If it seems like Luke Newton’s always eating on screen in the new season of Bridgerton, know it’s deliberate. With a wealth of source material from the Bridgerton novels to choose from, the actor, who plays the earnest Colin Bridgerton in Netflix’s Regency romp, knew that some details wouldn’t be able to make the cut. So, as book Colin is known for his love of food, Newton made sure his plate was always piled high with rich meats or cakes, his glass always full of sugary lemonade. “I spoke to the team and said, ‘If there’s a dinner scene, if there’s a scene where we’re having tea, can he always just have a plateful?’” he says. “I’m really excited for [the fans] to see their direct input, like, ‘Luke loves food like Colin does.’”
When it comes to fans, Bridgerton has heaps of them. To call the period drama a phenomenon feels like a huge understatement. When the show dropped on Netflix on Christmas Day 2020, it quickly shot to the top of the streamer’s chart in 78 countries and was the biggest show ever to debut on the platform until Squid Game knocked it off the top spot last autumn. It’s easy to see why people were so enthralled – from the lavish costumes to the seriously X-rated sex scenes, it felt like something new. It was big, bombastic, capital-T telly. Friends who visited the set of season one told the cast they’d not seen anything on this scale since the Harry Potter films, Newton says.
While season one focused on big sister Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and her tempestuous relationship with the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), season two is all about another Bridgerton sibling, eldest son and eternal bachelor Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) and his quest to find a wife to provide for his family, after the death of their father. The series is based on Julia Quinn’s popular series of romance novels, where each book is dedicated to one of the seven Bridgerton children. If Netflix adapts all of the books – which, given the success of season one, they’d be foolish not to – season four will likely be all about Newton’s Colin.
In the many interviews where the Bridgerton cast are asked which actor is most like their character, it’s Newton’s name that usually comes up. He is kind, yet somewhat reserved, carefully choosing his words as we chat over Zoom. It’s hard to imagine that it was initially the aloof Duke of Hastings whom the actor first auditioned for, only switching to Colin the second time he was seen. Yet when the 29-year-old saw the script, something clicked. “As soon as I read that, I was like, ‘I really hope they don’t change their mind. This is the part I want, this is where I want to go for,’” he says, with a laugh. “It worked out massively in my favour at the end.”
Bridgerton was undeniably Newton’s big break, but he’s been working in the industry for over a decade. Contrary to what Google says, he did not study at the infamous Brit School, but rather musical theatre at a college in his hometown near Brighton while working on his first acting job on the BBC’s late-Noughties teen drama The Cut. “That’s when I really felt like I started to love being… in a learning environment because before then I’d loved my drama class and loved music and PE but other than that I didn’t really get on at school,” he says.
Part of that, he says, is down to learning difficulties. Newton was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia as a child, a combo he describes as his “worst nightmare” when it comes to reading a script (“I’m finding it difficult to read it and then my attention is taken by everything that’s around me”). It’s part of the reason he originally was drawn towards musical theatre, he says, as “I knew I could learn songs really quickly and melodies came quite easily to me”.
One of the reasons he decided to first speak about being dyslexic in interviews was to show aspiring actors that it doesn’t have to stop you from thriving. There are still struggles, he says, but “as long as I can have the script and have a bit of time before then I’m OK – if someone says, ‘Can you read it now?’ I’m like, ‘Absolutely not.’” When he was younger, he was worried that directors would think he couldn’t learn lines or wouldn’t know his words on the day. Nowadays, Newton says he feels “completely settled and fine in that I can say [it], I don’t think it’s going to jeopardise my chances… I feel really content in the fact that I can say, ‘Look, I’m dyslexic, so this might take me a little bit longer, but on the day, don’t worry, I’ll be absolutely fine.’”
It was while still studying at college that Newton landed yet another major gig, this time understudying the lead role of Elder Price (as well as all the other Mormons) in the original London production of sweary musical The Book of Mormon. He remembers being called into his headteacher’s office, convinced he was about to be told off for skipping ballet, only to be given the good news instead. “It was just a really overwhelming experience,” he says. “I never thought that leaving college I’d go straight into the West End, I felt so lucky to be given that opportunity. That whole year, it’s almost a blur now, I just was on such a high the whole time.”
Having started working as a teenager, Newton never really got to do the whole “gap yah” thing – or the grand tour as they used to call it, as Colin does in Bridgerton. When season two begins, he’s returned home from gallivanting around Greece, with nomadic facial hair and a tan still intact. After the drama of last year, when his love Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker) was forced to leave society after getting pregnant by another man, Colin is “staying clear from romance” for a bit, focusing instead on finding out “who he is as a man”.
Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video Sign up now for a 30-day free trial
However, there’s one romance for Colin that fans are desperate to see play out on screen. His friendship with the sweet yet secretive Penelope Featherington (Derry Girls’ Nicola Coughlan) is a big favourite among fans of the books, with Newton’s Instagram constantly flooded with comments asking for more “#Polin” (a portmanteau of Penelope and Colin) content. The pair clicked “from day one” and would often meet up for “a little gossip” between scenes – pretty apt, with Penelope being revealed in the season one finale as the Ton’s undercover gossipmonger, Lady Whistledown herself.
While it might be tempting to look ahead to the book series to find out where Colin’s story will head, Newton only reads one book per season of the show in preparation (“I know that if I read everything I’d struggle and I’d start to play on things from later books and I’d get all muddled up”). Fortunately, Ruth Gemmell, who plays Bridgerton matriarch Lady Violet, has read ahead and acts as their “encyclopaedia”. But the people who really know the books are Quinn’s avid fans, who have imagined these characters long before the show existed. “As soon as there was the cast list out, I already saw fan art, and I hadn’t even had a costume fitting,” Newton says, genuinely impressed. You can tell he is extremely grateful to have been accepted by the books’ followers.
Part of what makes Bridgerton so unique is its inclusive approach to race. Guyanese-British actor Golda Rosheuvel rules over this genteel English society as Queen Charlotte, while the Sharmas, the new family in season two, have moved back to England from India. Creator Chris Van Dusen has always insisted that the show’s casting is not “colourblind” – telling me in 2020 rather that “colour and race are as much a part of the show and part of the conversation around the show as class and gender and sexuality are”.
For Newton, appearing in such a diverse, fresh take on the period drama is one of the most rewarding things about being part of Bridgerton. “It was completely chosen that way and the decisions were made [for] everyone to feel represented,” he says. “I want everyone to be able to watch it and relate to some character, regardless of whether it’s about your race… class… I’d hate to think that people watch it and go, ‘I can’t’ and that’s why I think the show is so successful. Everyone throughout the whole world could relate to someone within [its] society.”
‘Bridgerton’ season two is released on Netflix on Friday 25 March