In its second season, Bridgerton gave audiences a love triangle that involved a bee sting, a bangle and a gazebo. Edwina Sharma is wooed by Viscount Anthony Bridgerton, only to later discover that it is her elder sister Kate whom he truly loves.
The season, Netflix’s most-watched series at the time of its release, launched British-Indian actor Charithra Chandran, 25, in the role of Edwina as part of its culturally diverse cast. She plays “the diamond of the season” in a story arc that moves from her courtship to her making peace with the fallout of her relationship. Chandran has previously appeared in the Alex Rider (2020-) series as Sabina Pleasance.
You are Tamil, born to parents who moved from India to Scotland and you spent some of your early childhood in India. In what ways do you still maintain your ties to India or to your Tamil roots?
Most of my family still live (in India). I’m very close to them. Pre-pandemic, I’d go to India once or twice a year. When I was at school, I would go for months at a time. I have to admit that as I’ve gotten older I have been able to partake less in the culture. Meaning, I’m watching fewer Tamil movies, I’m keeping less up to date about Tamil songs. But I’m proud of where I am from and what Tamil Nadu has to offer.
You graduated from Oxford University, did a stint at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and then worked at the New Policy Institute. You were on the verge of starting a career in consulting when the shift happened. How did you arrive at that decision?
It was mainly because of the pandemic. If it hadn’t happened, I would have started my career in consulting, been at BCG and not looked back because I did enjoy my time there. It was only because of the pandemic that we all became a little introspective. It was only through that that I gained the courage to go for what I want.
You have spoken about colourism, how you did or did not do certain things in order to fit in while growing up. Was that a difficult time? And then you got cast in Bridgerton as an Indian woman. What has that journey been like?
I think (colourism) is pervasive and affects every part of your life. If you’re assessing when to leave your house in the summer, when it’s sunny… that is debilitating in some ways. I hadn’t realised how restrictive my life had been until I was cast in Bridgerton. Now it’s not even something I think about. That’s a massive burden off of my shoulders. If I can give that to other women, that’s the most amazing thing.
Bridgerton received much praise for its culturally diverse casting. What is the impact of casting choices like these for South Asian actors?
Firstly, it’s exciting because those opportunities are available to us on a practical level. There are now enough roles for us. When there are so few opportunities afforded to you in all different industries, people of colour are often convinced there’s only one seat at the table. So, we almost self-cannibalise. We start seeing each other as competition instead of collaborators and companions. With so many more roles being available, we can form a community.
I also think that when there are fewer brown characters you have more of a pressure to represent 1.2 billion people in one character and someone’s certainly going to be upset. The more brown people you see in really different roles… you can become more specific… People can see themselves in the media more accurately.
While Bridgerton could cast two Tamil female actors as leads, we don’t see dark-complexioned female actors as leads in Tamil cinema or Bollywood. What are your thoughts on this?
It’s deeply depressing. Tamil people are so proud of being Tamil. But then, there is also this self-hating element. Tamil film producers’ inability to cast women who are Tamil, who look Tamil is because there’s a level of self-hatred. I don’t understand how you can both be proud and self-hating.
There is a real feminist angle. There are many dark-skinned male actors and it’s only the women who are light-skinned. It’s another way that women are expected to uphold a standard that they cannot. It’s an added burden on women that isn’t put on men.
The reality is that people ask me if I will work in Bollywood or the Tamil film industry. But they wouldn’t hire me. I’m not hundred per cent sure if Indian audiences would want to see me because I’m not the Indian standard of beauty. It’s confusing to Western audiences when I’ve just played “the diamond of the season” in the biggest show in the world.
Bridgerton season two revolved around you, Simone Ashley and Jonathan Bailey. What was it like working with them?
COVID-19 was tricky because the amount that we could mingle was restricted. We did a lot of things over Zoom. We had rehearsals a day before we started filming.
What we were lucky with was that we have a natural ease with each other and Johnny was so generous. He really was the captain of the season. He looked after all of us. One of my favourite things is that my closest people, like Shelley (Conn) who plays my mum on the show — I call her twice a week. She is one of my best friends. I love her.
Bridgerton’s popularity means there is a real risk that it could overshadow everything else that you do. What decisions are you making to ensure that your repertoire is more than Bridgerton?
It is absolutely a burden and a blessing. I think it’s about picking diverse roles that are really different from it and building out a career that doesn’t rely too much on the flagship show that launched me. But I’m so grateful for it. It was such a wonderful experience and I have great things to say about it.
Are you back on set for Bridgerton season 3?
No, I’m not on set for season 3. I’m doing another film. It hasn’t been announced yet. It’s really exciting!