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Bridgerton star Adjoa Andoh: 'My first dream was to be a bass player in a punk band'

She's starring in Bridgerton and Richard III at the moment – but top actor Adjoa Andoh was initially inspired by seeing The Clash in 1977

Adjoa Andoh

Adjoa Andoh. Image: Suki Dhanda

Adjoa Andoh is the grande dame of Bridgerton and director and star of a groundbreaking new production of Richard III. But she originally wanted to be a bass player in a punk band. What would Lady Whistledown say?

All this and more is revealed in Andoh’s Letter To My Younger Self interview in this week’s Big Issue. The 60-year-old, who reprises her role as Lady Danbury in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story on Netflix from May 4, revealed her punk rock roots in the new interview.

“I spent most of my 16th year being a punk and trying to survive my exams,” Andoh told our interviewer, Jane Graham.

“I was a punk from when I was 14, when I saw The Clash in ’77 – I loved going to gigs. We lived in the Cotswolds, so I usually went to Bristol for gigs.

“By the time I was 16 punk was coming to its close. So I was moving more towards The Specials, The Beat, 2 Tone music. I was the average tortured depressed teenager.

“If I had my first dream come true, I would have been a bass player in a punk band.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Andoh also talks about getting her break – thanks to the openness and generosity of other aspiring actors.

“I moved to Brixton, I lived in a squat, and I signed on,” she said. “I rebuilt the squat with the other people who lived there. We laid concrete floors and did the ceilings and built door frames and did the rendering.

“And slowly I got to hear about auditions from other black actresses. The generosity of allowing me to go up for the same audition that they were going for was amazing. After a year of cleaning toilets and modelling for life-drawing classes, I got a job with a company called Theatre Centres, who were a left-leaning young people’s socialist feminist touring company.

“I started in September ’85 and that was me off.”

Since then, Adjoa Andoh has built a fine career. On screen, Andoh had a long-running role in Casualty, a recurring role in Doctor Who as Francine Jones – mother of the Tenth Doctor’s companion, Martha (Freema Agyeman). She also starred alongside Morgan Freeman in Invictus and appeared in both Broadchurch and Line of Duty before Bridgerton became the world’s most popular TV series.

Andoh has also achieved huge success on stage. Multiple credits at the National Theatre include His Dark Materials. She enjoyed a long stint at the RSC. And Andoh recently starred opposite Ben Whishaw and David Morrissey in Julius Caesar at The Bridge Theatre, directed by Nicholas Hytner.

Adjoa Andoh on stage in the role of Richard III
Adjoa Andoh as Richard III. Image: Shonay Shote

Andoh is currently directing and starring in Richard III in Kingston. She feels this production would have inspired her younger self (and will inspire countless others).

Richard III is a play I fell in love with when I was a kid,” she said. “Because I had a strong child’s sense of being on Richard’s side. He was somebody who experienced a lot of hostility in his life. A lot of name calling. A lot of people saying he was evil. So, beyond all the things he was accused of, I empathise with his sense of: ‘why are they judging me on the way I look?’

“Why did people decide that he must be evil because of the way he looked? 

“As a child I had a sense of living somewhere where I didn’t look like many people around me either. So I had a really strong sense of the unfairness of the treatment he experienced.

“I would say to my 16-year-old self, just look at where you’ve come to. How you’ve been able to use that feeling, that experience in childhood in a positive way to make art that hopefully lots of people will come and see.

“And they will understand that they should not be made to feel that they are unacceptable because of things that are beyond their control, like their class, their income, their sexuality, their differently abled body, their race, whatever it may be.

“So to everyone who’s ever felt that, I’d say, come and see this play. Because it’s for us.” 

The full interview with Adjoa Andoh, including her recollections of working with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon on Invictus, are in The Big Issue magazine, on the streets from May 1.

Adjoa Andoh directs and stars in Richard III at the Rose Theatre in Kingston until May 13.

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