When Ruby Barker found out she’d been cast as Marina Thompson in Bridgerton, she was about to audition for Sex Education. ‘I found out just before I went into the casting,’ she says. ‘Like most actors, I didn’t know what my future would be if I wasn’t going to work, so it was like the heavens opened and Shonda [Rhimes] said “here you go” and I was properly, finally, in.’
Looking back on the moment she became part of Netflix’s seismically popular period drama alongside Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page, Ruby remembers her naivety. ‘I had no idea what it actually meant for me or my life,’ she says. ‘I knew it was going to be a real adventure and I had an inclination that it was going to be successful because it has such a good script, but did I have any idea that it was going to be that big? No.’
Massively exceeding anyone’s expectations of success, the first series of Bridgerton aired to 82 million households making it Netflix’s most-watched show of 2020. And Ruby quickly went from having three Instagram followers to 200,000 fans online.
Yet, as the show returns for its second season this week, Ruby claims she never felt the fear of living up to expectations for the second series. Instead, she and her fellow cast members (including Jonathan Bailey, and Nicola Coughlan) relaxed into their return to set. ‘I was just enjoying being there,’ she says. If anything, I felt less pressure… I was so so overwhelmed by the unknown and the success of the show for season one. [Since then] I’ve really grown in myself and my own confidence [and] the lack of stressing allowed everyone to just continually be in the moment.’
Of her Bridgerton co-stars, Ruby is all praise. ‘I absolutely love everyone,’ she says. ‘But I do need to shout out Martins Imhangbe who played the boxer that trains with The Duke, Regé. He is just a lot of fun. We have a really good time, go shopping, and have cocktails—What a mighty man! He’s really good and he’s going to be great.’
While spoilers for the second season’s plot have been masterfully contained, the new series’ plot is based on Julia Quinn’s second novel, The Viscount Who Loved Me, and will focus on Daphne’s older brother Anthony Bridgerton (played by Jonathan Bailey) and his quest for love. It will also see the introduction of The Sharmas family with Sex Education's Simone Ashley taking on the role of Kate Sharma, newcomer Charithra Chandran playing her younger sister Edwina and Shelley Conn as Lady Mary Sharma.
The new additions to the cast have once again seen Bridgerton praised for the diversity of its actors as the show imagines 19th-century Britain with BAME aristocrats and royalty. ‘I would like the industry to progress when it comes to castings,’ Ruby says of showbiz in general. ‘I think there needs to be some sort of body or advisory board that focuses on challenging our perceptions of who can play what and why.
‘Give people the opportunity to actually demonstrate their talent and do justice to a role and, ultimately, be able to channel the truth of a character. Their background and colour or sexuality – or even personality – just have nothing to do with it. I want people to be seen as a human soul and forget about all of the politics.’
Authentic inclusivity is important to Ruby and led her to take on a role as an ambassador for Mullerlight thanks to the brand’s values. ‘Muller is and has always been very diverse with the strong empowering women, athletes and musicians they’ve had support them,’ she says of her latest project. ‘I’m the voice of the new Mullerlight commercials and they’ve got the whole period drama vibe going on—which obviously suits me. It’s just been incredible.’
Throughout her career, Ruby has gravitated towards roles that champion strong women. After Bridgerton, she took home the award for Best Actress at the British Urban Film Festival for her starring role in How To Stop A Recurring Dream. Her character, Yakira, struggles with her parent's divorce and kidnaps her half-sister after an explosive family row.
Comparing the two roles, Ruby reflects: ‘They’re worlds apart but they do have similarities. Yakira is more neurotic. Marina is trying to survive—she’s a little bit messier and they’re both very focused. But the most important thing for me when I’m looking at a character is: who is this person? Why should I tell that story? Can I do it justice? Am I really seeing them? Am I going to be able to show up and be my best self? That’s all that I care about.’
When asked if she worries about typecasting after her success in Bridgerton, Ruby admits she definitely has concerns but doesn’t describe them as a ‘priority worry’. And while she clearly shines in period dramas, Ruby is veritably excited by the prospect of action-based roles for the future: ‘I would love to do a crime drama or be some sort of superhero,’ she says. ‘[I’m drawn to] outsiders, with a bit of a fire in their belly who go against the societal norms.’
Ruby Barker is the new Müllerlight ambassador. Müllerlight Greek Style Lemon is fat-free, no added sugar, and high in protein meaning you truly can have it all.