Playing Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings, in season one of Netflix’s steamy Regency drama Bridgerton didn’t just earn Regé-Jean Page his first-ever Emmy nomination. It also caused him to become an internet sensation of such force that when he gave the slightest whisper of a hint during a recent interview regarding a cameo in the show’s second season, it generated ample news coverage by industry publications.
This is, of course, coming after the announcement that his character would be departing from Bridgerton after its inaugural season, which provoked a general uproar that even surprised executive producer Shonda Rhimes. “I was really shocked because usually, that happens when I’ve killed off somebody that’s been around for a while,” she joked during a Vanity Fair interview. “Like, we didn’t kill him [the Duke]; he’s still alive!” So how did the star of Netflix’s most-watched series ever — a record-breaking 82 million households around the world watched it within the first 28 days of its release — get to the role that earned him a career milestone nomination? We thought you’d never ask.
Page detailed to The Guardian that he grew up in Zimbabwe before his family moved to London when he was 14 years old. “Zimbabwe was still a relatively young country when I was living there and its post-apartheid society was only newly formed,” Page noted. “Being a mixed-race child in that environment means that you have to think about crafting your own identity and you question why you belong in that world.”
He shared with GQ that his upbringing formed his perspective as an outsider trying to fit in once he arrived in the UK, which Page attributes to helping make him an actor. “If I was this guy, I’d get access here; if I was this guy, people will accept me in this way,” Page recalled of his teenage realization. “It’s code-switching, but then taken into subcultures.” That philosophy carried over to the actor’s move to Los Angeles in his twenties when he would try on different American dialects during Uber rides. “Generally I’ll stay undercover and put on a New York accent or a West Coast accent,” he revealed.
The practice paid off, and Page added to the credits he’d already accumulated from working in the UK — including his turn as Guy Braxton in the BBC soap opera Waterloo Road — by booking a number of roles in the American market. He played Chicken George in the History Channel’s 2016 remake of Roots, Captain Khora in Christian Rivers’ on-screen adaptation of Mortal Engines, and Chico Sweetney in Eugene Ashe’s Sylvie’s Love, to name a few. But it was his role as Leonard Knox in the Shondaland ABC series For the People that paved his way to playing the Duke in Bridgerton. Betsy Beers served as executive producer on both series and recalled to Variety that since Page’s audition for Leonard, she’d known he had something special. “I remember thinking what a uniquely talented and versatile actor he was,” she articulated.
With Bridgerton, Page was part of a cast that stood out from other period dramas with its diverse characters who filled all classes of British society. He pointed out the significance of that inclusion in an interview with NPR. “I think it’s incredibly important that when we are indulging ourselves in these kinds of great, big Cinderella fantasies, that everyone gets to see themselves as worthy of status and glamour and love and redemption,” he asserted.
Time will tell if Page makes the widely-speculated cameo in season two of the barrier-breaking series, but his work in its first season was certainly a launchpad for the actor’s career. Big-name titles like Joe and Anthony Russo’s The Gray Man and Paramount’s Dungeons & Dragons — a film adaptation of the role-playing game — are amongst his upcoming projects. And come September 19 when the Emmys air, you can find out if Page’s work as the Duke also earns him a career milestone win for the role. Trophy or not, though, we think the first-time nominee has earned his place in the spotlight.