Stepping Cautiously Into the ‘Bridgerton’ Spotlight

Luke Newton is yet to experience what it means to be a “Bridgerton” leading man, but he has been trying to prepare himself.

He has played Colin Bridgerton on the ornate, sexually charged Netflix show for two seasons, but for the third — which premieres on Thursday — Newton is following in the footsteps of Regé-Jean Page and Jonathan Bailey and stepping into the role of a co-lead — or chief hunk.

“I feel slightly overwhelmed,” Newton, 31, said in a recent interview, adding that he was only just starting to appreciate the responsibilities of being a “Bridgerton” lead, rather than a co-star.

After watching both Page and Bailey navigate successful seasons and, later, careers in Hollywood, Newton asked both actors for advice. Page just suggested he take a vacation as soon as the season wrapped, Newton said, but Bailey — who continues to play Anthony, Colin’s older brother, in Season 3 — was around to support him throughout. “Whatever stress there was, whatever situation, I could just call him,” Newton said.

After the last season aired, Bailey’s status — both as a celebrity and a sex symbol — skyrocketed, leading to an “extraordinary change” in his life, Bailey said. But he wasn’t worried about how his co-star would handle the same shift: He said Newton could deal with the “absurd” nature of a sudden rush of fame.

“Bridgerton,” which is based on a series of novels by the author Julia Quinn, follows eight siblings as they pine for love and reckon with relationships in early-19th-century London. The show, produced by Shonda Rhimes, has been praised both for its inclusive casting and raw approach to intimacy onscreen.

In the third season, most of the intimacy develops between the longtime friends Colin and Penelope (a bashful debutante played by Nicola Coughlan), who fall for each other.

Early in the season, Colin returns from a summer spent traveling appearing “quietly confident,” Newton said, but only Penelope can see that this newfound confidence is “a bit of a show.”

Colin also gained some muscle, which Newton said was more about portraying the character’s growth while abroad than playing to his own ego as he prepared to shoot the season’s sex scenes.

Being “Bridgerton,” nudity remains part of the deal, but the romantic story line between Colin and Penelope is different from those of previous seasons, Newton said. Colin is “sensitive and compassionate,” he said, compared to the womanizing male characters who have previously led the show.

Coughlan, who called Newton “a very caring person,” said that “a lot of the lovely parts of Colin Bridgerton are also the lovely parts of Luke Newton.” Filming sex scenes was always nerve-racking, she added, but when she was recording those with Newton, she felt “like he really had my back.”

Newton grew up near Brighton, on the southern coast of England, and many of his family members were involved in the performing arts. He decided he wanted to act after seeing two aunts appear together onstage in “Les Misérables” when he was 6, he said. Newton attended amateur dramatic groups and cut his teeth in children’s television and stage acting, before studying theater at college and briefly joining a boy band.

Early on, Newton said he considered a career in musical theater over screen work, because he has dyslexia and ADHD, which affect his ability to read scripts. “If I’m reading something I struggle with, I easily get distracted,” he said.

In 2018, when he auditioned to to play the Duke of Hastings in “Bridgerton” — the part Page eventually got — Newton said he had struggled to understand the script’s blend of contemporary and period elements. But he sent in an audition tape anyway. “I was lucky enough that they saw something,” he said: eventually, he was offered the role of Colin.

At the time, Newton hadn’t booked an acting gig for a while, and he was working in a bar and living on a friend’s sofa bed after a breakup. “When you come from a place of being an unemployed actor for so many years,” the show’s potential for a long run was a huge comfort, Newton said. Three seasons in, Newton said “Bridgerton” had “changed how I work, and how much I like to dive into something.”

After Season 3 wrapped, Newton returned to the stage for the first time in more than five years, in a production of Neil LaBute’s romantic drama “The Shape of Things.” He hoped to do more theater in the future, he said, and to work on a film that tells a character’s “whole story.”

Newton said he hopes to “take a step back” from the spotlight for Season 4. The actors playing the Bridgerton siblings have a group chat, and whichever of them takes the reins, Newton said he plans on supporting them however he can. He called it “returning the favor.”

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