When Bridgerton first aired in December 2020, Luke Newton had no idea what was coming for him. On reading the script, Newton had an inkling that the show was going to be special – but not to this scale. Netflix’s most successful release at the time of its premiere? Watched by 82 million households worldwide? Generating mass hysteria through a man licking a spoon? Special doesn’t even touch the sides.
“There wasn’t a moment of, ‘oh, wow, this is gonna change our lives.’ It wasn’t until Christmas Day [when the show aired] that we all knew that. The WhatsApp group was blowing up that day! It was like, ‘Wow, has anyone seen in response online? This is crazy!’”
Newton is speaking to Square Mile over Zoom from his home in Surrey. He looks pleasantly dishevelled – a sprinkling of stubble, nice checked shirt – as he reclines in his chair. The 29-year-old actor has yet to fully be bathed in the spotlight – his turn will come – but he seems ready to handle its glare.
When the show came out, Newton was staying with his family. They watched it religiously together. It arrived at “the perfect time”, with the nation hunkered down in the post-Christmas slump, and the world made even more insular due to the second lockdown. Delivering the perfect package of salacious drama and mindless escapism, the fantasy world of Bridgerton was just the “respite from reality” we all needed.
In case you’ve been living under a rock: Bridgerton is Shonda Rhimes’ outrageously fun – and frequently outrageous – regency romp. Based on a series of novels by Julia Quinn, the show follows the Bridgertons, an aristocratic family in 19th century Britain, and their romantic and social pursuits. Newton plays Colin, the third-eldest of the Bridgerton children. There are seven altogether. Handy, if you’re a streaming giant looking to establish a Regency-era equivalent of the Marvel franchise – with added petticoats and more sex.
Growing up by the seaside in Brighton, Newton tells me he was a cheeky if shy child. Performance runs in his family. He was just two years old when his aunties – both dancers themselves – placed “the tiniest pair of taps” on his feet. Newton took to tap like a miniature Fred Astaire. His first job out of drama school was tap dancing in the Book of Mormon.
His family are huge fans of Bridgerton – despite the occasionally graphic nature of the show. “It was quite uncomfortable watching some of the episodes with family members,” admits Newton. “ So I’d go and make a tea at that point, and just sit in the other room until I was ready to come back in. But fortunately, it wasn’t me or my scene, so I didn’t have to endure my mum watching me on screen getting up to all that,” he says with a nervous laugh.
Unfortunately for Newton (and perhaps his mum), he will be “getting up to all that” in the not-too-distant future. As Quinn’s series follows one member of the family per book, each season of the show will do likewise. Season one saw Phoebe Dynevor (Daphne Bridgerton) and former Square Mile cover Regé-Jean Page (the dashing Duke of Hastings) shoot to astronomical fame quite literally overnight. Newton will take the centre stage in the fourth season. Will he achieve similar fame? And how will he handle the inevitable sex scenes?
Discovering he had the lead role for series four was a huge moment. “That was actually one of the phone calls that felt life changing to me. It was very overwhelming. On the surface of it, all I did was get a phone call that said, ‘Yeah, you’re gonna continue to do the job you’re currently doing.’ But actually, I didn’t know if I’d ever get there, it almost felt too good to be true.”
His mum is a huge fan: she would sneak off and rewatch the episodes alone after the nightly family screening. Naturally, Newton is a tad nervous about the sex scenes. But he’s trying not to think about it too much. “I read each book as we’re filming each season, so I really like to focus on which one I’m doing right now. I don’t have to get too carried away with what’s happening in the future.
Many period dramas enjoy a dedicated fanbase but few can rival the enthusiasm of Bridgerton’s ‘The Ton’. After series one, there were entire Instagram accounts dedicated to the Duke of Hasting’s spoon – a three second clip of Page enjoying his desert repackaged as soft-porn. On Wattpad, a popular fanfiction website where you’ll find some extremely racy content, there are entire threads dedicated to stories about Penelope Featherington and Colin Bridgerton – or ‘Polin’ as the pair are known.
