IN CONVERSATION WITH TUNJI KASIM
Interview by Jana Letonja
Award-nominated actor Tunji Kasim stars in the much anticipated ‘Bridgerton’ prequel drama series ‘Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story’, that is debuting worldwide on Netflix on 4th May 4. Tunji’s previos television credits include ‘Good Liar’, ‘The Kill Team’ and CW’s supernatural thriller/drama series ‘Nancy Drew’.
Tunji, you’re starring in ‘Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story’, a prequel to the highly succesfull ‘Bridgerton’. The 6-episode series reveals the origins of the beloved character Queen Charlotte as she ascends the throne and changes the Bridgerton kingdom as she knows it. What can we expect from the series? What will make the viewers fall in love with it as much as they did with ‘Bridgerton’?
I’m hoping viewers will love our addition to the ‘Bridgerton-verse’. We add a rich, new layer and give the backstory of how the characters we know and love in ‘Bridgerton’ got to where they are. Not just Queen Charlotte, but Lady Danbury, King George and Lady Violet. I hope ‘Queen Charlotte’ brings a complexity to the world the fans want. We take a good hard look at some very uncomfortable matters, like misogyny, ethnic prejudice and mental health. Still viewed through the ‘Bridgerton’ lens, but with an intelligence and tastefulness I hope the fans appreciate. Plus, it looks beautiful.
Have you watched ‘Bridgerton’ before you got cast on ‘Queen Charlote: A Bridgerton Story’?
I hadn’t actually watched ‘Bridgerton’ before this came my way. And to be honest, I still haven’t. I was kind of glad I hadn’t watched it, because I could bring my own energy to the ‘Bridgerton’ world without feeling obliged to fall in line with what had already been done. I wasn’t influenced by anything I’d seen before and so felt unrestricted in many ways.
In the series you star as Adolphus, the leader of his county and head of the family, two roles that don‘t often go hand in hand. He must make an impossible choice between what is best for his country and what is best for his little sister, Queen Charlotte. Tell us more about Adolphus. How does he deal with his dual role and being the one making all these choices?
Adolphus is put in a very tough position. I don’t envy the guy. I mean, he deeply loves his sister and his love for her would ultimately trump anything else, but he also has a fundamental belief in duty and responsibility. He helps arrange the marriage between Charlotte and George because it advantages his province and his people. It is his duty to do what is best for his people, regardless of his own personal feelings. Also, when the most powerful empire in the world comes asking for something, you can’t really say no unless you’re asking to be annihilated. But I also think Adolphus only puts Charlotte in that position because he knows she can handle it. She has an inner strength, like him, that gives her the ability to thrive wherever she goes.
You were raised in Nigeria until you were 12, before you then moved back to Scotland. How has growing up in both countries, being immersed in a rich, diverse and blended cultural experience shaped you as a person?
I’m very fortunate to have grown up in both cultures. It almost automatically gives me a more rounded view of the world that I try not to take for granted. Many people in Scotland never get to leave their country and the same for many Nigerians. Both cultures have rich histories and such vibrant people. I love being able to go from wearing a kilt to wearing an agbádá.
At 17 you were accepted into the prestigious Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow and made your professional onstage debut at the Almeida Theatre in London before you graduated. How did you transit from theater to film and television?
It took me a while to make the transition from stage to camera. And purposely so. I suppose when I was starting out, I felt the stage was where I needed to cut my teeth, to really learn the craft of acting. Theatre is very much an actor’s medium. On camera, the director is very much in charge and they can shape what’s filmed to be whatever they want. An edit can significantly change your performance. But on stage, it’s you and the audience making a direct connection and it’s different every night, demanding you to be present and in the moment.
What is the most exciting thing for you when you are on set or on stage, acting?
Oddly enough, I love rehearsing. That’s frequently my favourite bit. Performance is the doing and embodying, and I love that as well. But getting to intellectualise what I’m working on is very helpful for me. Discussing with other actors and the director. I love hearing other people’s thoughts and opinions. They’re often the key to unlocking a character. It’s hard being open and humble when performing because it is such a vulnerable and exposing art form, but I find the input of others invaluable. And actually, it often helps me realise my own thoughts and feelings.
How do you prepare for different roles, to portray all these different characters?
Every character is different and so requires different approaches, but I find research is always helpful. Whether researching a time period the person you’re playing lived in or practicing a particular activity or getting in or out of shape. Inhabiting the person off stage is just as important as on stage. Whatever you can find to get into their mind set or under their skin.
When you’re not on set, you are always setting a new physical challenge for yourself. Tell us more about how you challenge yourself with something new every day.
I just bought a 1950s house and am doing a lot of the renovations myself. I often think if I wasn’t an actor, I’d want to do something with my hands, like carpentry or something. Or maybe it’s a balance between my professional life and personal. Art can be so intangible, I guess it’s nice to just knock something down and build it back up again. So that’s pretty challenging for me right now, learning new building skills.
You are very involved in giving back and have been active with quite some organizations over the years. Which organizations do you work with? Why is giving back so dear to you?
‘Covenant House’ in Vancouver is a fantastic charity and one I try to work with whenever I can. They give young people a home and teach them life skills to go on and hopefully live a fulfilling and productive life. A lot of us have so many privileges and giving back allows you to appreciate that and hopefully make someone else’s life better. All we have in this world is each other.
Tunji, after ‘Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story’, what’s coming up next for you?
I’ve got the final season of ‘Nancy Drew’ premiering at the end of the month, so it’s an exciting time for audiences to see what I’ve been up to. But I’ve been taking some personal time recently, filming back-to-back for the last 3 years has taken its toll. I’m starting to feel that itch again, so I hope I’ll be working on something new fairly soon.
photographer JENIMA MARRIOTT
groomer KIM KASIM
stylist FABIO IMMEDIATIO