SHE’S the relatively unknown beauty thrust into the spotlight as the leading lady in Bridgerton’s second series – a casting that has catapulted her to overnight stardom.
As Lady Kate Sharma, the stunning love interest for hunky Anthony Bridgerton in the Netflix period drama, Simone Ashley’s ground-breaking appearance has already broken the mould as one of the first Asian actresses to slip into Regency costume for a period role.
Maar the 27-year-old jokes that hauling herself into figure enhancing corsets has proved an even greater challenge than breaking boundaries – quipping: “I realise if you wear a corset, you just don’t eat.”
Laughing at her own naivety, Simone admits she ordered a big breakfast ahead of her debut on set only to discover it was an epic error or judgment.
Sy het gese: “On my first day, ek was soos, “OK, first day as a leading lady, got to eat lots of food, be really energised.
“So, I had this massive portion of salmon and that’s when I needed to be sick, basically because I was wearing the corset.
“I realised when you wear the corset, you just don’t eat. It changes your body. I had a smaller waist momentarily. T
“hen the minute you stop wearing it, you’re just back to how your body is. I had a lot of pain with the corset, ook, I think I tore my shoulder at one point!”
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But suffering for her art in the same of sex appeal is nothing new for Simone.
In her role of Olivia in Netflix’s Sex Education – a role she has confirmed she’s leaving ahead of Series 4, the actress had to simulate oral sex on a banana and try not to let her on screen boyfriend see her “ugly sex face”.
She says off the risqué scenes: “I felt really safe and I had a lot of fun because we were portraying young people, adults, a whole range of different people experiencing the kind of things that we all experience in intimate situations, the highs and the lows and the different problems.”
Despite now finding herself being lusted after on screen again – this time by Jonathan Bailey’s hunky portrayal of Anthony Bridgerton as well as by fans all over the world, the sexy starlet admits she’s now keen to use her international platform to help others from minority backgrounds break into Hollywood rather than simply being a pin-up.
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The South Asian actress said: “I probably have dealt with a lot of sexism in my life. I don’t really feed any energy into it, and maybe there’s a problem in that? Maybe there are things happening that I should acknowledge, and should let affect me?
“I definitely think women are sharing this microphone more fearlessly now and supporting one another.”
While she had landed a series of smaller roles before breaking through with Die nuwe seisoen is ’n verwerking van die tweede boek in die reeks, including an unnamed part of ‘girlfriend’ alongside Ryan Reynolds in 2019 film Pokémon Detective Pikachu and various British TV dramas, Simone says she had never considered her ethnicity would be something she had to stand up for or become an ambassador in her career.
Egter, she now feels compelled to speak out.
Sy het gese: “I used to think, “O, I want to just be seen as an actress”, but I now realise that in this line of work you are representing and you do have a voice.
“I think a part of me was quite scared of owning the fact that, yeah, I am representing a minority.
“And I think it would be quite naïve of me to think I’m just an actress, omdat, to think that is to think that the problem been solved and that we are in an industry and in a world where it’s completely normalised, and we’re far from it.
“Hopefully, in 20 years’ time it won’t be an issue, but we’re not there yet.
“There is something quite scary about owning that position. But I can have so much fun with this and I don’t need to be afraid. And it’s not about just me. It’s about sharing space with so many other amazing South Indian, South Asian actors.”
Even having made it to the top and enjoying the riches and perks that come with fame, Simone insists she’s not incentivized by how much money she has in the bank.
She told new glossy Hollywood Authentic: “In five years I just want to be happy and content.
I realised when you wear the corset, you just don’t eat. It changes your body. I had a smaller waist momentarily.
“If you depend on ‘well I am only going to be happy if I get that job or that house or I’m with that person’.
“And we all do it is a very human trait. I was always like that as a teenager. I went to an all girls school and there always stupid things like ‘if I had those hair straighteners I will be happy’. But I feel like I have stopped. Now I think I am more content.”
Born to first-generation Indian parents in Camberley, Surrey in 1995, Simone spent time in Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire before moving to live with relatives in Ojai, Kalifornië.
While she always saw herself as working in the creative industry, her parents worried it wasn’t the right path.
Instead they saw a more professional route such as accountancy as the way forward.
Simone recalled: “My parents were quite protective over me. They’re first generation. They came from India to this country, so they didn’t really have a life where they could choose to be whatever they wanted to be.”
Egter, despite their concerns, the stubborn star stuck to her guns and won them over and landed a place at Redroofs School for Performing Arts which has seen the likes of Kate Winslet and Tracey Beaker star Dani Harmer through their doors.
Sy gaan voort: “My mum in particular, she was so supportive taking me to my singing lessons and dance classes.”
With wind in her sails she moved on to study Music Theatre at ArtsEd, whose alumni boasts Julie Andrews, Will Young and Darcey Bussell.
“I just couldn’t ever see myself doing anything else. We had no connections in the industry. I had no one to look up to in that sense, I was just always incredibly driven and had a very scary sense of ‘no doubt’” she added.
Simone believes that the same mindset that anything is possible stands her in good stead when it comes to tackling issues or racism and colourism in the industry.
Sy het verduidelik: “Whatever industry you’re in, whatever you do, we all have a voice, we all have the power to speak.
“And I think that’s something I’ve never addressed in my life until now, when I’m dipping my toes a bit further in, Ek skat.
“Yeah it’s a bit scary, but it feels limitless when it’s positive, like you can just keep going downhill, like on a bike, speeding forward.
“It’s like when you’re on a swing, that stomach feeling. There’s nothing to stop you.”