When Bridgerton actor Golda Rosheuvel reflects on her 20s, she remembers the lack of opportunities given to her as a biracial woman. “I was told I was too exotic and my eyes were too close together,” she tells me over Zoom. “I was devastated, confused, and really hurt.” Bitterness, however, is not in her vocabulary. With each closed door came a chance for Rosheuvel to dust herself off and aim even higher.
For years she was a mainstay on the theatre circuit, securing roles in The American Clock and A Christmas Carol at London’s Old Vic; Romeo And Juliet at the Globe; Angels In America at Headlong Theatre; and a lead role in an all-female version of Othello at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre. “It was a real moment for me,” she says, adding that she wanted to flip the narrative on its head by swapping the character’s gender. “My instinct was: I want to play her as a lesbian and nothing else.” When Rosheuvel and the director discussed approaching the play differently, they decided to make it work. “I’m playing Othello as a woman. You know, my sexuality is out there. We’re celebrating it. That role challenged me in so many ways, but it left me feeling so satisfied, like an orgasm!”
She then became well known for a number of on-screen roles in shows such as Death In Paradise, Silent Witness, Luther, and Coronation Street. But acting was never her first choice. At school, she loved playing hockey and athletics competitions. “I never wanted to become an Olympian. I trained at Harlow Athletics Club and I did everything from long jump, hurdles, shot put, and discus. I could’ve been like Jessica Ennis-Hill, you know?” She was inspired by Olympians Fatima Whitbread and Florence Griffith Joyner, aka Flo-Jo.
“There was a moment where my coach at Harlow was chatting to my mum and said: ‘She’s got potential,’ and that planted a seed for the Olympics.” During this time, Rosheuvel was also busying herself with singing and drama, and performed in every show at school, including Bugsy Malone. But injury struck, and Rosheuvel spent less time on the track and more time on the stage. “My drama and singing took off after that. Everything happens for a reason, right?”
Her positive attitude and ambition were what led to her big break in 2018, when she was cast as Her Majesty Queen Charlotte in Netflix’s hit show Bridgerton. It’s a role the now 52-year-old British-Guyanese actor has been waiting years for. “It’s a dream come true,” she says. “You always seek out these roles that have a part of you in them, that is effortless to play, and a joy to go to work every day. And Queen Charlotte is definitely that role.”
Understandably, identity is a huge part of Rosheuvel as a biracial woman, which makes her Bridgerton role even more special. Historians believe that Queen Charlotte was England’s first mixed-raced royal, a fact that producer Shonda Rhimes wanted to highlight by reimagining what Regency England would look like had the queen embraced her African roots. While this role has allowed Rosheuvel to connect to her Guyanese heritage, she also feels closer to her mother’s ancestry too. “It’s a lovely thing to be able to celebrate my mum. It’s a great gig.”
Now, as fans prepare to marathon-watch Bridgerton S2, Rosheuvel reflects on being a ‘90s wild child, buying her first house at 28, and the women who inspired her to break glass ceilings for biracial women.
Take me back to 1998, when you were 28. What was that like?
I was covering the role of Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar. Being a cover for a role is a different beast. It really requires a lot of patience, humility, and keeping your ego in check. I knew I could play that part every single night and I knew I could play the part better than the person doing it. And it’s funny because I remember someone saying to me, “That’s exactly what we want. We want you to be better than the person.”
Does that come down to opportunity?
Yeah, I think so. In my career, I have struggled with opportunities not coming to me and I’ve had to deal with that. But there was a moment when I had to take control of my own destiny, and start saying no, because you start to feel walked on. There’s a lot of lazy casting in this industry and I didn’t want to be part of that. So Jesus Christ Superstar was the last cover I did, but then I starred as Mary Magdalene on tour later, too.
What happened next?
They were going to make a movie of the theatre production, similar to what Hamilton is now, and they made me audition for the role of Mary Magdalene. I didn’t get that role because they thought my looks were “too exotic” and they gave me a role in the ensemble instead. I was hurt, but I had to sit down with myself and think, what am I going to do about this? How am I going to turn this around? So I said yes [to the role], because there might not have been another opportunity for me to do on-screen work. Then after we had finished filming, one of the directors said: “I think we should’ve given you the role.”
Did that make you feel vindicated?
Empowered, babe. I come from a school of making things work. And although the devastation of their initial comments made me feel low, I’m still standing. I get up every single time.
Was that the first time you were referred to as exotic, when you were 28?
Yeah, it was the first time I had ever heard that. And I thought, what the hell does that even mean? I remember looking in the mirror, looking at myself knowing I was beautiful. But also knowing that I couldn’t do anything about the way I looked. How are you going to deny me a role that I had been playing for two years just because I look “exotic”?
I’m overjoyed that I am able to speak out and represent biracial people and biracial artists because I don’t think we hear enough about that struggle, and the journey of coming to a whole.
