“Bridgerton” could be whipping up its very own Kate Middleton vs. Meghan Markle rivalry.
Stunning “Sex Education” actress Simone Ashley is the new leading lady in town, the hit Netflix show has announced.
The erotically charged period soap — based on Julia Quinn’s best-selling series of novels, created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by “Scandal” queen Shonda Rhimes — is set in the competitive world of frilly, high-style Regency London in the 1880s.
The first season of Shondaland’s smash mix of “Gossip Girl” and Jane Austen revolved around virginal socialite Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor, 25) and her steamy love affair with the sultry spoon-licking Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page, 31).
For Season 2 — based on Quinn’s second entry her book series, “The Viscount Who Loved Me” — sweet Daphne will have to share the spotlight a la Princess Kate and Duchess Meghan, as the new episodes will focus on the marital pursuits of Daphne’s eldest Bridgerton bro: Anthony (Jonathan Bailey, 32).
Ashley, 25, will assume the leading role of Anthony’s romantic interest: Kate Sharma, a fresh London transplant from India, who is described as an intelligent, “headstrong young woman who suffers no fools” — Anthony included, according to an announcement on Shondaland TV’s Twitter.
Season 2 of “Bridgerton” also will find the show’s producers continuing to break casting conventions in the vein of Broadway’s “Hamilton.”
Ashley’s Kate — originally christened Kate Sheffield in Quinn’s second novel — and her family are of Indian descent in a continuation of the reimagined, multiracial world of old-school high society created in Season 1, which included several major black characters, including the Duke (Page), Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) and Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) not featured in the original book series, Deadline first reported.
In addition to her role as Olivia Hanan in Netflix’s acclaimed “Sex Education,” Brit actress Ashley was also recently seen in the UK’s ITV mystery drama “The Sister.” She’s reportedly one of several fresh faces cast in “Bridgerton,” which is the most-watched series in the streaming giant’s history with 82 million households tuning in during the first four weeks of Season 1.
“We have a bunch of new characters we are going to be introducing,” Van Dusen, creator and showrunner, revealed during an interview on “Today with Hoda & Jenna” in Janurary. “Anthony is going to have a love interest next season, and I think it’s going to be as sweeping and moving and as beautiful as viewers of the first season have come to expect from the show.”
The Season 2 plot twist also was teased in the final minutes of the Season 1 finale, when Anthony declared his goal of “finding and promptly declaring my intentions to my new viscountess,” after the implosion of his illicit relationship with proudly bawdy opera singer Siena (Sabrina Bartlett).
However, Van Dusen stressed during the interview that he also hopes Page and Dynevor will reprise their roles.
Note: Ashley’s prior “Sex Education” experience could come in handy. Season 1 of “Bridgerton” featured nude love scenes so steamy they were infamously ripped for hardcore porn sites — much to Page and Dynevor’s dismay.