Bridgerton brother Luke Thompson on Benedict's artistic disappointment, his hopes for season 3
Benedict Bridgerton (Luke Thompson) is a second son, an artist, and a... dabbler in opium?
On season 2 of Bridgerton, the brother most keen on exploring a world outside of the ton leaned a bit more into his romanticism, while also continuing his reputation as one of the sillier Bridgertons when he gets high on opium tea with Colin (Luke Newton).
But there was no more laughter in the season finale when Benedict discovered that the highly coveted place he'd believed he'd earned as an artist at the Royal Academy had actually been bought for him — by none other than his elder brother, Anthony (Jonathan Bailey). Disillusioned by the idea that it was money and not skill that secured his spot, Benedict resolved to quit the Academy (and perhaps also the beautiful model/artist he'd been cavorting with).
If the Netflix series continues to follow the arc of Julia Quinn's novels, it will be Benedict who takes center stage in season 3, using An Offer From a Gentleman as potential source material.
Just hours before the season 2 premiere in London, we caught up with Luke Thompson about the difficult journey of discovery Benedict is on, what it's like being the comedic relief of the Bridgerton family, and what he hopes awaits Benedict in the already-ordered season 3.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I felt very much that they made Benedict more romantic this season than the first. Would you agree? Was that something you wanted to strive for, pointing towards him getting his eventual love story?
LUKE THOMPSON: Definitely. In season 1, he's so back-footed that he's quite unavailable in a sense that you don't feel like anything can touch him. He just leans in the background and smirks and just lets himself be pulled along. This season, you get to see a little chink in the armor. You get to see that actually, partly through watching his brother deal with finding love — and the show also delves into the Bridgerton family past as well — you can put together the fact that actually there is something a bit more vulnerable about him. But also you only get a little taste of it. That's a credit for the writing. We're with Benedict for the long haul, so we don't show everything, but you get a sense that there is something definitely underneath that is maybe more romantic and more deeply felt than we have necessarily been shown so far.
You have funny moments this season, but I took endless amusement from the scene where Benedict and Colin drink this spiked tea. Can you tell me more about filming that with Luke Newton and what that experience was like?
It's such a gorgeous moment. When I read it, I thought it's one of those moments that makes this show great in the sense that it's got a modern feel in that you feel like it's something that two brothers would do nowadays, but transposed into Regency. Actually you think, "Well, probably people in Regency were experimenting with drugs and all that stuff as well. Of course, that was going on," so to have that moment that feels very now and very relatable. Two brothers being, "Oh, let's just get high for a bit" — I was just so attracted to the idea of exploring that. I thought, "Yeah, that's very Bridgerton." In terms of actually filming the scene, me and Luke were probably having much more fun than anyone else, probably too much fun. The main notes we kept getting was rein it back, pull it back. Because there's something about maintaining yourself in that state for about eight, 10 hours. Obviously, you do get hysterical, which is literally what the drug seems to do, so it was a delightful moment in acting because you can be a bit free and silly. It's a real memory I'll treasure, actually.
We get a sense of it, but a big part of Bridgerton is what you get on the surface and what's happening underneath, so how deeply hurt do you think Benedict is by discovering that Anthony basically bribed his way into the Academy?
Hugely. What's so brilliant about that moment is I didn't know it was coming. We get the scripts a little bit in advance, but not that much, so I really thought, "Oh, Benedict is having such a lovely, fun season and he's really finding his confidence and finding himself outside his family." You really think Anthony has been almost judging him or thinking he's being silly, but then also helping him to go. The irony being that then brings Benedict back to his family. Because it's Anthony trying to help, but Benedict not wanting that help because he's trying to free himself from his family and that world and get a sense of his own merit and creativity rather than feeling like he's just been pushed by his family.
That's so well drawn in terms of it being a relationship between brothers in the sense that brothers are made of the same stuff in a slightly different configuration. When you're in a family, you're made with what's in your parents, so in a strange way, when siblings are in trouble, the other sibling is simultaneously the best person to talk to because they know what it's like because they can identify with everything that's being felt. But at the same time, you are the worst person to talk to because you are too close to it. That's a such a great example of Anthony thinking he's helping by giving Benedict a push, but that being exactly what Benedict is desperate to avoid in order to escape or at least set himself apart from the family.
Along those lines, in the novel, Benedict keeps his art a secret from his family, so what do you make of it being something that he shares with them here? How does it shape or change his relationship to them and his art?
Well, it's really interesting, that, because people were saying, "Oh, it's a departure from the book," but actually, the books only give us a snapshot of a moment in the character's life. Right? So actually, I don't know what will happen as we go forward, but what I found interesting about where we leave Benedict in season 2 is that we leave him maybe at exactly the place that we do find him in the book. He's tried to dip his toe into something more creative and feel more confident, and he's been burned badly and he's been disappointed by it, so now it's probably likely that he will keep it more of a secret and more to himself, because he needs to really keep it separate from his family. In season 1 and 2, he has shared it with his family or been quite open about it. Who knows how they're going to deal with it in the show, but it's interesting that suddenly the Benedict you see at the end of season 2 is closer to the Benedict from the books.
As you said, it seems like he's throwing in the towel or giving up on this being a public-facing part of his life.
So what do you think it would take for him to come back to it and feel legitimized both in his own mind, but by the artists he respects?