You’ve mentioned in interviews how proud you feel at being able to represent your mother’s heritage as Queen Charlotte in Bridgerton, being a biracial woman. How does it make you feel to see a biracial woman cast in this role?
It’s so interesting because when I was reflecting about being 28, I was reflecting back and identity is such a big thing for biracial people, and myself as a biracial woman. I would often sit with myself and think, where do you sit? What do you want to say? Who are you? It’s such a lovely thing to be able to celebrate my mum too because I have played roles that are stereotypically Black roles, such as a nurse, a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, or a young mum from an urban area in London with a wayward child... There’s nothing wrong with these roles, so long as they have an impactful storyline.
But I had to understand how the industry saw me and I think that’s got a lot to do with my identity as a biracial woman, and ultimately seeking out a path where I can play the role of queen of England. I’m overjoyed that I am able to speak out and represent biracial people and biracial artists because I don’t think we hear enough about that struggle, and the journey of coming to a whole. That took a lot of working out, a lot of mistakes, a lot of drugs and alcohol to numb the pain.
Did you ever feel like you were constantly on the fence with your identity?
Definitely. There were a lot of feelings that I needed to connect more with my Black side and speak a certain way, but I also didn’t feel comfortable with that. I felt like a fake. I was brought up by my mother’s side in the U.K. There’s not much of my father’s side here, so I grew up mainly in a white household. I don’t want to poo-poo anyone but being biracial has never been seen as one thing. To everyone else, we’re Black because of the colour of our skin. No matter what shade it is, you’re definitely darker than a white person.
So what stressed you out the most when you were 28?
I was stressed about not knowing where I fit in within the industry. I always wondered how I could make a mark in this world. Wondering what I wanted to say, and what my purpose was. That said, I bought my first house near Queen’s Road Peckham with my partner when I was 28. But I couldn’t have done that without my parents’ help for the deposit.
What else were you doing at this time?
I was also driving a lot. I worked in the West End and would hang out at a place called Joe Allen’s in Covent Garden, and the Green Room. I went to PJ’s and loads of bars in Camberwell. And, of course, lots of house parties.
So you were a bit of a wild child?
Yeah, definitely. I took a lot of drugs and was definitely a party animal. I used to rock up to Heaven on a Friday night, and end up at Turner’s on a Sunday morning. It was hardcore.
It’s been really f****** hard, but boy have we come out the other side singing and dancing, mate.
Was there a woman who inspired you at 28?
My mum is definitely a big influence in my life. She was always there for me. We always had cups of tea and put the world to rights. She would always put her opinion to a conversation but was also so open to other people’s opinions, too. She was brilliant like that.
I remember working on Jesus Christ Superstar with the Australian director Gale Edwards. And I remember overhearing a conversation which she was having with one of the actors about me. I heard her say: “Golda’s fantastic. If she puts her mind to it, she can put her mind to anything. She’d be brilliant.” Whenever I’m in a sad place or haven’t secured a role, I always remember that.
Was there anyone in the industry that you looked up to?
This is a funny old question because there are loads. But the one person that really sticks in my mind is actress Penelope Keith. She was in this amazing sitcom called To The Manor Born, which I grew up with. She was a white woman, and very, very posh. We used to watch the show as a family. She was everything I wanted to be. It was so quintessentially English, and white. And I’m always so nervous about saying that in interviews because you’re not supposed to say those things, but there genuinely wasn’t anyone of colour that influenced me in that point of my life. There were always white faces on the telly. Plus, Penelope Keith was my first crush.
At what point in your life did you think that you made it?
The Graham Norton Show was one of those moments. I remember sitting there filming the show for an hour and 45 minutes, looking at Adele, Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent, Graham Norton, and the audience, thinking: what the hell is my life? And I remember saying to myself, “Take this moment in Golds, make sure you feel every single moment of this.”
What was it like finding out about the Bridgerton role and working with Shonda Rhimes?
I thought, I sit so nicely in this role, it’s so comfortable for me. I love [Rhimes] so much and I totally understand her whole being, her surroundings, her language, and her tone. So auditioning for that role was really, really easy. I was initially up for Lady Danbury, and they said no but we’d love for you to play Queen Charlotte, and that’s how it happened.
What’s your relationship like with Shonda Rhimes?
I’ve had a long relationship with Shonda and her work. I love Grey’s Anatomy. But when I was playing Othello, Scandal was my go-to boxset. Olivia Pope was my Othello. The world she was navigating in really sat well for me during my own rehearsals. For Queen Charlotte, I channel India Arie. Charlotte really loves her music. I put on India Arie on my iPod and I go for walks to get into character.
What would your 28-year-old self think of Golda today?
I think she’d cry and she’d be really proud. I’m getting emotional. It’s been really f****** hard, but boy have we come out the other side singing and dancing, mate. She would f****** love it.
Season 2 of Bridgerton is available to stream on Netflix on March 25.