This Christmas Regé-Jean Page will have two projects premiering Sylvie’s Love and Bridgerton.
Bridgerton is Shondaland’s (Shonda Rhimes’ production company) Netflix debut. The show explores the British regency period while also incorporating scandalous storylines. The Bridgerton series is based on the book series written by Julia Quinn. Regé-Jean Page, stars in the show and plays the Duke of Hastings also known as Simon Bassett. What makes the Bridgerton series special isn’t just the characters and their stories but also the representation of communities that are typically not seen or discussed when looking at the Regency era. Viewers will see people of color being a part of the aristocracy and even as British royalty. For Regé-Jean Page, being able to work with Shonda Rhimes is always a joy; the actor worked with Shonda Rhimes previously when he was on the show We The People.
The actor is dedicated to the craft of not just acting but he also is invested in creating what he refers to as culture work. For Page, his projects are “representative of the diverse” and tell stories of various Black cultures and origins. His work in the remake of Roots was a project he delved into knowing the cultural significance it held for Black Americans and their history. The actor himself is both from Harare, Zimbabwe and London, England giving him a bicultural perspective, and that unique lens has given him a balanced view of the world that has played a large role in his cultural work and life.
His culture work is also seen in his role of Chico in Sylvie’s Love. The actor, who previously was a drummer, had to relearn how to play the instrument in order to come into the rhythm and identity of a New York jazz musician. Though the characters of Simon and Chico differ in many ways, Regé-Jean Page’s dedication to his craft is consistent with every role.
Bridgerton and Sylvie’s Love are now playing.
Below is the interview with The Knockturnal and Regé- Jean Page discussing his time in Zimbabwe, Bridgerton, Sylvie’s Love, and cultural work.
The Knockturnal: So you are both from Harare, Zimbabwe and London, England. How do you feel like the two cities have influenced your work?
Regé-Jean Page: Wow! I think they bring a breath to my work. I think perspective is incredibly important when you’re making cultural work. I’m very grateful that I grew up outside of London largely because I think my experience, especially after I moved, was realizing that when you grow up kind of outside of the middle of the world. Londoners think they’re the center of the universe. New Yorkers think they’re the center of the universe. People in Los Angeles think they’re the center of the universe and the worst thing is, in certain ways they are because these big decisions are made in these places, these big cultural things come out of these places, and they send ripples out to the rest of the world, but politically, culturally, how people think how people have taste, how people treat each other. Experiencing that from the outside was kind of riding the waves that comes from that.
It’s very interesting once you then move into the center, into the places where these waves originate, and then as a culture maker become one of the originators of these waves. So you have an awareness of what the consequences of your actions and your stories that your words are, and also an awareness of who the people you’re portraying are.
I think of acting and culture making a lot like portraiture, there’s a very big difference between a self portrait, and a portrait of me looking at someone else from the outside. The privilege of growing up in these two worlds is I have experience in both perspectives. So it’s the idea of painting oneself, and also the idea of being able to paint other people with that slightly more arm’s length objectivity. So the short version is, it’s a privilege, because there’s a lot of perspective that you get from that.
The Knockturnal: You just mentioned cultural work and cultural working, how would you better define that?
Regé-Jean Page: I guess I try to avoid the phrase storytelling, because it’s such a cliche, but it is that. It’s holding up a mirror to society to everyone. Everyone has a right to be able to see themselves in the stories we tell. Because that in turn, creates your idea of yourself. You know, there’s a big difference between if you get dressed in the morning with a mirror, and if you don’t, but I think we also do that everyday in real life with the culture that we see on our screens. If we see ourselves accurately, then we can build ourselves accurately, we can dress ourselves accurately. Arm ourselves more accurately for whatever restrictions the world throws at us and so I think cultural work is reflecting the world in a way that is helpful and useful to the people in the world, hopefully.
The Knockturnal: You’re a graduate of the Drama Centre London, how do you feel like studying drama in the conservatory model has helped you develop your work as an actor?
Regé-Jean Page: I think it definitely developed my work ethic. We did very, very long, kind of effectively fourteen hour days, five to six days a week. So you learn stamina, you learn a certain discipline. But again, I think they particularly instilled in me a sense of responsibility for your work. The first question we were always taught to ask when starting any project was why this story? Why now? If you can’t answer that question, then you will probably be making quite hollow work because it will be self indulgent, it will be about you and not the audience that you’re serving. I think that you will almost always stay on track if you process all of your actions through the idea of service, who am I serving at this moment? How am I serving them? How can I serve them better, even in something as indulgent as playing make believe, you know.
The Knockturnal: Audiences for ‘Bridgerton’ and ‘Sylvie’s Love’ might recognize you from Roots. What was it like working on that project?
