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Bridgerton’s Ruling Matriarch Ruth Gemmell is Ready to Flirt

May 14, 2024

Text: Jeremy Whitaker

Ruth Gemmell has masterfully portrayed Lady Violet Bridgerton, the steady hand guiding the lovable Bridgerton children to marriage since the show aired nearly four years ago. 

While notably the figurehead of a well-respected family, Gemmell’s continued layered performance of Lady Violet avoids the trope of the one-dimensional matriarch. “I wish I was as wise and as fearsome and gentle as Violet. I'm not, I'd love to be,” she says. 

The actress aims to portray a real woman, and with her character's kids all growing up, the actress is ready for Lady Violet to get back in the game with a little flirting. "She'll be a hard nut to crack, I reckon," laughs Gemmell.

If you have learned nothing of Bridgerton yet, remember that every character has a story itching to be told. As for Lady Violet, her story has been one that has unfolded piece by piece with every new coupling and storyline. From feeling powerless in childbirth to losing her beloved husband and becoming the poised Favourite of the Queen, her story has only just begun. 

Meeting Ruth was just how I thought it would be. Much like her character, she is poised, quick-witted, and well-spoken. It came as no surprise when she divulged her passion for theatre, as it feels her thoughtfulness is informed by many years of the spontaneous excellence that the stage requires. There is no doubt that Gemmell will bring her charm back to the stage sometime soon, but as for now, she is quite enjoying the consistency that Bridgerton brings. 

With the release of the fourth Bridgerton story on the horizon, Gemmell takes me through the details of the atmospheric world of Bridgerton, allows me to peek into her expansive history as a career actress, and traded in regency for actress off-duty in exclusive photos lensed by Joseph Sinclair.

Read the full interview below: 

Ruth Gemmell: The Origins

JW: Tell me about coming up in the acting world.

RG: I spent three years at a college that doesn't exist anymore. Sign of the times or my age, one or the other. I spent many years in theater, television, radio or unemployment. I feel very lucky to have had a bit of longevity or a dedication to it. It's a tough industry.

JW: What made you love acting?

Photos: Joseph Sinclair, Text: Jeremy Whitaker

RG: I was at school and we went to the theater in Newcastle to go and see A Midsummer Night's Dream. At the end of the play, Oberon has a speech. There was a huge pause, to this day I don't know whether it was deliberate, but he paused. It felt like the entire auditorium went silent. You can hear a pin drop. I couldn't breathe in case I missed something. And it absolutely got me. Then right at the end, I can't remember how old I was, I stood up with the rest of the auditorium for a standing ovation. I remember the whole atmosphere felt electric and my hands hurt from clapping. So, after that moment, I was completely hooked to the idea that you could affect an audience in whatever way, good, bad, or ugly. That was mesmerizing.

JW: You've done theater, you've done TV, you've done film. How does it compare?

RG: They are all very different. I would say theater is a particular love because there's no hiding. Also, you get to do it and redo it. Sometimes that can be hard to do for a long period of time, but on the other hand, it can change nightly with everybody else's interaction. The rehearsals are always worthwhile and engaging and fascinating and all the rest of it. I think radio is a place where there are hardly any egos and that is incredibly refreshing, TV and film obviously differ in terms of the sheer scale of things in my experience. The scale of [Bridgerton] is beyond anything I've ever come across. I always love the medium I'm in, and I always miss the one I haven't done for a long time.

JW: Any plans to return to the stage?

RG: I'd like to do some more Shakespeare. I have done Shakespeare, but it's a challenge and I'd like to do more of that.

JW: Is there a particular Shakespeare that's a favorite? Mine is Othello.

RG: There is Henry VIII. I like how Catherine of Aragon responds to being sidelined by the King and the Cardinal. You can't fault her and neither can they. I like her bravery. 

JW: I can picture it already. 

The Future of Lady Violet

JW: What can we expect from your character this season? Tell me everything.

RG: She's always going to meddle in her children's lives, but I think she's slightly reticent to meddle in Eloise's life anymore. And Francesca seems so uninterested in everything that it really floors her. So, when Colin comes along and things are confirmed for her about Colin and Penelope, I think she's eager to steer him in that direction. The fact that she's sort of nervous around her girls has kind of given her an opportunity to be a little bit more open herself.

If we think of Queen Charlotte, A Bridgerton Story, and when we left [Lady Violet], she'd seen two of her children marry for love. I think it's a bit like having a mirror held up in front of you and realizing that Edmund [Bridgerton] has been gone for a very long time, that she will be left alone. She is lonely and she's very much at that point wanting to embrace life again. I think not being so immersed in her daughters’ lives right now or in the same way as she has been before, allows her to dip her toe in that water.

JW: She's not an archetype mother character where her whole life is centered around her children. While that is surely an aspect of your character, we see that she has been through much more.

