How many up-and-coming actors can boast about the fact that their first lead role was in a hugely-successful Netflix series? Freddie Dennis certainly can!
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you will be well aware that a prequel spin-off of Bridgerton, entitled Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, premiered on May 4 and became the number-one show in the UK upon its release. That said, the success was not only limited to its home turf, as the six-episode series debuted at the top spot of 90 other countries, including the US, Australia, India, and South Africa, to name a few.
This is where Dennis comes in. He plays Reynolds, King George’s secretary who has a romantic relationship with the secretary of Queen Charlotte, Brimsley. A recent graduate from the Oxford School of Drama, the rising British actor has made quite the entrance with his breakthrough role, gaining attention from both critics and his growing fanbase, who are now perched for what will come from his future work.
Following an exclusive shoot for Principle, Dennis sat down for an interview to discuss his impressive debut lead role, the reception it’s received, and where he would like to see himself next.
I was reading that you are not used to watching yourself back and didn’t know if you were going to be able to. Now that the show has been out for a month, have you watched the episodes back?
We kind of had to watch it because we’ve done lots of interviews and stuff, so it would’ve been quite embarrassing answering questions without having seen it. And people really watch this stuff so they reference very specific moments and if I didn’t know what they were, that just would have been too embarrassing. So I have watched it and it doesn’t get any easier. But I think what I need to do is watch it like back to back, one episode after the other. I need to do that. I have this tendency of just watching my scenes repeatedly and going, “Oh fuck, what have I done?”
I feel like anyone else would be the same in a situation like that. Even if it’s not an acting role, watching yourself back is just awkward.
It’s horrible. But I mean, it brings out the vanity in everyone I think as well because it isn’t about what you look like or what you sound like. You can’t help but go like, “Do I have a bogey?” Like, “What is that?!” [laughs]. But it’s okay, we’ve had such a big press tour and as I said, you kind of have to watch it, but I think on future projects, if I get future projects, which hopefully I will, I probably won’t watch it unless I have to.
So, how did the opportunity to audition for this show come about?
I’ve got this amazing agent Kate, who I love, and she signed me two years ago. The way it works is they just send you auditions as much as they can and this one came through and then you do a self-tape and they liked me. I was in Prague at the time with my sister and my dad and his now wife, celebrating my dad’s birthday. So it was really, really nice.
You initially auditioned for the part of King George before trying out for Reynolds. Why do you think they thought you were a better fit for Reynolds?
I’m no King George [laughs]. Honestly, I have no idea why they thought I was a good fit for Reynolds, but what I can say is, I’m really fucking glad they did. The King George thing, Corey, who’s next to me right now in that room, just made so much more sense. I think sometimes you just hope to get a script through where you resonate with the character. Corey obviously did with George and I didn’t. However, I did with Reynolds.
With this being your first lead role for a spin-off show on a huge platform, was there any pressure going into it all?
There was pressure in many respects because it was my first ever job. I did a line on a thing that never came out, but other than that, it was my first-ever job. So there was pressure already and then there was the size of production, the production costs are enormous. So you’re hiring out these massive palaces across the UK and then the fact that it’s written by someone as beloved as Shonda Rhimes just makes it completely terrifying. But actually, everyone was so supportive. Tom, our director, metaphorically held all of our hands through it and he was aware that for a lot of us, it was our first gig. So, actually, that was also quite nice because Cory hadn’t done anything before really either, apart from a few lines in The Sandman. So we could both kind of rely on each other and go, “Oh my God, this is so overwhelming, but you know, I’ve got your back. You’ve got mine and it’s gonna be okay.” And I think the final product is good.
How have you felt about the reception of the show then? You obviously knew people were going to watch it, but that doesn’t mean they were going to like it. It’s had such great reviews!
I’m very proud and very, very relieved. Because as you say, the way that people were talking about it as we were filming with such a great sense of confidence going, “This is huge, This is gonna be so successful, everyone’s gonna love this.” And you kind of get dragged along with all of that and you find yourself going, “Oh my God, this is gonna be amazing. This is gonna be incredible.” And then when you finish filming and the doubts kind of creep in slightly and you go, “Oh no, but what if that isn’t the case? What if it isn’t amazing? And what if it isn’t as successful as everyone says?” But the fact that it has been, I mean, these guys just know what they’re talking about, right? And we all knew that we were making something brilliant and working on a brilliant script. It’s been such a relief that it’s been as successful and kind of critically acclaimed as it has been because we think it’s great.