Regé-Jean Page: Which one Roots?
The Knockturnal: Yes.
Regé-Jean Page: Hot, sweaty, very Louisiana-y. That was my introduction to the United States in work was in Louisiana at the height of June, July, August. So it was having the same humidity and 100 degree days, that was a joy. But I think in a less physical sense, it is a good place to start in terms of what we were talking about with the responsibility that you have to culture. I walked in knowing full well that taking a job that was important to people that people had already been carrying before I was involved. So there’s a humility to that I am carrying someone else’s story and I’m carrying someone else’s very precious story. It was being involved in a story that had already had a huge, very real sociological, political impact on the world.There is a responsibility to take on that baton. It’s been passed to you. That torch has been passed to you and it is on you to honor the people who passed it to you, and keep it in the shape that is worth passing on again. So in terms of that idea of service that we were talking about, I think it’s strengthened and sharpened and concentrated that, which is I think a very healthy thing to have injected into you before you leave Hollywood.
The Knockturnal: With ‘Roots’ being your American debut, I would say, what did you learn about Black American history and culture with this iconic project?
Regé-Jean Page: I learned that it is not as far away as we may think it is in the modern day. I learned that history does not necessarily repeat itself, but it most certainly rhymes. I learned that the formation of the American identity is inextricable from its past and that it is still in formation. That’s why it’s important to keep telling the stories and widening and filling in the stories of how that identity was formed and is being formed. I think there’s a more relevant link to that right now. I think that the only way you can navigate the present day is through filling in the stories of the past and how we got there, because the mistelling of those stories, or the telling of those stories, from very, very specific perspectives with large, numerous chapters missing, and various characters rubbed out is incredibly unhealthy for the cultural health of a nation and the people and so I think I learned that.
The Knockturnal: Going into ‘Bridgerton’ and ‘Sylvie’s Love,’ both will be premiering on Christmas. ‘Bridgerton’ going onto Netflix, which is in 190 countries as of today and ‘Sylvie’s Love’ going on Amazon Prime, which is available in over 200 countries. How do you feel about the potential global fan base you’ll gain from both of these projects, which will also both be released on the same day?
Regé-Jean Page: Sorry, I got a little bit overwhelmed by the numbers.
The Knockturnal: It’s a lot, it’s a lot of people.
Regé-Jean Page: It’s a lot of people, it’s a lot of people who will be seeing things that I contributed to. But that’s also exactly what you get into the game for, you know, you don’t step out onto a football field and not want anyone to watch you play. That’s the whole point, you’re there to serve people. So I’m thrilled that so many people are going to see the work that I was involved in. I’m thrilled that hopefully we will bring a bit of joy to everyone on Christmas in a year where everyone desperately needs some joy. So I’m glad that I’m part of something that is specifically kind of hones to that on a day when we’re all meant to be trying to be as happy as we can be with our loved ones. So it’s a privilege to be part of that, it’s a privilege to be part of that on such a huge scale and everything else is just kind of by the by, it happens.
The Knockturnal: With ‘Bridgerton,’ this is actually not your first project with Shondaland. Audiences might recognize you from the project ‘For The People.’ How do you feel like these two projects differ from one another?
Regé-Jean Page: I think ‘For The People’ was very much about dealing with the soul of America in the current day and how you kind of work through that with modern day heroes in the legal system. ‘Bridgerton’ is a lot more personal. It’s very much about how people deal with the restrictions society puts on them at any given point, but it’s a lot more glamorous. It’s funnier, faster, sexier than anything that has been playing in this area before. So I think it’s a lot. It’s unashamedly indulgent, in that sense in ‘Bridgerton’ where ‘For The People’ is a little bit more straight laced.
The Knockturnal: ‘Bridgerton’ is Shonda Rhimes’ first project with Netflix. What was it like being a part of this cast?
Regé-Jean Page: A joy. It was an absolute joy to be part of this cast. It’s very playful. It’s very creative. It’s very generous. It’s a big cast so you got lots of folks to play with and lots of new ideas coming into the mix. We were shooting back in the UK so you have this kind of very theatrical tradition coming in, which is a very different energy to when you’re dealing with a primarily American cast. So you kind of relearn this language that folks have for how we play on set. So it’s a joy.
The Knockturnal: With the cast, one thing that audiences will see is the diversity of this cast and the beauty of that. What was it like being on a team where you got to see yourself represented not just in the cast, but also within the crew?
