There's a new face in the social scene of "Bridgerton," and Lady Whistledown has much to discover.
Simone Ashley, 26, plays Kate Sharma, the leading lady of season two of "Bridgerton." After setting sail from India, Kate arrives to London with her stepmother, Mary (Shelley Conn), with the intention of finding her younger sister, Edwina (Charithra Chandran), a suitable match during the season.
Speaking to TODAY, Ashley describes Kate and someone who is “loyal, protective, smart, and fierce." All of Edwina's suitors have to go through Kate first. So when Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), the eldest Bridgerton son and a notorious rake, sets his sights on Edwina, Kate will do everything in her power to stop him — that is, until her own feelings start to change.
The last audiences saw of Anthony, he was heartbroken about the end of his affair with opera singer Siena Rosso. Now, following the order of the original book series by Julia Quinn, it's Anthony's turn to fall in love, even if he's set against it.
According to Lady Whistledown, Kate — Anthony's reluctant crush — is something of an enigma. "Even this author must admit, we know very little of the spinster miss. Perhaps there is something more hidden beneath that armored façade. One's true intention are always revealed, Miss Sharma, either by chance or by me," the voice of Lady Whistledown (Julie Andrews) says in a video on the "Bridgerton" Instagram.
Kate may be a mystery — but it's possible to find out about Simone Ashley ahead of Bridgerton's second season. Here's what you need to know about the actor.
Born in England, Ashley had a globe-trotting upbringing
After being born in Surrey, England, Ashley said she "grew up everywhere" in an interview with Glamour. She has lived primarily in Los Angeles and London for the past few years, and says she's never lived in one place "for over a year."
Among her adventures? Solo-tripping to India and going horseback riding in Wales, which inadvertently prepared her for "Bridgerton." Ashley told Shondaland, "I rode for the first time in Wales with friends, no saddle, but we went very slowly. My first proper riding experience was whilst training for 'Bridgerton.' I loved it, and I would always look forward to it."
Riding horses was among her favorite parts of filming "Bridgerton," Ashley told TODAY.
“I love any scene with Kate and Anthony riding their horses,” Ashley said. “Those were some of my favorite days filming on set with Johnny. And just bringing this love story to life with him. It really, truly was such a joy.”
Lately, Ashley's schedule has been slowing down. “I really liked going on adventures and hanging out with people,” Ashley said. “But now I’m a bit more content with myself and the amazing friends that I have."
She's single at the moment
Ashley plays a character falling in love in "Bridgerton." As for her real-life love life? The actor told Glamour that she does not currently have a romantic partner, but that "(she'd) like to." She also mentioned that she would like to have a family. "I think that would be a sense of home for me," she said.
You might recognize her from another TV show
Ashley appeared in another hit Netflix show, which you can binge-watch after "Bridgerton" season two: "Sex Education," British comedy-drama set in an idyllic town.
The series stars Gillian Anderson as a sex therapist and Asa Butterfield as her son, who uses his mom's wisdom to advise his classmates on their love, sex, and relationship problems. In the show, Ashley plays Olivia, a member of a popular clique known as “The Untouchables.”
While it was renewed for a fourth season, Ashley believes her "Sex Education" days are now behind her. “I think my time on [the show] has come to an end. It’s very sad because I love them all so much,” Ashley told Glamour.
Ashley was also in film “Pokémon Detective Pikachu" and the British shows “Broadchurch” and “The Sister.”
Next up? A musical — or an action role
Looking toward the future, Ashley hopes to flaunt her musical side in a role one day. She is trained in classical music, opera, and musical theater, and also has experience songwriting. “I think if you can sing, you should use it,” she told Glamour.
She's also open to a role even more physical than season two of "Bridgerton." Ashley recently learned to kick box and has aspirations of becoming an action star, akin to Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill,” she told Glamour.
She also plans to go from actor to producer
Speaking to Glamour, Ashley named the actor Margot Robbie — whose production company LuckyChap Entertainment financed the Oscar-winning film “Promising Young Woman” — as a role model. Like Robbie, Ashley is starting her own production company so that she can prioritize her own projects.
“I think it’s really exciting to be in a position where things are being put in front of you, but you’re given a microphone. You can grab it and create your own opportunities and turn up the volume on your voice,” she said.
Ashley is more excited than nervous about 'Bridgerton' fame
“Bridgerton” propelled season one’s Dynevor and Page to stardom (and "Saturday Night Live" hosting gigs). Season two is likely to do the same for Ashley in her breakout role in one of Netflix's most popular shows. But she's "not a very fearful person," she told Glamour. And more importantly, she's ready.
"We’re in an industry that, yes, as an artist you can feel certain pressures at times, but we’re not performing heart surgery or curing diseases or having lives dependent on us,” she said. “That’s real pressure. When I put that into perspective, I’m like, ‘It’s fine.’”
Her 'Bridgerton' character is based off of Kate Sheffield from Julia Quinn’s book, 'The Viscount Who Loved Me'
Season two of "Bridgerton" is adapted from the second book in Julia Quinn’s romance series, with a few changes.