RG: There are some really nice little moments where she gets really irritated with the children. I quite like that. All the actors who are my kids, we have a lot of fun when we play family scenes. We do play around and sort of snap back at each other. They exacerbate her and she loves them in equal measure, and I think that comes from the books. It's all in the writing. It's either in the script or it's in the books by Julia Quinn or between the lines. I think as human beings, we're a myriad of things and we're so many different emotions and qualities. For me, I find it nice to pick even the smallest thing that you can either identify with or that is reflected in you, however small, and sort of go from there. I wish I was as wise and as fearsome and gentle as Violet. I'm not, I'd love to be.

JW: She just has this firmness about her and surety, which must have come from all of her hardships. There are two scenes of yours as Lady Violet that really stuck out to me as a viewer. Obviously, we talk about the firmness of your character and the unwavering support of her kids, but the two scenes that really stuck out to me were moments of intense joy and intense grief.

The first was a conversation with Lady Danbury. It’s a moment where [Lady Violet and Lady Danbury] are reconciling that ends in sheer laughter. Almost a two-minute shot of laughter. What can you tell me about being in the moment for a scene like this?

RG: Adjoa [Andoh] who plays Lady Danbury, I suppose we started this five years ago, this journey. I've really got to know her and I adore scenes with Adjoa. So, when the characters are slightly niggly with each other, it’s something lovely to play because it's something new. Even the laughter, is just a lovely thing to do. I'd much prefer to try and laugh in a scene than cry.

In terms of their characters, I think that's about light relief and sort of hysteria, the fact that they've annoyed the queen. My family seems to annoy the queen all the time with my children. That kind of hysterical laughter is sort of a way out because it subsides as quickly as it began.

JW: The second scene is one where your character is giving birth. Lady Violet’s husband Edmund has passed away and her life is essentially thrust into the hands of her child, Anthony. It appears to me in that scene that your character is trying to help alleviate him from that heavy decision between mother and child, while also protecting an unborn child, and protecting herself.

RG: I have no children of my own and they put me in touch with a midwife to sort of go through the pains of labor. It was COVID at the time, and we were shoved into a hotel that had nobody in it, and we went to go and practice giving birth, it was in the dining room. It was all closed off, but it had these really big windows, so people were going off shopping, walking past the window as I was pretending to give birth.

JW: That must have been surreal just squatting and sweating in view of all of the shoppers.

RG: There are a couple of things about that scene. One of them is that she absolutely wants to take that responsibility away from her son because he's grieving as well as she is. It's like that myriad of too many emotions. At the same time, she also can't grasp the fact that her husband is not there. He should be here, not her son. I think it comes to light in a slightly different scene where she would quite easily, I think, have left the earth along with Edmund, but she can't let [Anthony] know. He can never know that, and Johnny [Bailey] is just a delight to work with.

JW: What is your hope for your character, Lady Violet?

RG: Well, it's quite nice to start to want to embrace life again. I think it's quite nice to be able to entertain the idea of flirting. Although with Violet, I think she will absolutely do that very tentatively. She'll be a hard nut to crack, I reckon, because no man will ever come between her and her children, or her and her friends, her friendship with Lady Danbury.

JW: I picture her doing the most subtle, can't even pick up on it flirting. Flirting only to her.

RG: Yes, I think you're right. Yeah. They won't even recognize it.

The World of Bridgerton

JW: This is Regency, so are there any details we should be looking for in the costumes? Obviously, they're a delight to look at.

RG: John Glazer, who is this year's main man, and his team are extraordinary. They've always been beautiful and he's taken it to another level, really to another level. The dresses that I have are extraordinary, the pattern matching is sublime. I have this one dress, I think I wear it in a family scene in the drawing room, and the pattern sort of goes all the way around to the back. I made them start on me walking away. I thought ‘I need my ass in the shot because they have to see the pattern,’ otherwise I'm just going to be sitting down and no one's going to see it. I have in my hair quite often, these tiny, delicate little things made from voile or lace. They are absolutely exquisite. I mean, the team are breathtaking. The dedication, the hard work, the sheer scale of it is, it always has been extraordinary, but it's an utter privilege to wear those things.

JW: Why do you think people are so responsive to Bridgerton?

RG: I think first and foremost, people see themselves represented. We are reflecting the world that we live in now, so it enables people to join the party. Also, I think it started off as a necessary escape from the reality that was COVID and has sort of blossomed into just enjoying the next installment of opulence and entertainment. We never pretend to be something we’re not. We're not a history lesson. We don't preach to anyone. It’s about love, resilience and hope.

JW: There's something so modern about it, although technically a period piece.  

RG: It's also the language because it's certainly not an Old English way of talking. It is, like I say, Shondaland. It's sometimes really hard to get your mouth around, the sentence structure or grammar is sometimes in the wrong order to make it sound otherworldly. There's something joyous in that.

Full Credits:

Text: Jeremy Whitaker

Photographer: Joseph Sinclair

Make-up: Charlotte Yeomans

Hair: Ben Talbott

Styling: Miranda Almond