Tunji Kasim: The Bridgerton star on why he nearly turned down Queen Charlotte

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Thanks to its phenomenal popularity, being part of the Bridgerton universe now practically equates to instant international stardom. Regé-Jean Page, the Duke of Hastings in the first series, has become Armani’s new muse while also being a hot favourite as the next James Bond. Phoebe Dyvenor, who played the eldest Bridgerton daughter, has gone on to enjoy acting successes in movies The Colour Room and Bank of Dave. The pomp, romps and scandals of the Bridgerton world have also thrown other stars into the spotlight, such as Simone Ashley, Jonathan Bailey, Nicola Coughlan and Luke Thompson, all of whom have been reeling from the successes of the internationally-renowned show. 

So, when Tunji Kasim was offered an audition in the new Netflix spin-off series, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, surely it was too good to turn down? Well, not quite. While aware of the series, he hadn’t watched the first two series of Bridgerton when his agent handed him the script. But it wasn’t the inevitable promise of fashion partnerships, endless invitations to glamorous events or future acting gigs that convinced him to take the job in the end. In fact, it all came down to the writing. “I hadn’t watched Bridgerton before this came my way but what drew me to Queen Charlotte was the script,” says Kasim. “I got the audition and I was almost not going to do it but my agent told me to take a look. The writing was so fantastic and compelling and the first audition was a six-page scene. With TV, you often get short scenes so it was quite a joy to work on this mini-play.” 

If you’ve watched any of the Shonda Rhimes-written spin-off, you’ll know Kasim as Adolphus Frederick IV, the Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (quite the mouthful): Charlotte’s older brother who bestows her on the English Royal Family as King George III’s new wife. When the crew started filming last summer and Kasim was getting into character, he saw Adolphus as a practical man – he exclaims in the opening scene “there are worse fates than marrying the King of England” – but now, one month since Queen Charlotte’s release, has that perspective changed? 

“He’s a very pragmatic man and that practicality is very easy to judge in 2023. Adolphus is a man of his time,” he explains. “Interestingly, when I first read the scenes, I sympathised with him because there’s practicality over emotion with him. Anything he does, although it may come across as bad or misogynistic, comes from a place of necessity rather than an evil scheme. He’s not greedy; the British Empire has come asking, but essentially demanding, that Charlotte be the future Queen of England. You can’t really turn that down. 

tunji kasim bridgerton

“The first time I watched the episode I just cringed the whole way through, I can’t watch myself full stop. Second time I watched it with my mum and… [Adolphus is] a bit of a d***, isn’t he?” laughs Kasim. “When I was working, I didn’t see it that way but I can appreciate from a third-party view, he does come across as a bit of an a**hole. I’ve played many an a**hole before in my life but I always try to find an empathetic way into that character and I hope audiences can sympathise with what [Adolphus] had to do.”

While he may be no stranger to playing ‘the bad guy’, he’s also no stranger to period dramas. Kasim cut his acting teeth on stage, taking on the role of Caesar in Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre in 2019. “I think once upon a time [I preferred stage and theatre] and I felt at the time it was the way to hone my craft. It’s true to an extent and that’s perhaps why I did theatre for so long but now there’s such a variety of work in film and TV which is so fantastic. 

“Streaming has opened the doors in many ways, especially when it comes to diversity. Because there’s so much content being made, that has enabled so much diverse content to be made. Colour-blind casting, for example, has been happening in theatre for years and it seems to be transferring over to other mediums, encouraging more diversity even in these old stories that we’re telling. Period dramas would traditionally be white characters but a mix of ethnic casting is going on now. 

“I’ve done a lot of theatre and I will go back to it. TV is a writer’s medium, film is a director’s medium and theatre is an actor’s medium because, at the end of the day, it’s you and the audience and no director can edit what you do on the night. You have a lot more authority over your work.”

tunji kasim bridgerton

Born to a Nigerian professor at Aberdeen University and a Scottish primary school teacher, Kasim grew up with the assumption that academia, not the arts, would be on the cards when it came to pursuing a future career. So, why did acting win out? “Because the other option was computer science and I didn’t fancy doing that,” he quips. “My secondary school drama teacher encouraged me to pursue acting. I was 15 when I starred in a Talented Mr Ripley at school; it scratched an itch and unlocked something in me. 

“I got into the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. I had to negotiate with my dad, as I was supposed to do my computing science course first and my drama degree second. But I never quite got round to doing the course and I have been acting ever since.” 

“I get a few more stares on the street than I once did.”

Tunji Kasim

Despite not watching any of the show before he took on the role of Adolphus, Kasim wasn’t naive to the frenzied fanbase that comes as part and parcel of Bridgerton. “People love this world and I did want to live up to those expectations. However, because Adolphus isn’t an established character in the previous series, I think I was in a better position as an actor because I didn’t feel obliged to fall in line,” he says. “I don’t think I fully comprehended the enormity which is Bridgerton and I was naive to a degree, but it wasn’t a bad naivety because I didn’t feel intimidated on set – and that’s a huge credit to our director, Shonda and the crew.” 

If Kasim wasn’t aware of the power of the show before, he certainly is now. “I am a fairly private guy and, similarly to the way I try to be naive going into projects, I also enjoy being quite naive when they’re released. This has been such a big project that I have inevitably received positive feedback but I try, in a realistic way, to shut that out and carry on with my life. I’m not on social media but I am getting a few more stares on the street than I once did.” 

tunji kasim

Image: Jemima Marriott

So, what can we expect to see Kasim in next? Aside for the fourth and final season of CBS’ Nancy Drew, he’s keeping tight-lipped. “I’ve tried to be quite selective about what I get into because thankfully and very fortunately, I have worked back-to-back since 2019. I’ve taken a break and now I’m ready to step back in so we will have to see.”

Let’s hope he doesn’t keep us waiting too long.

Read more: The best new books coming out in June 2023

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