We have finally been graced with the second series of Bridgerton!
Shonda Rhimes’s blockbuster hit about the lives and scandalous loves of London’s high-society is back for a much-anticipated second series.
While Regé-Jean Page is not returning, the many talents of Martins Imhangbe continue to shine in the role of boxer Will Mondrich.
TTB cordially accepts an invitation to sit down with the British-Nigerian actor to discuss shifting perspectives, the lure of the stage and possible future projects…
Please introduce yourself?
My name is Martins Imhangbe. I am of Nigerian heritage, and I am an Artist.
Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.
Blessed and highly favoured.
You made your TV debut in Bridgeton, one of Netflix’s biggest-ever hits. You seem to make the most of your opportunities! Tell us how you secured the part of Bridgerton’s Will Mondrich?
I was playing the role of Happy Loman in Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic Theatre, and towards the end of the run, an audition came along for a period drama by Shondaland, which sounded very interesting. I believe the casting directors came to see the show and felt that I suited the role of Will Mondrich. So, I self-taped and a few weeks later got offered!
How does Mondrich’s character arc develop in Season 2, especially as his sparring partner and best friend the Duke Simon Basset (played by Regé-Jean Page) is no longer the main focus?
We see a completely new side to Will. A more entrepreneurial approach, which is interesting to engage with. Bill Richmond, who my character is loosely based on was considered by many as the first black boxing entrepreneur, so it’s exciting to be heading down that route.
Did you delve into researching Richmond? He seems to have had a fascinating life that could be a basis for a TV series in itself – born into slavery in America in 1763 but lived most of his life in Britain.
He had a very fascinating life, and I was blown away by learning about who he was and what he managed to achieve, especially in those times. I kept thinking, why am I only learning about him now. He found favour in society due to his charm and talent as a very charismatic boxer and businessman. It’s also great to be a part of a narrative and portray a character that is positive and not stereotypical as you may often find in period dramas.
This is not your first time playing a boxer. You starred alongside Nicholas Pinnock at the Bush Theatre in The Royale, a play about the first African-American world heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson. Did your preparation for these roles differ, as the boxing fight scenes in The Royale were more stylised whilst Bridgerton’s are more naturalistic?
Yes, this was very fascinating actually – studying the evolution of boxing. Bill Richmond came before Jack Johnson. Bare knuckled boxing came first, then gloves, with more definitive rules. The posture was also different and less front footed as it is today, it was more defensive, but now boxers take more risks and can afford to get hit more due to the gloves being more padded. Our staged version of The Royale was very balletic and stylised. The boxing on Bridgerton was more brutal, realistic and intense. I’m surprised that some still had a full set of teeth after all of those hits.
After studying at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, you began your acting career on the stage and then moved into TV. Are feature films the next progression in your career, or is the theatre calling you back?
It will have to depend on the opportunity. I’d love to experience working on a feature film and get that under my belt for sure. The stage is definitely calling me back and I can’t wait to be back in a rehearsal process and perform for a live audience, there’s nothing like it. I love how you can do the same show and it’s different every night. The audience is just as involved in the storytelling.
Do you feel Bridgerton’s diverse casting and its success will change, or at least stretch the industry’s approach and audiences’ acceptance of black actors in roles outside of the usual stereotypes and tropes?
Yes, as storytellers we should be holding up the mirror and reflecting society as it is, which isn’t just one perspective. I personally prefer the term inclusive. Often history excludes black and Asian actors from period dramas as if we didn’t exist in those days as anything other than the servants, lower class or criminals. But if we delve deeper and do more research, we find that black and Asian people were just as integral to society with many positive influences. We shouldn’t have to be hustling for a seat at the table or to be accepted. As humans, we just have to take responsibility, shift perspectives and do our due diligence in honouring the truth. I was grateful for the open dialogue that was often encouraged during the filming of Bridgerton; it should feel collaborative and if you’re unsure about historical accuracy just ask, or hire black and Asian historians.
As an actor what’s more exposing, walking onto the stage opening night at the National Theatre or onto a big-budget Netflix set for your first scene?
For me, definitely opening night at the National Theatre, there is nowhere to hide, and if you make a mistake, you have to roll with it; there are no second takes. With screen, there is a level of comfort with knowing you can have a few goes at getting the right take.
You appeared in a promotional trailer for Caleb Azumah Nelson’s award-winning novel Open Water along with Adwoa Akoto. It felt beautifully reminiscent of the classic romantic 90s movie Love Jones. Please tell us there is talk of making this an actual adaptation starring the two of you?
Your words to God’s ears. That would be incredible – huge fan of Caleb’s work and Adwoa’s. It’s out in the universe now so let’s see what happens.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU…
A favourite book you have to have in your collection?
Sidney Poitier, The Measure of a Man.
A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date?
Adekunle Gold, Win.
A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly?
Paid in Full.
The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you?
Lion King – it was a spectacle to witness. I was just in awe of the whole magic of it. I also felt like I was a part of it as an audience member, which was exciting as a young boy.
What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week?
Sad about the potential of World War III and what is happening in Ukraine. Mad that I had to pay extra at the airport because I forgot to check-in prior. Glad about new beginnings. I just bought a place and living in a whole new area.
Bridgerton Season 2, Drops on Netflix on Friday 25th March 2022.
Keep up to date with Martins via his social media handles: Instagram