone else, [but] you are also apart from the people that you know the most and have your back. More now than ever, I feel really grateful that I know who my people are. They're not 'yes' people. They're not hype people. … I know they're not in it for anything because they knew me when I was nothing."
Photo:Makiyo Lio; STYLING: Jacquemus cardigan from MATCHES; Paco Rabanne skirt from Net-a-Porter; 8 by Yoox sandals; Minka Jewels earrings
Serendipitously, on the day of our interview, it is almost a year to the day Amarteifio and her Queen Charlotte castmates began filming the series. I ask her if she can sum up the past 12 months in a word. "Surreal!" she quips. "Though, I don't even think that quantifies how unexpected this whole journey has been." As you might anticipate when casting one of the most hotly anticipated series of the year, the audition process was long and arduous—four months, in fact. And Amarteifio wasn't given much to go off of. "Everything was so hush-hush," she recalls. "As I found out more, the terror also grew because I could start to see myself in this role, and this is really dangerous because I've got so much to lose." Ultimately, the role was hers, and everyone—Amarteifio aside—knew it. The casting team went as far as to tell her, "We knew you were right from your first tape." Amarteifio adds with a laugh, "I was like, 'Okay, so why did you put me through that whole process?'"
I was curious about how a person goes about celebrating being offered the role of a lifetime. "My mum had read lines with me and supported me throughout the process. When I told her [I'd been offered the role], she gave me a high five and carried on with her work," she says. So that's where Amarteifio gets her groundedness from. Her entire audition process was fraught with red tape and nondisclosure agreements, meaning any and all of what she was experiencing was to be kept confidential.
Now with the series comfortably wrapped and Amarteifio having made her mark as Queen Charlotte, she has a confession to make: "I told someone else," she almost whispers. "One of my really good friends, who is also an actress. I think we'd been talking about it [the series] because she's a massive fan of Shonda Rhimes [the show's creator]. She said something along the lines of, 'There's going to be a spin-off; have you auditioned?' I told her I had, but I was never going to actually get it. Then, I think, we were having lunch, and she brought it up again. 'Did you ever hear back?' she said. I was like, 'Yeah, I found out this morning… I got it.' She burst into tears, which was not the response I was expecting. I was shocked! She said, 'Do you understand what this is going to mean? You're going to be playing a queen, and you're mixed [race].' That's when I knew I was really taking on something really major. ... Then we ordered prosecco."
Photo:Makiyo Lio; STYLING: Conner Ives top from Koibird; Millia London skirt; Russell & Bromley sandals
Watching Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, it's clear that the subject of race is approached differently from the original Bridgerton series, where Black people are intrinsic to and welcome in the aristocratic world. There's a beauty in this, of course, and what a wonderful world it would be if, in reality, we all embraced each other in that way. However, in Queen Charlotte, Rhimes addresses racism more directly, which British Ghanaian Amarteifio applauds. "What's great about Queen Charlotte is that Shonda Rhimes was not afraid to tackle some of the heavier questions in not only society but also the questions that came up and arose from people watching Bridgerton in the first place," says Amarteifio. "Why is the ton [a colloquial term for members of high society] so diverse? Why are we not mentioning that?' Well, we explore that in Queen Charlotte. Her marriage to King George III is referred to as the Great Experiment, devised to bring divided society together. And to coexist doesn't not come with its own problems. The foundations of Bridgerton are so beautiful and so colourful in every way and was the escapism we needed at the time. It's refreshing sometimes to just watch something and go, 'Yeah, I just see myself in this, and I don't want to think about it too much.' But Queen Charlotte was needed to give Bridgerton its backstories."
As Amarteifio shines as the Queen of England and Halle Bailey transforms into Ariel in the live-action film The Little Mermaid, young Black people are going to see themselves represented in unprecedented ways this year. Such progress is well overdue, to say the least, and this isn't lost on Amarteifio. "It feels great to be on a project that is so unapologetic, and it's like, 'Yeah, we're going to talk about race.' It's a real privilege. I feel very proud that Shonda was brazen with that," she says.
As we've established, Amarteifio is no stranger to a television set, but Queen Charlotte? It's in a league all its own. Between being cast in February 2022 and beginning filming at the end of March 2022, Amarteifio barely had time to catch her breath. But maybe that was a good thing. "How much can you prepare for this?" she muses. "We only had episodes one and two [ready], I believe. Maybe even just one because Shonda likes to write as we're filming. So there was this equal pleasure and horror. But also, I kept wondering, 'Am I going to be able to do it?' We had four weeks of prep, which involved dance rehearsals, script annotations and working one-on-one with Corey [Mylchreest], who plays young George. Aside from that, I just really enjoy the feeling of being hyperfixated on a project, being all in. It was the most chaotic six months of my life, but it was also the best because that's what I enjoy. I love being intense, going in every day and giving 100%. It was a heavy filming, but it was a team effort. As much as it is Queen Charlotte, I think you'll come to see it as an ensemble piece. The show wouldn't be anything without the entire team, so I owe them a lot. I just want the world to experience it and to see it all flourish and for the people to get their credit. Everyone put in so much work."
