Bridgerton. (L to R) Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton, Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, Luke Thompson as Benedict Bridgerton, Rupert Young as Jack in episode 204 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022
LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX—© 2022 Netflix, Inc.
March 25, 2022 1:48 PM EDT

When Bridgerton viewers last encountered the titular family, the attention of “the ton”—the upper echelon of society—and Lady Whistledown was firmly focused on the whirlwind romance between Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and her husband, the Duke of Hastings (Rége-Jean Page). But for season 2 of the show, which drops on March 25 on Netflix, another Bridgerton’s matters of the heart will take center stage. This time around, the drama zeroes in on rakish eldest son Anthony’s (Jonathan Bailey) dogged search for a wife. While Anthony sets his sights on Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran), the diamond of the season, he’s met with resistance from her older sister, the headstrong and fiercely independent Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), who’s determined to find her sister the best possible match. She proves to be a formidable opponent to Anthony.

As sparks fly between Anthony and Kate, unexpected feelings also develop between the two, leading to a love triangle of epic proportions. For Simone Ashley, the 26-year-old actor who plays Kate, the opportunity to portray such a strong character was the role of a lifetime. Ashley, who previously appeared in Sex Education and Broadchurch, welcomed the chance to dive into the transformative world of a period piece. “You’re really transported to this era, when you step on set, the clothes that you’re wearing, the settings, you’re transported to this world,” she says. “It was just very beautiful to step into.”

Ahead of season 2 of Bridgerton, Ashley spoke to TIME about the power of sisterhood, tapping into her competitive side to play Kate, and what it was really like to film the famous Pall Mall scene.

This is a drama set in the Regency era, but I think a lot of modern women will identify with Kate, who’s fiercely independent. Why do you think she’s a character who can be a heroine for any era?

I think someone following their heart doesn’t have a shelf life, so she fits into any era in that sense. I love how honest she is. I love that she is also reserved, very observant, very smart, very protective, and values her family—I think that’s a very strong value to have. We also see someone that maybe has always wanted love and believes in love but was too afraid to surrender to it. We root for Kate to let go a bit and when she does, it’s nice to see.

I felt like I saw some shades of Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett in the character of Kate. Were you inspired by anyone as you prepared for this role?

I was inspired by a lot of strong women in my life that encouraged me to be honest and to speak up and to be opinionated and to not people please. I think that’s what makes Kate so interesting. It’s amazing to make a really likable character, but there was something about Kate that was flawed, and I found that very endearing.

(L to R) Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton in episode 204 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022
LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX—© 2022 Netflix, Inc.

Kate’s an excellent competitor. In the show, you ride horses, hunt, and play Pall Malla lawn game from the 16th and 17th centuries that was a precursor to croquetwith the extremely ruthless Bridgerton family. Did you do all of these things to prepare for the role?

Yeah, we did horse riding. We had shooting rehearsals, ballroom dancing rehearsals, just hours doing those things. And I had a lot of fun with it.

And do you identify at all with Kate’s winner takes all attitude?

I can be a bit sporty and competitive with games. And I like challenges. I think I’m quite disciplined and I’m quite driven and ambitious. There’s a fire to Kate that I definitely relate to.

What’s the game you would be the champion of?

Maybe Trivial Pursuit? Any game—I learn very quickly.

(L to R) Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton, Charithra Chandran as Edwina Sharma in episode 203 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022
LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX—© 2022 Netflix, Inc.

Let’s return to the Pall Mall scene, which is when Kate and Anthony really have to confront their feelings for one another. What was it like to film it?

Loads of fun! When you watch the montage, we were actually playing it, which was so much fun. I think there’s a shock where Kate gets her ball through one of the wickets. And I actually did that. The reactions you see are quite genuine, the jumping in the air and twirling around. I got quite competitive with that game in real life. Filming the mud scene was equally just as much fun. I think that’s one of the first moments that we see Kate let go and play.

What were some of your favorite behind-the-scenes moments while filming this season of Bridgerton?

Any day where it was all of the cast, like all of the Bridgertons and the Shamas and Lady Danbury. I didn’t have many scenes with the Featheringtons, but any scenes where it was the majority of us. That was so much fun. Just singing lots of songs, playing games, being silly—it’s why I love this job. When you’re all together and waiting for cameras to go up, we were just having lots of fun together. It doesn’t feel like work.

(L to R) Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, Adjoa Andoh as Lady Danbury, Shelley Conn as Mary Sharma, Charithra Chandran as Edwina Sharma in episode 201 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2021
LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX—© 2021 Netflix, Inc.

This show is a love story, but for Kate, there are many different types of love. She obviously has her romance with Anthony, but there’s also a real tenderness that I felt with her mother and especially her little sister.

I’m glad that that translated in that way. I’m the youngest sibling in my family, so it was really fun to explore what it would be like to be the oldest sibling and create that sisterhood with Charithra (Chandran). I think everyone’s going to really fall in love with Edwina as well, who is very much a diamond in every way possible.

The Sharmas are from India, and their South Asian identity and culture is a big part of the character development for the family. What did it mean for you for this element to be part of the show? And did you give any input in terms of storyline?

It was all Chris Van Dusen’s amazing, creative mind. He and I had conversations; it was a very open door in that sense. He was always there to listen, to share his opinion, or answer questions. I’m really excited for the world to see the Sharma family step into the Bridgerton world. They blend in very quickly—it’s like they’ve always been there.

Bridgerton’s cast is multiracial and really diverse, which is not something we always see on TV, let alone in period pieces. How does it feel to be part of a cast that’s so inclusive?

It feels normal, it feels like what it should have been like, all the time. And I hope that it continues that way.

Obviously, fans of Bridgerton are here for the romance, and many for the love scenes. Did your work on Sex Education prepare you for filming the more intimate scenes?

On a technical aspect, yes. Both of those shows are incredibly different, which I think is very obvious, but I think working with an intimacy coordinator on Sex Education and learning what it means to be a professional actor coming to a set, being involved in a scene like this. And it made me exercise a muscle to ensure that my scene partners feel comfortable and safe, that I feel comfortable and safe, and to listen to my instincts and communicate whatever I wanted to communicate.

Before, intimacy scenes weren’t handled in that way. But now, we are in an era where they are choreographed and there’s always an intimacy coordinator on set. I think it’s great. I could go to work, bring these scenes to life, and go home and feel comfortable and safe.

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Write to Cady Lang at [email protected].

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