Actor Tunji Kasim stars in Netflix limited series Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story. Karim compiles as Charlotte’s brother Adolphus who, among other impactful events, makes the decision to marry off his sister for the good of his country. Here, in an interview with Awards Daily, Kasim reveals how deeply he delved into the character, what helped him see through Adolphus’s viewpoint, and what put him into the historical mindset. He also describes his overall process as an actor hoping to catch the magic no matter the medium.
Awards Daily: Have you read any of the Bridgerton books?
Tunji Kasim: No, I have not. Actually, I feel like this is a slightly different world to what the Bridgerton books and what the TV series is. So I didn’t really feel the need to have to read them. Are they good? Have you read them?
Awards Daily: I have read four of them. I enjoy romance books so that helps.
Tunji Kasim: Very good. I hear they are good. In fact, in one of the later episodes of Queen Charlotte, Julia Quinn makes her on-screen debut. She’s on a park bench and the camera goes past her and goes on to us. So that’s a little fun fact.
Awards Daily: I know it is historical fiction, but did you do any research into your character Adolphus?
Tunji Kasim: I did. I didn’t manage to dig up that much on him, but there was some stuff. But actually I found, as you alluded to, we took some artistic license with the historical facts. We used what’s useful and came up with our own stuff for the rest. So I found with Adolphus that a lot of this historical research I did on him wasn’t actually necessary in the end. But nevertheless it was useful to do that stuff to get into the world and get a better understanding of what he might have been going through. However that informs you when you’re doing your scenes, it’s there if it’s useful and if it’s not, throw it away.
Awards Daily: I could not confirm this, but I read your first thoughts for a career were to be either a boxer or a dishwasher. I was curious what was behind those career choices?
Tunji Kasim: [Laughes] The dishwashing thing I have no idea where that actually came from. but I clearly said something to a journalist at some point in jest. Because the dishwasher thing came from when I was much younger. I had two older sisters and they were doing housework before I was old enough to do that. I used to get jealous of them being able to do this thing I couldn’t do. So, before I was washing dishes and doing my part of the housework I was, like, I’ll grow up and I’ll be a dishwasher. That is the story I must have told a journalist at some point. And apparently now it’s a fact as one of my career choices. So that’s where that comes from.
The boxer thing. Look, when we’re younger most boys and girls want to do things that they’re not realistically going to grow up to do. I suppose for a lot of boys the most common ones are an athlete or a boxer. That’s probably where that came from, because I’ve never really boxed in my life. Coming into the acting thing is one of the more interesting answers because I really didn’t know I wanted to do acting at a young age. I wasn’t one of those five-year-olds who was, like, I know I want to do acting, it’s in my bones. I probably always had an interest in performing in one shape or form, but it wasn’t till I was about 16 or 17 when my drama school teacher Irene Adams saw something in me and made me seriously consider that acting could be a profession that I could go on and do. Both my parents are in academia, so the arts were never a serious consideration for me. But when it came to finishing secondary school and making university choices, that’s when acting came on the scene and became an option for me. It wasn’t something I initially loved 100%, shall we say.
But it is something that has definitely grown on me and something that I think is such a unique and amazing profession to be a part of. Making art in the way we do is an endlessly fascinating study of understanding other human beings, and what we do and why we do what we do. Telling stories around that is such a fascinating career. It is incredible that people can have a career to do that frankly. But we can and I’m very fortunate to find myself doing that.
Awards Daily: Speaking of getting into why people do what they do, your character does some morally questionable things for the greater good of his people. Was that a difficult kind of mindset to get into?
Tunji Kasim: No, I suppose this is where Adolphus and I kind of meet, where we are similarly minded. I never really saw it, even though I was aware of the negative of what Adolphus was doing. What we would call negative now. Because I always connected with why he was doing what he was doing. It never for a second felt like it came out of a place of ill intent, it was always for a reason. He had bigger picture reasons for making these decisions that affected him and his sister on a more personal level. I think Adolphus is a guy who sees the bigger picture and prioritizes that bigger picture over himself, and by that association the happiness of his family, I suppose.