Photo:Makiyo Lio; STYLING: Marques'Almeida top and jeans; Minka Jewels earrings; Liv Luttrell ring
With a project such as this, which quite literally unfolds on a global stage, there's perhaps more to prepare yourself for after the show's debut than before it. Regé-Jean Page, Nicola Coughlan and Simone Ashley are just a few of the Bridgerton alumni whose lives have changed course since starring in the show. Is Amarteifio ready for this? "No one can prepare you for any of it," she says. "No matter how much prep I've had from my agent, the team or my friends who have also been in the industry for years, nothing can prepare you for your own experience in it. And I'm so introverted. It's the complete opposite of me. It's really interesting because I love talking about the job. But as soon as it's about me, I'm like, 'Why do you want to know about me?'" If there's one thing I know, it's that she's going to have to get used to the idea of people being interested in her, and fast.
I wonder if there's some sort of "cast of Bridgerton" support group she's part of—on WhatsApp perhaps? She laughs. "That would be helpful! But I know if I need a sounding board or to talk to someone, they're all there. Only the people that are in the Bridgerton world truly understand it, and the fandom is so major. It's its own thing," she says. "They've made themselves very much available, which is nice. I've had that from Charithra Chandran [a fellow Who What Wear UK cover star who played Edwina Sharma in Bridgerton season two] and Golda Rosheuvel. They've just been very, very gracious with their time."
We need to talk about Rosheuvel, whose exquisitely frank portrayal of Queen Charlotte in the first two series of Bridgerton ran the risk of overshadowing, well, everyone in her orbit. So what did Amarteifio learn from her? "To kind of chill out," she says. "She's just the coolest person. Nothing throws her! She's walking around with these wigs that are three, four or five times the weight and the height of mine like it's nothing. She's super friendly, has time for everyone and really went out of her way to make me feel secure and comfortable, insisting that this was my role. As much as she has created this mega not even a character but an idol, she was like, 'Okay, I did that, but this is yours now.' That, to me, is the most selfless act an actor can do—to give that part, not just the role but of themselves, to someone else. So yeah, she's just really cool."
Photo:Makiyo Lio; STYLING: Huishan Zhang dress; Paris Texas sandals; By Pariah bracelet
An integral part of any period piece is the costumes, with the garments holding even more significance in Queen Charlotte's story than you might think. From defying George's mother, Princess Augusta, by choosing to wear the Parisian-made wedding dress she commissioned instead of the dowdy one provided for her to emulating her mood with her wares, Charlotte's regalia is more than clothes. It's a physical manifestation of her ascent to the throne, one that helped Amarteifio fully embody her character.
"What I took away from this experience is how important fashion is. I'd never really understood it before. Like fashion week, I'd think, 'What is the point?' But understanding how important it is on the show and how integral it is to storytelling made me realise there's more to fashion. It really is a unique way of presenting yourself," she says. "Then outside of the job where I'm now meeting press and getting to put on these beautiful outfits, I'm understanding a lot more about what that means. This is the knowledge I've gathered from both sides. In Queen Charlotte, if there's anything unspoken in a scene, it's all there in the costumes. It's almost like a psychic premonition in the sense that, if she's angry, the clothes are vibrant, and if her dresses are beautiful and pastel, everything's fine."
I don't need a crystal ball to predict that this newfound appreciation and understanding of fashion will serve India Amarteifio well as her star continues to rise. However, I also wanted to know if there was anything else she discovered about herself on a deeper level in the process of channelling Queen Charlotte. "You know, it's funny. I don't think I'd ever properly cried—aside from at a film once, probably Marley & Me—but I've never been emotional in that way, and I don't know. I think I just understood people better after being in this role. [It's] probably because I had to try and dissect someone else and what that really meant to feel emotions and to feel in love. I've never been in love before. What does that feel like? I don't know," she says. "Going through it all, I felt like I understood society better—how people work, what emotions mean and how they feel—which was quite shocking at the beginning, and I felt really overwhelmed. But it's great for me as India and as an actor to be able to use that. I realise now that I'm quite an emotional person. I always thought I was quite like, 'Nothing will ever faze me', but actually, it can, and it's a nice thing that I discovered about myself."
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is now streaming on Netflix.
Photographer: Makiyo Lio
Photography Assistant: Jan Stasiuk
Stylist: Remy Farrell
Styling Assistant: Florrie Alexander
Hairstylist: Dionne Smith at 7even Management using Cantu Beauty
Makeup Artist: Jumoke Ajayi at 7even Management using Charlotte Tilbury
Manicurist: Sabrina Gayle at Arch the Agency using Kiss Nails
Floral Stylist: Harriet Parry
Floral Stylist Assistant: Louisa Duggan
Creative Director: Alexa Wiley
Editor in Chief: Hannah Almassi
Entertainment Director: Jessica Baker
Producer: Samantha Obalim
With thanks to Tapestry London