The likelihood is that Benedict, he's a little too much of a mystery to himself. Finding one's creativity, and I certainly identify with this as an actor, you have to have a bit more purchase on yourself, so that you are not swayed by other things and other people. You can end up being far too interested in how good or how bad you are as an artist or creative person, and actually a lot of being genuinely creative, it's none of my business how good or how bad I am or how good or bad I am perceived to be. I just need to work on whatever it is I've got. That's Benedict's journey as well. The thing that will make him explore that again is probably when he's found out a little bit more about himself and who he is. Benedict is someone who's really gone along [with things]. He's so open, which is a lovely quality and a lovely thing to play, but he's happy to be pushed or dragged or drawn in lots of different directions. A lot of the challenge for him will be about finding his center before he can even start to think creatively.
We saw him have this affair with another artist this year. It is safe to say his relationship with Madame Delacroix is completely over at this point?
Never say never. It's very difficult with Bridgerton, because as soon as you think you've got a purchase on something, they suddenly subvert it, so who knows? It will depend where it all takes us. I couldn't possibly speculate. The point I always come back to with Bridgerton is that the writers will have much better ideas and much more interesting and complex ideas than I could ever have about where it's going, and that's partly the pleasure of being an actor. I'm just, on a certain level, being a little bit of a puppet — not in the sense that you have no ownership over what you're doing, but you are at the writer's mercy, so you work with what you've got. I couldn't possibly say because I don't know where the story is leading.
Eloise and Benedict share this lovely sibling bond, and they both are brought rather low by season's end. How important do you think she is to his self-concept and happiness?
Interesting. They are very connected, and in their Venn diagram, there's a huge intersection that they can really use to understand each other, but as Eloise repeatedly says, they are in a different position partly because of their gender. So, they can only understand each other up to a point. It's difficult because those are the sorts of relationships that make Benedict trying to define himself outside his family difficult because it's such a crowded family. There are these lovely connections that he has with all of his siblings, so that can feel quite intoxicating and quite difficult to let go of. I'm really excited to see what happens with those relationships as Benedict and the other characters find love, because there has to be an adjustment on some level.
Benedict is the most bohemian of the Bridgertons, and that has also fed speculation he could be queer. What do you make of that? Is that something you'd want to explore more?
Benedict has such a lovely openness and fluidity about him generally, and that's really, really fun to play because it could go anywhere. What I would say is that we're only in season 1 and just getting into season 2. People get very excited and they want everything to be explored in the first few seasons and every corner of sexuality, gender. Obviously, there's a way to go, so we'll see what happens with Benedict, but we're only on season 2, so there's lots of space for him to explore all sorts of things.
As a final note, the only thing I would say is I tend not think in terms of hoping too much because an actor's job is to fully step inside the character's shoes. If I had an opinion on that, I would be one foot in and one foot out. It's very important for me to be two feet in, and that the writer is a bit of a god in the sense that they're controlling your destiny. I just need to go on the journey that they put me on. I would certainly love him to retain that because it's such a lovely quality, that fluidity and openness, but beyond that, I don't know.
If we're continuing to follow the books, his romance would be the heart of season 3. Have you received any direction on that? Is it safe to assume that will be the case?
The thing is the books are the books, and the show is completely rooted in the books, but it's not tied to the books. That's partly the pleasure of watching the show. We've stepped into these characters that already have a fan base, so we're being welcomed in on some level to their world and their expectations and their love for these characters, but then also because we inhabit the show and the show is different, it's an opportunity for us to stretch their conception of these characters and stretch their conception of those stories. So, I don't know. The books would indicate that the next one up is Benedict, but we don't know that for sure because the show is the show, and the show has license to do all sorts of things. The show is such an ensemble effort anyway, and it does feel like there's so much to get our teeth into even when you're not in the driver's seat. It's not like I'm sitting around waiting for my "big moment" because it's such a huge group effort, and that's what makes it satisfying to do. As long as Benedict keeps being explored, I'm happy.
Benedict, as he is on the show, feels the silliest and most good-natured of the brothers. Is that something you hope he maintains as he leans more into this romanticism or finding his own love story?
Definitely, but it's interesting because when you fall in love or when you find a connection or a relationship that works, there has to be some give and take. There is loss in forming a connection like that, and that's the tension in all the characters in leaving a family and leaving a structure that you know, where you know who you are. You know your place within that family, and then suddenly, you're almost slightly redefining yourself. I'd love for that quality to stay there, but part of the tension in the show is, what do you hold onto and what do you let go of when you start a relationship and emerge out of your family and build a family of your own? For someone to find their center, they have to be a little less fun and easy because then they're not holding their own. It's a lesson in probably being a little less agreeable and a little less adjustable than Benedict is.
"I burn for you" is actually a line of Benedict's on the page in An Offer From a Gentleman. How would you feel about that bit of dialogue making a comeback?
I'd have a lot to live up to is the only thing I would say, because I think Phoebe [Dynevor] and Regé [-Jean Page] have delivered not only those lines, but also just that whole story so beautifully and in such a detailed way. I feel humble in the face of it.
Regé licked the spoon. Now we have Jonny falling in the lake. Do you have a wish-list for what your big thirst moment should be?
Oh, I don't know, and maybe that's where I am like Benedict. I'm up for anything. Whatever they want to throw at me, I'll make it work.
Maybe some combo of licking cutlery while you fall in a lake.
Exactly. I can combine all of them.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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