He is the head of his family as well as the head of his country so he has to make quite uncomfortable decisions but essentially decisions for his country’s survival and his people’s well-being. It wasn’t until I watched it that I came to realize that Adolphus comes off as a bit of a dick, isn’t he? But at the time doing it I was completely locked in and empathetic toward why Adolphus was doing that and understood it from that perspective. Rather than looking at it from a 2023 point of view, where obviously arranged marriages are far more frowned upon. He was definitely a man of his time and he felt that he did what he needed to do rather than wanting to cause any ills towards his sister.
Awards Daily: You touched on this when you were talking about your acting, but I read that plays were the first medium that got you into storytelling. What was it about being on the stage that got you interested?
Tunji Kasim: I think the very first play that I saw that clicked for me and made me think yes, that is what I want to do, was Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2 and 3. I saw those productions, and I couldn’t tell you what it was but it just ignited something within me and sparked something that made me go yeah, that’s what motivates me to tell stories. Whatever the magic that was captured in that room during that performance was something I wanted to replicate and wanted to produce myself. Create that magic for other people to see stories and feel connected to them in the same way I felt during that production. That is the unique thing about theater itself that you do not get on TV or film because your link with the audience is not immediate.
We filmed Queen Charlotte last year over the summer and here we are almost a year later releasing it to the world. There is definitely a delay in that, where in the theater there is the immediate connection. Not only that every single night is different because every single audience is different. There can be someone coughing or there’s heckling or there’s a fire alarm that goes off in the middle of the first act or whatever. That all adds to the atmosphere of that particular day and that particular performance. I suppose it’s like trying to catch the genie in the bottle where you are trying to create this magic every time you do it and the endeavor is what it’s all about. Oftentimes you unfortunately fail, and the magic doesn’t click for whatever reason, but not necessarily for tangible reasons. Either the stars just align and you get true magic, and really appreciate having been in the room to see that particular production. That’s what we’re searching for I suppose as artists.
Awards Daily: Besides Adolphus having to make these difficult decisions he also has, shall we say, a personal disappointment that is a devastating scene for him. The look on your face was very intense, so I wonder how you prepared for that scene?
Tunji Kasim: I’m glad you think so; I haven’t seen that episode. I’ve only seen the first because I don’t particularly enjoy watching my own work. I think something like that is that I’ve gotten older and more experienced and more comfortable, and what I do I find it on the day. I don’t think I necessarily prepared for that scene, thinking this is the moment where I’m going to do this thing. I think fortunately I got to a place where I could comfortably prepare for a scene and know okay, this is what this scene is for this character, this is what it means for this person, and do whatever homework I need to do. But then on the day, be loose enough to show up and work with Arsema (Thomas), in this case, and see how the scene is going to go.
So I wouldn’t say I prepared for that moment, but I was ready for it, and if it felt right to do it, then that is what we did. Finding that stuff in the moment is part of the magic of TV and film. It’s the same as in the theater, you just don’t share it with the audience immediately. But in those moments finding, I guess what you would call Truth, for lack of a better word; finding those moments of Truth and being open and available to them is what I search for in creating my performances and creating my art. Fortunately we found that on the day. If you are saying that, thankfully it was conveyed quite well on the camera, I am glad that is the case. But I wouldn’t say there was necessarily preparation for that moment in particular. You just prepare the mindset and you prepare the scene and embody that the best you can and hopefully you get moments of magic amongst all that.
Awards Daily: Final thoughts?
Tunji Kasim: Just to speak about Queen Charlotte in general, I know it’s joining an established brand of the Bridgerton universe. So hopefully audience members from that will be happy with what we did if they’re going to come across and watch our Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story. But also hopefully it connects with a whole new audience that maybe isn’t familiar with Bridgerton. Because we are connected most definitely, but I think we are slightly different in many ways. Hopefully people connect and like what they see. We’re very excited to be sharing it with the world at this point.
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story debuts all six episodes on Netflix on Thursday, May 4.