Regé-Jean Page: Exactly how it always is what I’m working within Shondaland which is a joy and if not a very large part of the reason why I was there in the first place. I generally prefer the term representative to diverse. I think the cast is representative of the world that I walk through, of the world that exists. It is representative of a world that has been reshaped falsely, the way it’s been reported in the past, and I think that we’re simply doing the very ordinary work of representing that well, more accurately and more generosity than it has been done. So it feels great, it feels natural.
The Knockturnal: With the role of Simon, what was your preparation process?
Regé-Jean Page: Broad. Simon is a very complicated man. I read the book to begin with, I always like to start with the source material. If you have it, it’s always incredibly helpful. But I also try to do it as early as possible, so that I can kind of forget it consciously and have it feeding in subconsciously while we’re making this new thing, inspired by. I then came straight off the plane and into a costume fitting, which wasn’t my favorite thing, because I was still bloated from the plane. I was like, “you’re gonna have to take like an inch off all these measurements because I’m tired and puffy.” We had some great conversations about what the clothes could say with the show about what’s happening in the time period, who Simon’s base is? It’s kind of an ironic type of archetype because Byron had been out writing these types of stories, and he’d done the same kind of traveling that Simon had done. I always look at the literature of the time that we’re portraying to see what people are reading at the time, what people’s fantasies are, what people’s culture is. So it’s very much a Byron influence in both the clothes and the character and this idea of what masculinity is in the 19th century, and how we can use that to comment on what that masculinity is in the 21st century, and how far we progressed, how far we regressed. This basically kind of takes stock on what that is through Simon because I think he’s a very, very interesting exploration of what our heroic male archetypes are, what’s great about them, and what is absolutely horrific about them, and how we can resolve that and redeem our heroes into something worth being heroic. So I think I kind of started there and built from that.
The Knockturnal: With Shondaland being an American team and the Julia Quinn novels written by an American woman, what was it like working with an American interpretation
of the Regency period?
Regé-Jean Page: It was a journey, but also incredibly refreshing to see stories that feel familiar, written in an entirely new energy, to have that world shaken up from a new perspective, to update what we think we know about a period drama, and bring in an entirely new energy that is just as representative of what’s being repressed. I think the Brits are very, very good at repression. It’s our cultural export to the world and we are exceptional at it and Americans are super good at expression and bringing that into a genre that’s all about repression. I think it is a very, very fertile ground with fireworks and if you’ve seen the series, I think we do pretty well with that. I think we bring the fireworks.
The Knockturnal: Going into ‘Sylvie’s Love,’ music plays a large part in the storytelling process with this film. What did you learn about Jazz music through playing Chico?
Regé-Jean Page: I learned that it’s really hard to play. I grew up playing drums since I was in punk rock bands, so it’s all like straight four beats. So I had to unlearn everything that I thought I knew. I called up some of my old friends to kind of give me drum lessons. I went into lessons with them every couple of days, to re unlearn everything I knew, relearn, kind of how to hold the sticks, what the kind of timing rules and the patterns are, and then bring that into the character that I was crafting because I think that Chico carries himself with an internal rhythm and beat going constantly. I think that expresses itself quite well on screen and how the character came out. So I always try to find ways into building the character in the world from what they’re doing and what they’re consuming culturally and in this case, you’re absolutely right, it was music. It was jazz and it’s like how can you portray these jazzy folks whose center is that? It is timing, it is rhythm, it is style. I think that we achieved some of that, hopefully.
The Knockturnal: How do you feel as though the preparation process and the character building for Simon differs from the character building of Chico?
Regé-Jean Page: Simon’s considerably less jazzy. Simon desperately needs to crack a smile and he does eventually whereas Chico has no problem with that whatsoever and probably desperately needs to tap into his brooding side and maybe think a couple of times before he speaks. Simon needs to think an awful lot less before he speaks and just kind of stop tying himself up in knots and learn to just love yourself, man, please. Chico loves himself a little bit too much and so we’re exploring different ends of this spectrum of self love I think.
The Knockturnal: With both of these projects premiering on the same day, what do you hope audiences can gain from watching Bridgerton and Sylvie’s Love?
Regé-Jean Page: A sense of joy, hopefully. I think that’s what you want at Christmas. It’s often what you want in art anyway, even in the most complex and tragic art. I think you’re still looking to dig out joy. I think that’s the heart of any story. Any human story that you tell is what are the reasons to celebrate ourselves and our lives and where we’ve been even if we’re going through tragedy, but if we’re going through romance or if we’re going through love and particularly in terms of when we’re talking about representative storytelling. That was an absolute linchpin of the early conversations I had with Shondaland, with Shonda, with Chris was that it was thrilling to be able to tell a story that spotlights our joy, which is surprisingly rare, while still respecting our journey towards it and that’s not as hard to do as people seem to think. So spotlighting joy is what I’d take from that.