As in the show, Anthony aims to make this match without involving any feelings of love in Quinn's "The Viscount Who Loved Me." When Kate and Edwina Sheffield arrive to London for the 1814 season he finds his ideal bride and his greatest challenge.
But Kate's origin story is slightly different between projects. In the book, the Sheffield family arrives in London from the country side due to financial constraints that require them to only have one season, and debut both sisters at the same time. In the show, the Sharmas arrive to London from Bombay, India, returning to a social scene that Mary had left years before.
The decision to change the Sheffield family to the Sharma family was “a very simple choice,” executive producer Shonda Rhimes told Shondaland, aligning with the show's goal to make the Regency period appeal to a modern, global audience.
While writing and casting the Sharma family, "Bridgerton's" creators were mindful of creating authentic portrayals of South Asian characters.
“I wanted to feel like the world we were living in was as three-dimensional as possible, and I wanted to feel like the representation was as three-dimensional as possible too. Finding some South Asian women with darker skin and making sure that they were represented on-screen authentically and truthfully feels like something that we haven’t seen nearly enough of," Rhimes said.
Showrunner Chris Van Dusen added, "We’re not a color-blind show — things like color and race are very much a part of the show’s conversation, just like class and gender and sexuality are."
“I think it’s just so important that we’re doing this,” Ashley told TODAY about including diverse characters in period pieces. “Hopefully, in a few years’ time, we won’t even be having this conversation, and it’ll be so normal and it won’t be as wonderfully groundbreaking as it is now.”
Ashley was cast in 'Bridgerton' over Zoom within two weeks
Ashley was on set filming "Sex Education" when she first heard chatter about a new show called "Bridgerton," which she hadn't had time to watch. Then, her manager texted her about auditioning for a role in that very show.
The casting process took a grand total of two weeks, meaning she didn't have time to get nervous or "think about it much," she told Glamour.
From there, Ashley was transported back to "Bridgerton's" verison of Regency England. "Shortly after being cast ... I was immediately on set in wig fittings, makeup tests. (I was) transported to this beautiful world, filming in these amazing locations and horse riding,” Ashley told TODAY.
Speaking to Shondaland, Van Dusen gave further insight into what made Ashley perfect for the role of Kate.
“Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma is a force to be reckoned with. When we were casting Kate Sharma, we needed someone who had that ‘take no prisoners’ attitude. We needed someone strong and sharp. And Simone is absolutely all of that, but she also brings this very vulnerable side out of Kate," he said.
The role was also contingent on having chemistry with her co-star, Jonathan Bailey. Ashley's connection with Bailey was evident even over Zoom, Van Dusen told Entertainment Weekly. “It’s out of this world,” he said. “The season is charged and transporting and romantic.”
Author Julia Quinn thinks season two will make fans will want a 'Kate Sharma action figure'
One of the biggest champions of Ashley's casting has been none other than the creator of it all, author Julia Quinn. Once it was announced that Ashley would star in season two, Quinn posted on Instagram: "I couldn't dream of a more perfect Kate."
Quinn later told Glamour that Ashley's performance in season two brings to Kate to life.
“A lesser actress might have allowed Kate to devolve into a 'Taming of the Shrew' caricature, but Simone tempers Kate’s fierceness with all the vulnerability and devotion to family I worked so hard to bring to the character,” Quinn said. “Kate is a very different heroine from Daphne, but I think viewers are going to adore her. Once the world sees Simone Ashley in action, we’ll be clamoring for a Kate Sharma action figure.”
Her character brings a new furry friend to the cast
The Sharma family actually has a fourth member, a corgi named Newton.
Newton is played by a dog named Austin, who brought mischief and laughs to the set. Some of his favorite things to snack on were sausage, treats and even pebbles, Ashley told Entertainment Weekly.
Ashley and Austin formed a special bond, just like Kate and Newton, she said. "I’m really good with dogs, so he responded to me well,” she said. “He was a little bit sass and goes off and does his own thing, but I like to think when we were together, he listened to me."
She felt empowered to take on steamy "Bridgerton" scenes
Ashley wasn't daunted by appearing in "Bridgerton," a show known for its depictions of intimacy. She told Radio Times that she felt comfortable filming sex scenes. “I wasn’t apprehensive. I’ve always been really confident in my sexuality and in my body,” Ashley said.
Ashley's confidence also contributed to her feeling empowered while filming scenes with Bailey, and while working with an intimacy coordinator. "I am also confident that I can speak up if I’m not feeling comfortable with anything on set," she said.
In the future, Ashley is interested in taking on "unexpected roles"
Ashley told Glamour that while she's been approached for many Bollywood roles, she's turned most of them down. Instead, she hopes to "change it up," she said, and take roles people wouldn't "expect her to play."
"I’m interested in culturally specific roles, but also very much so non-culturally specific ones," she said. "I want to go up for roles that anyone can relate to. I want to be seen for my talent. I think I’m very smart and I’ve got great ideas, and I want to be seen for that and not for how I look.”