AP Breakthrough Entertainer: Simone Ashley finds her voice

DETROIT (AP) — Simone Ashley was busy working and traveling when “Bridgerton” debuted on Netflix in December 2020 and was an immediate smash with viewers. The Shonda Rhimes-produced series about the romantic pursuits of a large family in Regency-era London wasn’t on Ashley’s radar. So, when the audition for season two came about, she didn’t quite grasp what a big opportunity lay before her.

“It kind of came at a time of my life where I was living between Los Angeles and London and all of my stuff was in the States,” recalled Ashley. “I was just on the road the whole time.”

In hindsight, it worked to Ashley’s benefit that she wasn’t fully aware of what a high-profile project “Bridgerton” would be, so it didn’t overwhelm or distract her during the audition process.

“A lot of the time when you audition for something, there is a bit of pressure and you can’t help but feel emotionally invested and get your hopes up and all of those things that every actor goes through. This one all happened in like 10 days, and I just didn’t really understand what was happening,” she said.

Ashley got the role of Kate Sharma, a fiercely independent, sharp, protective older sister who wins the heart of Anthony Bridgerton, played by Jonathan Bailey. It’s Ashley’s charisma, charm and grace that make her one of The Associated Press’ breakthrough entertainers of 2022 alongside Iman Vellani,Tenoch Huerta, Stephanie Hsu and others.

Although she was already a working actor when she got the job and best-known for the Netflix series “Sex Education,” Ashley realizes filming season two of “Bridgerton” was a “once in a lifetime” experience she can never duplicate. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to approach a project with that kind of obliviousness, because there will always be a slight expectation and pressure now.”

A big part of the magic of that experience was her chemistry with Bailey, whom she calls Johnny.

“Among all the chaos and the craziness, as soon as we were in front of the cameras and they were rolling, it was just better. We didn’t have to warm up to anything,” she said, adding they had a kind of “tunnel vision” while working together.

“Bridgerton”’s reach is worldwide and Ashley has been recognized in some surprising places at times when she did not expect it.

“I was in the middle of nowhere in Switzerland, literally in the middle of nowhere, and I was going swimming and some girls recognized me there,” she said. “Everyone that does approach me, the majority are women of color and they are just so lovely. People are just always so supportive to see someone like me representing in the industry, which I think is really important.”

She’s also intent to enjoy the ride and “just have fun with it. It’s a very fun industry that we’re in. It’s a lot of hard work, but, you know, it’s the entertainment industry.”

Some memorable experiences from this past year include attending her first Met Gala, where she was dressed by Jeremy Scott and met Maggie Rogers, one of her favorite musicians. She went to the Grand Prix in Monaco. Then there was the time at the BAFTAs when she was approached by education and human rights activist Malala Yousafzai.

“I met Malala during the BAFTAs. She came up to me and she was like, ‘Oh my God, ’Sex Education.’ My name is Malala.’ And I was like, ‘Babe, I know who you are.’ So that was really exciting because she’s Malala, you know? It was very humbling to introduce herself to me.”

Success has only incentivized Ashley to keep working to meet the variety of opportunities that are now all possible. She’s looking to 2023 with a clear understanding of her goals. There are “exciting” projects on the horizon, she says, which she can’t speak about, including the live-action “Little Mermaid” movie starring Halle Bailey.

“I’ve got ambitions that I’m determined to achieve,” she says. “I know what works for me. I know what I want to do with my voice now and the kind of roles that I want to take on.”

She’s also filming “Bridgerton” season three which she says has been “really lovely” because she and Bailey are now supporting characters to a new love story.

“I think both Johnny and I were just relieved that we could kind of have fun a little bit more and go off and do whatever things we have surrounding this and then come back.”

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For more on AP’s 2022 class of Breakthrough Entertainers, please visit: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-breakthrough-entertainers

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