Fans of Colin love that he’s a foodie. Newton made this discovery when members of the Ton tweeted him to explain that in the books, Colin is a “very hungry boy.” The actor plays into this. “What was really fun this year was I got to speak to the team and said: ‘Look at any possibility, can I just be eating, or l can my plate be full?’ Because the fans love that Colin’s a foodie,” he says, a twinkle in his eye.
He adds: “There are so many scenes where the Bridgertons are just having a little gossip or there’s drama, and the majority of the time you will clock me with a scone or a biscuit!” There have been tougher gigs, as Newton notes. “What a dream job to be able to sit in a beautifully designed set, in beautiful costumes and just eat scones and biscuits!"
The pressure doesn’t phase him. Although he was initially nervous to return to filming after almost two years off – season one wrapped in February 2020 – his co-stars helped him settle. “That group of actors and the team that we have surrounding us just make you feel so comfortable,” he says.
He particularly looks up to Jonathan Bailey (Anthony Bridgerton), who has taken on a brotherly role to the actor both on and off-screen. “Jonathan Bailey this year was really helpful and gave me some really good tips on how to cope with things. He actually said he’s going to give me a little book of a few things that he picked up along the way to help with the process.
“He is such a brave actor and will make bold choices. A lesson I’ve learned from Johnny in particular is just to be bold. There’s no wrong or right decision.”
Newton is good friends with his co-star – and on-screen romantic interest – Nicola Coughlan (Penelope Featherington). Fans will be delighted to hear the similarities between actor and character. “Nicola has this really clever way, she can find out more gossip than anyone. It’s actually like she’s our onset Lady Whistledown,” says Newton. “The first time we met, she was like [in a whisper], ‘You know I’m Lady Whistledown?’ and I was like ‘What?!’”
He describes the support of Bridgerton fans as “really heartwarming.” Plenty will love him as Colin but he hopes they recognise him as Luke. “I love it when people say my name – like, my actual name. That’s a really cool thing.”
Perhaps Newton was always destined for heart-throb status. In 2012, he was signed as one member of a four-part boyband called South 4. When I mention the band, Newton looks down, slightly embarrassed. “We were a young and naive group of lads. We met this producer that had written music – I actually didn’t know the details but we suddenly saw in the Evening Standard that we signed a million-pound record deal,” he says, laughing in disbelief.
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He didn’t know that he had signed a million-pound record deal? “I actually have no idea what happened! Basically, we were put in this boy band and we released a couple of songs. I actually really enjoyed it – at the time, I was kind of like, ‘I’ve got to pretend I hate this.’ But it was quite fun.”
The band were billed as “the south coast’s answer to One Direction” but pop stardom proved elusive. Still, it’s all turned out OK for Newton – even if his friends still like to remind him of the South 4 era. “I was at one of my best mates’ weddings a few years ago, just before COVID, and they played one of the band’s songs there – which was very humiliating to me!”
Luckily for Newton, his girlfriend Jade doesn’t mind about his growing fanbase or potentially risque on-screen encounters. Jade is the sister of Love Island’s Amber Davies and rivals Luke’s mum in terms of her devotion to Bridgerton. “She is the biggest Bridgeton fan,” says Newton. “It’s insane how many times she watched the first season.”
We speak just days before the release of season two. “I cannot wait,” says Newton. “I’ve actually seen most of it now. Usually at that point, I’m like, ‘great. I’ve seen it, now it’s just for the rest of the world to see it.’ But every time I watch it, I’m just even more excited. I think because we know what the show is. Just seeing the scale of this year’s series is just kind of blowing my mind.”
As for the future? He’s committed to Shondaland for the foreseeable but Newton’s dream role is Frank Sinatra. His dad was a singer in a swing band and introduced young Luke to the music of Old Blue Eyes. (See what I mean about the Newtons being a performing family?) With his tap background and boyband dalliance, Newton seems a natural fit for a musical biopic. Expect big things: this is an actor worth making a song and dance over.
Bridgerton season 2 is out now on Netflix.