There’s not a coiffed updo or corseted, Regency-inspired gown in sight, but Charithra Chandran is still radiant. Sitting in a conference room at Netflix’s London headquarters, the 25-year-old actor is rocking a dewy, no-makeup makeup look paired with an animal print shirt. Is it leopard or jaguar? “I can’t really tell the difference!” she says over Zoom, adding that the office space around her is “way nicer” and has “way better snacks” than her London flat. Despite the sterile environment, Chandran’s eyes sparkle with the anticipation of a young debutante awaiting a lavish ball. After all, we are here to talk about her grand debut as a “diamond of the first water” in Bridgerton Season 2.
Starring in Bridgerton is a huge feat for Chandran, who started acting professionally just two years ago. The Shondaland series based on author Julia Quinn’s novels broke the internet when it premiered at the end of 2020, redefining the period-set romance genre with a diverse cast and raunchy sex scenes drenched in the female gaze. More than 82 million households tuned in to Season 1 to watch Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) find a husband; delight in the Gossip Girl figure of Lady Whistledown; and swoon over the classical covers of pop icons like Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, and Billie Eilish.
Season 2, which debuts today, March 25, shifts the plot to Daphne’s brother, Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), the family’s notorious bachelor. Chandran plays Edwina Sharma, a romantic-at-heart newcomer and the season’s “diamond,” aka the most desirable match of the marriage market season. Although Edwina longs for a love match, she swiftly catches the eye of the ever-practical Anthony, who wants to keep love out of the equation.
People keep asking me, ‘Did you feel nervous? Were you anxious?’ No, not really.
It’s truly a star-making role, but Chandran is chill about the pressure that might come from making a mainstream debut in such a popular series. “People keep asking me, ‘Did you feel nervous? Were you anxious?’ No, not really,” she says. “I’ve never allowed the macro scope of it [to] affect me. The best part of it is the actual acting. This is also the only part that I have control over. When they call action and they call cut, that’s what I focus on.”
As fans get to know her, Chandran expects the stark contrast between who she is and the character she plays to be “jarring” for viewers. “That means I’ve done my job,” she says matter-of-factly. The differences are apparent the moment she opens her mouth. “Edwina speaks with a fairylike voice,” Chandran says, mimicking her character’s high-pitched tone before switching back to her naturally smoky timbre. Whereas Edwina is a perfectly poised, careful conversationalist, Chandran punctuates her bubbly responses with swear words that would make a lady of the ton faint.
Despite feeling like the “polar opposite” of her character, Chandran is an Edwina stan through and through. When I pause after she asks who my favorite Bridgerton character is, she quickly fills in, “There’s only one right answer, dude.” She smiles when I agree. “What I admired most about Edwina was her generosity,” she says. “Her ability to accept people as they are, I think, is so powerful. The world would certainly be a better place if more people were like Edwina. I wish I was more like Edwina.”
Calle Del Mar vest, Tommy Hilfiger shirt, BDG jeans, R13 hat and sneakers
Originally, Chandran wanted to play Kate Sharma, Edwina’s protective older sister and Anthony’s true love interest. But after a month of rigorous auditions, the casting directors asked her to try out for Edwina instead. (The role of Kate went to Sex Education star Simone Ashley.) Chandran was hesitant at first, not wanting a consolation-prize part, but after seeing what was planned for Edwina’s story, she was in. “Edwina could have easily been a bit of a caricature, this perfect fairy who does no wrong and is super sweet and angelic,” she says. “She is all of those things, but she’s also a real person and deeper than that.”
For Chandran, who was born in Scotland and is of Indian Tamil descent, Netflix’s interpretation of Edwina provides important representation without tokenization. In the book series, Edwina is English and her last name is Sheffield; on the show, she’s Edwina Sharma from Bombay. “Because the show is multiracial and we imagine this beautiful, multiracial London, what makes [the Sharmas] different is not the fact that they’re brown; it’s the fact that they're immigrants,” she says.
Chandran doesn’t take being a part of Bridgerton’s diverse cast for granted. “When you’re a POC woman, you never expect to be working with so many women of color,” she says. It was particularly rewarding to collaborate so closely with her on-screen sister, Ashley. “To be working with not only a South Indian, but a Tamilian specifically to play my sister — the chance of that happening is so slim. The fact that it happened in one of my first jobs in my career is so special.”
The world would certainly be a better place if more people were like Edwina. I wish I was more like Edwina.
Her other frequent scene partner, Bailey, left a strong impression on her, too. “Jonny Bailey is actually the most wonderful human being in the world,” she says. “People have such visceral reactions to Anthony — Jonny could not be more different. He’s like a teddy bear.” Her feelings about the cast as a whole are similarly warm and fuzzy. “I definitely think I’m a better actor now than I was when I started the show,” she says, explaining she learned from more experienced castmates through “osmosis.”
She can’t give her co-stars all the credit, though. Chandran’s interest in performing came at an early age. “I’m super dramatic,” Chandran says. “I was that obnoxious child that would put on plays and make all the family and friends sit and watch.” Her parents were initially apprehensive of her desire to pursue acting, although Chandran is quick to defend them. “My parents are both immigrants, and they’re both doctors, which is a very conventional route,” she says. “For them, their focus was on survival. Their priorities [were] on security and stability.” Because show biz isn’t exactly known for those qualities, “they were a little fearful.”
So, Chandran initially went for a more traditional career. But between graduating from Oxford University and securing work at a prestigious consulting group, she decided to try her hand at her longtime passion. “For me, saying you’re going to be an actor was like saying you’re going to be a prime minister,” she says. “I was worried that people would laugh."
Up next, she says, are some passion projects: a short film called Class S and a web series she worked on with her friends called Pillow Talk. But with Bridgerton now under her belt, she’s thinking bigger. Her dream gig? Succession. And she already has the perfect character arc planned out for herself: “To bail out Waystar, they get an Indian telecommunications company to handle the merger, and the telecoms boss asks his daughter to do all the business,” Chandran says, nearly jumping out of her chair. “She’s very bossy, cocky, and young. She doesn't really have the experience, but she’s super fucking entitled like everyone on that show is.” Also, Chandran wants Brian Cox to yell at her.
Miu Miu clothing and shoes
The possibility of returning to Bridgerton as Edwina is also on Chandran’s mind. Edwina doesn’t show up in any of the other Bridgerton books, so — much like Regé-Jean Page in the first season — Season 2 may be a one-and-done gig for Chandran. However, she’s not giving up on an Edwina comeback. “I haven’t been told anything yet,” she says. “I suppose in part, it depends on whether the audiences connect with her or not. I hope they do.” If so, she’d love to see her character be “a little weirder” in future seasons. “She’s being bred to be the diamond, [but] I’d love to see her have the opportunity to explore her true nature and have a little bit of fun,” she says.
For now, though, Chandran is focused on living in the excitement of this moment. Her mirrorball energy is palpable even over video chat as she wonders how fans will react to her character — and, by extension, Chandran herself. “What you see in Season 2 is a girl become a woman and take control of her life,” Chandran says. “I think [people will cheer] her on because they're like, ‘Yeah, she’s fucking earning her power. That’s really cool.’”
Top Image Credit: Calle Del Mar vest, Tommy Hilfiger shirt, R13 hat
Photographer: Ruth Ginika Ossai
Stylist: EJ Briones
Hair: Josh Knight
Makeup: Neil Young
Manicure: Michelle Class
Bookings: Special Projects
Video: David Meadows