The first indication Regé-Jean Page had that the upcoming Netflix project he’d been asked to come in for was going to be something big was the way he was greeted at the reception desk.
Page had just come off “For the People,” an ABC legal series from Hollywood hitmaker Shonda Rhimes, she of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” fame, and received a call from the Shondaland team about a new series they said the whole office was buzzing over.
“And the first thing I saw was a security guy at the desk reading ‘Bridgerton’ — and then I got upstairs and the receptionist was reading ‘Bridgerton,’ and I chatted with them about it and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, you should see the office Slack channel,’” Page says. “And I was watching the whole office talking about the ‘Bridgerton’ books.”
Out on Christmas Day, “Bridgerton” is the first release from Rhimes’ production company Shondaland since she signed a multiyear deal with Netflix in 2017. The period-piece romantic drama, narrated by Julie Andrews, is ripe with scandal, illicit affairs, intrigue, pining, longing, etc.; all the good makings of a Regency rom-com. Page is the male lead who plays the handsome and charming Duke of Hastings Simon Basset, a renowned bachelor who agrees to fake a courtship with the season’s most desired bride, Daphne Bridgerton.
But “Bridgerton” is not the average period piece — it is modernized in gender, race and class at several points, something that Page says drew him to the project.
“Being a Brit, you make a lot of period dramas,” Page says. “Seeing period drama with a modern point of view, a modern energy, a point of view that encapsulates where we’ve come from, from a feminist viewpoint, and putting its female protagonist front and center, was super interesting to me. And then on the flip side of that, how we then examine our masculine anti-hero and what masculinity is, and where we’ve come in that conversation in the last years — because we’ve come a long way in terms of what makes a male hero or a romantic icon in a show like this — and how we can deconstruct that and build it back up again through Simon’s journey. That fascinated me.”
Page grew up in Harare, Zimbabwe, before moving back to the U.K., where he was born, for secondary school. He’s been tethered to Los Angeles (as much as any rising actor can be) since 2016, when he came to the U.S. for the 2016 History channel production of “Roots,” starring alongside Forest Whitaker and Laurence Fishburne.
“My introduction to the United States was plantations in Louisiana,” he says. “It was delightful.”
Performing, either through acting or music, has always been his outlet. He went to a Saturday acting school as a child, which led to a few acting jobs — “my favorite hobby which occasionally paid me, which was nice,” he says — before he realized it was something he could actually pursue “as an actual thing.” Then came drama school, a few jobs, one after the other, before he ended up on Rhimes’ radar.
The leading romance on “Bridgerton” is between Page’s Duke of Hastings and Daphne Bridgerton, a Black man and a white woman — and their race is not a point of discussion.
“I think the most startling thing that I realized when I watched it was that it’s the least relevant thing on screen within seconds,” Page says of how the show interacts with race. “You’re just engaging with these characters on a very universal human level, in terms of everyone is trying to find their sense of identity, despite the societal barriers and restrictions that are put in their way. And that is relevant through gender, that is relevant through sexuality and that is relevant through race. But that’s relevant in exactly the same way across all of those particular identities.”
When he began discussing the show with the Rhimes team, they got talking about how the interracial couples in “Bridgerton,” who do not face obstacles to their being together because of race, were a unique opportunity to showcase Black joy.
“The central theme of the show is identity and love and romance. [The show] is an incredible opportunity to spotlight Black joy in a way that you don’t normally see,” Page says. “Is there a way that we can bring everyone to the table, where they let everyone participate in romance and joy and splendor in ways that they had been excluded from in the past? There are other shows to focus on trauma. We all know how to focus on trauma. This is the struggle. We have the opportunity to respect our journey and focus on joy.”
Despite early warning signs from the Shondaland offices, Page is sticking with a “bright and healthy obliviousness” as the show’s premiere date gets closer — and the surefire fan base looms.
“I try to kind of surf the waves as they come and stay loose so that if anything does throw me off balance, I’m kind of floppy enough to roll with it,” Page says. “So the short answer is no, I’m entirely naive of the fact that there is a big wave coming. I’m just kind of ready to surf it.”
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