Insight: Resilience, Risk and Reward with Bridgerton's Claudia Jessie

This week's segment of Insight features Bridgerton's Claudia Jessie. In a compelling walkthrough of her journey so far, Claudia discusses everything from breaking into the industry, handling rejection, navigating fame and how she stays grounded in what can be a difficult world.
Insight: Resilience, Risk and Reward with Bridgerton's Claudia Jessie - DMY BY DMY

Featuring Claudia Jessie in the Luca (Classic Havana) 

Can you walk us through the early stages of your acting career?

I guess it properly started in Birmingham. With the help and support of a woman called Hannah Phillips. She is an amazing woman, playwright, director and supporter of youth getting into theatre and devising pieces relevant to the times. I think she first saw me in a sketch/devised piece and asked me to join her feminist theatre company and LGBTQ+ company too. On my 21st birthday, I performed in a piece of theatre called ’The Fear of Queer’. I really fell in love with being on stage and decided to move down to London and try to ‘make it’ as an actor. Myself and my incredible mother then started writing to every agent in London and the UK, emailing them and then hand delivering letters to the ones in London. They all said no. Quite rightly, actually - considering I had zero experience, qualifications or training of any kind. But then my mum found an open audition for a really big show. I went along and actually got quite far, but there was no way I would have been able to do it as I had no representation. But the casting director recommended me to an agent called Michael Ford. I had already written to him but was yet to hear back. But with the support of the casting director and the progress I had made in the open casting, Michael agreed to a meeting! After leaving his office, I remember thinking that it just had to be him. I didn’t hear back from Michael for ages so I kept badgering him. I remember saying, "You’ve got nothing to lose! If I don’t get a job within the first three months of being with you, you can drop me". I think I was only able to be so brazen because it was actually me that had nothing to lose at this point. I remember during this period I just kept getting rejection after rejection from all the other agencies I had written to. One day, I was out in the rain and had to pay to pick up a letter from the post office. It was another big fat NO from another agent. I remember thinking "Oh now I’m actually PAYING to be rejected!" Haha! Then that day, Michael called and asked if I’d like to have him as my agent. That was 10 years ago. I couldn’t be happier with him. He is one of my best friends. Oh, and I did actually manage to get a job within the first three months!

What inspired you to take up acting? Have you always wanted to be an actress?

I suppose I was always into 'make believe’ and playing pretend. Like most children I suppose. I don’t think that is particularly unique in any way. I loved reading and being in my own little world. Again, nothing too spectacular for a young mind. I suppose what was special about it was actually how my mum treated it. We had a rough time as a family. No money, single parent, council estate, working class background. But my mum would do everything in her power to try and give me and my older brother a good start in life. So any time me and my brother expressed any interest in something, my mum would figure out how to get it done. She would clean houses in exchange for piano lessons and stuff like that. Being resourceful with what little she had. I choke up whenever I think about how much she went through to support us. So I think my mum is the reason I took up acting, and my mum continues to be the reason I work hard. I will never be able to repay her but I know I make her proud - and that’s priceless to me. 

How does it feel to be part of one of the most watched series on Netflix? Has it been difficult to adjust to the fame that the show has brought?

I don’t really know how I feel. Ha! I know that sounds odd. But it was such a bizarre time when Bridgerton came out. It was Christmas Day during a pandemic and lockdown. I was with my boyfriend on my boat and we watched it together. And we loved it! We were so proud of it (my partner is the casting director alongside Kelly Hendry for Bridgerton) but then we were just in lockdown, or out wearing face masks. Just getting on with life. And because I don’t have any social media, I think I missed a lot of the hype. Hearing the numbers was pretty incredible though. But mostly I just felt chuffed for everyone involved. It’s the most beautiful cast and crew and I love them all with my whole heart, so I felt like I was just buzzing for all of my pals! 

Adjusting to it now that we are finally back out and about again has been odd. My life has definitely changed, but not in a way I can’t handle. I live a very slow paced, quiet life. Anyone who knows me, knows that about me. So I am able to maintain some level of normality, day to day. And I’m going to try and keep it that way!

What does a typical day on set look like for you?

It is usually a super early pick up time, anywhere between 4 or 5am. I’ll get in the car with my wonderful driver (and now friend) Steve. We're usually chatting the entire way, or maybe we will listen to a podcast together or some tunes. Steve has amazing taste in music. Once I arrive at base, one of our glorious AD’s will sort us out with our morning PCR Covid tests and then I’ll be in the chair for hair and makeup and that will last around two hours. My makeup artist Sophie Brown is one of my dear friends now and we spend most of the call laughing! Then we usually head into the studio to block the scene and then I’ll quickly pop into costume with Millie who dresses me and is a beautiful woman. Then I am basically on set all day! It always feels quite fast paced and constant. I never really feel like I'm sat around waiting. Also, I adore the company of everyone at work so it is a pleasure to be there. And whenever there is a Bridgerton family scene, we are bonkers together. We get so excited!

If you could work alongside any actor/actress, who would it be and why?

I would be pretty beside myself if I worked with Olivia Colman. That would be the ultimate for me. Also, I would love the chance to work opposite Arinzé Kene. He is so talented.

What is/are the biggest lesson(s) you’ve learned throughout your career that you’d want to share with aspiring actors/actresses?

I think the most important thing for people to do is to find a spiritual foundation to support yourself. That can be anything, whether it is religion, meditation, yoga, running, reading. Something. Something that is your grounding that is also outside of the industry. It can be a grim little world, filled with money, ego, etc. So I think it is vital to create a sturdy base for oneself. I have been practicing Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism since I was 17 years old. I wouldn’t be able to do it without that practice in my life. Also, when I started, I always knew that the work would never be guaranteed, but I could guarantee that I would work really hard. You are always going to get more ’no’s’ than ‘yes’s’. But the rejection doesn’t need to define you. It doesn’t define you. There are endless reasons why someone is or isn’t ‘perfect’ for a role. Don’t let your brain try to figure out why. And one last thing, maybe think deeply about whether or not social media is for you. I’m not saying don’t use it at all, but maybe ask yourself do you really need to be on it or how much do you actually need to be on it. Look after your lovely hearts and brains.

What’s next for you?

I do actually have another job that I’ll be starting in February 2022. I can’t say much about it but it is definitely going to be a different experience to playing Eloise! Then once I’m finished on that, I will be straight onto Bridgerton 3! Lucky girl. But for now, I will be settling down in Birmingham for the winter. Pottering about on my boat and being with the people I love the most in the world.

Claudia's Round of Speed Dating with DMY

1. What is your go-to drink? 
A pint of Neck Oil by Beavertown Brewery! 

2. What was the last thing you Googled?
'Vegan Birmingham'. I must have wanted food. Ha!

3. What was the last book you read?
In The Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami. It was SUPER dark but I inhaled it!

4. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? 
I would love to live in Scotland. I think it is the most beautiful place in the world. Perhaps somewhere around Loch Lomond.

5. What is your favourite TV show?
At the moment it’s 'Gone Fishing' with Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse. Such a soothing watch!

6. What would be your ideal date?
A pint in a cosy pub and then some Korean food!

7. What’s your guilty pleasure?
Bread. But I don’t actually feel that guilty. 

8. What’s the best and worst purchase you’ve ever made?
Best: My canal boat home!
Worst: Probably another round at a pub when I should have been going home.

9. What was your first concert?

10. Make a party playlist with only 3 songs:
- Sister Sledge 'Pretty Baby'
- Todd Terje 'Inspector Norse'
- Bruce Springsteen 'Born to Run'