What Simone Ashley Was Doing Before Bridgerton

Clearly, fans can't get enough of regency-era dramas! Period dramas like HBO's "The Gilded Age" and "The Nevers" got an in with viewers after "Bridgerton" kicked down the door in 2020. The historical show broke all kinds of records after debuting on Christmas Day, with Forbes reporting that "Bridgerton" Season 2 had surpassed Season 1 to become the platform's most popular English language series. In part, that popularity stemmed from the chemistry between the season's leads, Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) and newcomer Lady Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley). Like Season 1, Season 2 followed the formula laid out in Julia Quinn's "Bridgerton" books, this time spotlighting Anthony as he searched for a wife and clashed with his betrothed's protective older sister, Miss Sharma.

While Season 1 featured plenty of sex scenes between Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and Duke Simon Basset (Regé Jean-Page), fans gravitated towards the low-key intimacy of Season 2, per Cosmopolitan UK. "Can we talk about how they showed more intensity and emotions with scenes like this than Daphne and Simon did during every sex scene they had," one fan tweeted. "This just shows that passion doesn't have to be portrayed as something purely sexual."

Viewers already knew Anthony from Season 1, but Sharma was a total show newbie. "Bridgerton" has already been renewed for Seasons 3 and 4, so it's safe to say we'll be seeing more of her moving forward. But what was the actor doing before she took on the role?

From indie shows to blockbusters

Some stars are born into acting royalty, but Simone Ashley was an anomaly in her family of academics. "I was the only non-academic in my family," the actor, who honed her craft at the ArtsEd school in Chiswick (per The Sun), told Vogue Singapore. Academic background aside, Ashley's father was interested in the arts, and this helped shape Ashley's love for her craft. "My father has always been deeply passionate about music, film, and photography," she shared, per Veylex. Consequently, she recalls that her formative years were filled with creative media to consume, and Ashley therefore drew from the world around her when it came time to choose a career path. "I've just always wanted to create, and anything that allows me to do that has got my attention," she added.

After studying acting, Ashley nabbed a number of small roles. She got her start in a theatrical production of "Romeo & Juliet" and a commercial for ITV, according to her alma mater, Redroofs. From there, she was off to the races, making appearances in more well-known dramas like "Guilt," "Broadchurch," "Strike," "Doctors," and "Casualty," per IMDb. She scored a mainstream role with "Pokémon Detective Pikachu" in 2019; however, it was her role in Netflix's "Sex Education" that helped cement Ashley as a household name. The series, which follows the lives of students, staff and teachers at Moordale Secondary School, hit No. 1 on Netflix when Season 3 premiered in 2021.

Simone Ashley is thankful for her 'life-changing' role

Not only did "Sex Education" mold Simone Ashley into a bonafide star, but the actor blossomed after directors gave her creative control of her character. She plays Olivia Hann, one of the four popular kids in a clique at school. "Creating and exploring this character during the initial stages of filming season one was so much fun," Ashley told Veylex, describing Hann as "a blank canvas" when the show kicked off. Part of her character research included incorporating bubblegum into Hann's routine. "One day ... I bought 10 pounds worth of bubble gum, popped a huge piece in my mouth and showed our head director ... how big of a bubble I could blow. It looked really cool, so we decided to make it a part of the character," she explained.

As Vogue Singapore noted, "Sex Education" was important because it cast Hann in a powerful light when such roles were traditionally reserved for White actors. Speaking of the work the series did to further representation, Ashley called it "really life-changing," sharing, "I'm so grateful for ['Sex Education']. I learnt so much in my craft and as a person. It was such a joy." Her work as Hann helped pave the way for mega-roles like "Bridgerton," in addition to making a big impact as a woman of color on television. "The more we let in, the more we can understand and be proactive," Ashley told Harper's Bazaar India.