What about the huge fanfare that comes with successful shows like this? Is that something you had to potentially prepare yourself for in advance?
People would say things like, “Are you ready?” Uh, and I’d always be like, “For what?” I am now starting to understand as it gets a little bit weirder, but to be honest, it’s nice. I don’t think there’s any level of preparation you can do for that. Most of it is kind of centered on my phone. My phone is a slightly strange place to go right now because there are just so many messages and so many tagged photos and things. And recently, there’s a bit more recognition of the script and stuff. I don’t think you can prepare for that and I hope you sort of never really get used to it. For the most part, I’m just, as I said, proud to be part of something that people have liked and resonated with. I mean, I feel like people have resonated with my character as well, which makes me really, really proud.
And what about yourself then? Do you resonate with your character in any way? Do you identify with him?
I certainly identify with his sense of loyalty. I know it sounds kind of cringe, but I’m only 26, and I think I understand what it is like to love as a friend, and love as a lover. I know that sounds so pretentious [laughs], but that is kind of how I started because Reynolds has this conflict. He loves George and he wants to protect him, but he also loves Brims and he wants to share Reynolds’s and George’s turmoil with Brimsley in order to help them as a couple, but also help Reynolds feel better in himself. I did resonate with that sort of conflict and sort of trying to protect everyone and trying to protect yourself at the same time.
There’s a bit of mystery surrounding your character and what happened to him at the end. People have come up with their own theories but what do you believe happened to him?
I always say I’d like to believe he’s on holiday because he deserves one. I mean, in truth, I don’t know. You’d have to ask Shonda and you’d have to ask Tom because they’re the ones with the ideas. But I hope wherever he is, he’s still very well. I’m convinced that he’s still very much in love with Brimsley. But I also hope he’s not dead.
I was reading a previous interview where you said you lack confidence as a performer. Has doing this show given you that boost that you needed?
It has given me a confidence boost and it has given me more tools to which I can turn. But, no, I think that’s a lifelong process, finding confidence in your art. And actually in a way I never want to find true, true confidence. Cause I think when you stop learning and you stop being ambitious, you stop wanting to improve. But, I mean, it certainly helps. It’s firstly the validation of being offered a job so soon after grammar school and quite a big job. You go, “Okay, I must be doing something right!” You know? But also just working every day and being direct in quite a high-pressure environment really, really helps your confidence. But you know, peaks and trucks. I’m sure it’s the same for you.
Has there ever been any advice you’ve received that’s really helped you along the way?
Yeah, I had this amazing mentor at drama school called Christine Landon Smith. I feel like I owe her everything in terms of the progress that I’ve made as an actor because I really was like completely devoid of confidence for such a long time. And she was the first person that came along and went, “No, you are, you are brilliant. You can do this!” Uh, the advice was, she went, “just be energetically engaged, step out on stage, listen and be you,” which I found really, and I don’t necessarily always agree with the “be you” thing because when you’re playing a different character that is very dissimilar to yourself, then you can’t just be you. But I think what she means by that is, to know that whatever you are offering at that moment, at the end of the day you, it is enough. So don’t push anything. Just be there and be present then.
You kind of touched upon it earlier in the chat, but what’s been the biggest change then since the show came out? I guess, as you said, you get more attention now online and more people recognize you. Have you noticed anything else?
Do you know what, I actually haven’t? This is what people keep saying like, “Oh my earlier life has changed so much.” If I was to not go on my phone, then I wouldn’t notice anything. Although I said that for a while, and then I started being recognized every day and that does feel a bit weird. Genuinely nothing so far. I’m hoping another job comes out of it, but I’m not sure.
I’m not sure there always needs to be a change either, especially if you already liked your life beforehand.
Yeah. I don’t want that. I like my life.
And lastly, now that you’ve done Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, are there particular genres or roles you want to take on next?
I’m always really boring when I’m asked this question, but I’m going to say no. Right now my focus is doing as many different things as possible and learning as many things from those things as I can because I’m by no means the finished product. So in an ideal world, the next thing I do would be a character that was much more emotional or allows to be much more emotional and much more kind of energised because that’s sort of the opposite of what Reynolds was. I just want to learn as much as I can and I think you do that by trying lots and lots of different things.