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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: THE EVOLUTION OF RUTH GEMMELL FROM FEVER PITCH TO BRIDGERTON’S LADY VIOLET

Ruth Gemmell. Photography by Joseph Sinclair for The Untitled Magazine.

For the past few years, audiences around the world have been captivated by the opulent world of Netflix’s Bridgerton, a series that has become a global phenomenon under the visionary guidance of Shonda Rhimes. At the heart of this Regency-era spectacle is the formidable Lady Violet Bridgerton, brought to life with grace and depth by British actress Ruth Gemmell. Known for her ability to convey both strength and vulnerability, Gemmell’s portrayal has resonated deeply with viewers, making Lady Violet one of the standout characters in this richly woven narrative.

In this exclusive interview for The Untitled Magazine by Indira Cesarine, Ruth Gemmell reflects on her illustrious career, which spans over three decades. From her early days on stage in Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre to her breakthrough role in the beloved film Fever Pitch, where she starred opposite Colin Firth, Gemmell has consistently delivered compelling performances. Her versatility is evident from her diverse body of work, including notable roles in Penny Dreadful, Utopia, and Silent Witness.

As Gemmell discusses her journey, she shares key moments that have shaped her as an artist. Her first significant TV role in Kay Mellor’s Band of Gold and her chilling turn as a psychopathic killer in Waking the Dead are just a few highlights of a career marked by a deep exploration of complex characters. Her dedication to her craft is palpable as she recounts these pivotal experiences with a sense of gratitude and introspection.

Bridgerton. (L to R) Ruth Gemmell as Lady Violet Bridgerton, Hannah Dodd as Francesca Bridgerton in episode 304 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2024

As fans eagerly anticipate the release of Bridgerton’s third season, Gemmell hints at what lies ahead for Lady Violet. She teases a season filled with emotional depth, as Violet navigates the complexities of her children’s lives while contemplating her own journey of healing and potential new beginnings. The upcoming episodes promise to showcase Violet in new and exciting ways, ensuring that her character continues to evolve and captivate.

In this candid and engaging interview, Ruth Gemmell offers a window into her world, both on and off-screen, sharing the experiences and insights that have shaped her remarkable career. As she prepares for the next chapter in Bridgerton, her reflections remind us why she remains a beloved figure in the entertainment industry.

You have been acting since the early 90s. Clearly this has been quite a journey for you over the years! Looking back what have been some key moments or roles in your career that were turning points for you? 

Tale of Two Cities was my very first job at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow and directed by the visionary Philip Prowse. Set in revolutionary France I played a seamstress off to the guillotine. The Citz was a wonderful place to start my career, an extraordinary hotbed of creativity. My first proper TV job was Kay Mellor’s Band of Gold and I was the first victim of the series. I have incredibly fond memories of that job, working with some brilliantly talented people. It was a chance for me to learn more of my craft in front of the lens. There was also Waking the Dead in which I played a psychopathic killer and the character made a return in another season – it’s enormous fun to play evil. Flawed characters fascinate me. Of course Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch will always be special to me; from the script, to the crew, to the cast and not to mention the opportunity. What an amazing time. Robert Forrest’s The Pillow Book for radio was just a privilege to work on – his writing is utterly beautiful. Plays like Neil LaBute’s Helter Skelter and Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden were both humbling to work on. Both are complex plays where the female protagonist wants to be heard, where she wants people to be held accountable. Then, of course…. Bridgerton! I’ve only worked on sets of this size a couple of times, so it is gobsmacking to almost call it my second home. I feel very lucky to have worked in such a varied way, and I hope to continue to do so.

 

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You are best known for playing the role of Lady Violet Bridgerton in the hit Netflix series Bridgerton. What has it been like to portray such an iconic character? How does the character resonate with you personally? 

Violet is an incredibly generous woman who always puts others before herself. The untimely loss of her beloved husband has definitely shaped her. I think she strives to keep his memory alive for the sake of the children. Where we differ is that I wish I possessed her strength of character, her fairness and her wisdom. Where we are similar, is the love we share for those children. Grief, I think, is universal to us all.

How do you get into character to play Lady Violet? The costumes are incredible! I imagine it must be quite a shift from the reality of 2024 to be on set for Bridgerton

Sitting in the makeup chair is where I like to start the process of getting into character. It’s a calm place for me, a sanctuary, and as you see the makeup and hair evolve, so does the character. It leaves only, of course, the costume. And this season has again produced some exquisite outfits – John Glaser’s vision and that of his team is utterly breathtaking. The sheer scale and the dedication to detail is humbling. Unlike the clothing of today, you hold yourself differently and therefore it’s a helpful way to inhabit the character. The corsetry is beautifully made and done so with our comfort in mind. The craftmanship is amazing, however, corsetry is something I most definitely am glad we have lost today. They are still unforgiving and restricting as well as difficult to wear for an entire day: day in, day out – for months! In reality I dress down most of the time, it’s a nice antidote and also makes me feel more special when I don those outfits.

Ruth Gemmell. Photography by Joseph Sinclair for The Untitled Magazine.

Can you tell us about your experience working on the Bridgerton prequel series Queen Charlotte and how it compares to your role in the main Bridgerton series? 

It was a privilege to work on something that Shonda (Rhimes) had written herself, along with Tom Verica at the helm again and some of the old crew. It gave Adjoa (Andoh) and myself the opportunity to delve into our characters more deeply, when there quite often isn’t the time on Bridgerton due to the scale of it. That intimacy was greatly appreciated and we could both bring into play, in season three, what we were discovering from Queen Charlotte. It was fascinating to see Violet’s back story fleshed out from Julia Quinn’s books. To watch what India (Amarteifio) and Corey (Mylchreest) created was beautiful, but as our worlds never collided, I obviously didn’t get to work with them. Golda (Rosheuvel), I adore, and I think she’s incredible in it. The strangest thing for me was that I didn’t have any of my kids bothering me or for me to irritate. We were filming both Bridgerton and Queen Charlotte at the same time, which was exhausting but it was amazing to be a part of.

What can fans expect from your character Lady Violet Bridgerton in the highly anticipated third season of Bridgerton, which is set to release in two parts this May and June? 

Violet is still meddling in her children’s lives but this season, when it comes to her girls, she is tentative. She’s afraid of pushing Eloise at all and she is nervous of not pushing Francesca enough (who seems eager but far from interested). Perhaps she’s thankful that she can navigate and steer Colin a little. Also, at this point, she has seen two of her children happily married and we left her in Queen Charlotte feeling the loss of her husband, Edmund, that more acutely because of it – so she’s ready, or at least contemplating, embracing life again. Some flirting may very well be on the cards.

You starred opposite Colin Firth in the cult classic film Fever Pitch, based on the Nick Hornby novel. What was it like working on that project and playing the lead role of Sarah Hughes? 

It was an honour to have worked on Fever Pitch – I was petrified because every one of those actors I revered. They were not only amazing but generous and kind – good people. It was a joy to work on. But it was also a long time ago and I can see just how green I was when I watch it back now.

Ruth Gemmell. Photography by Joseph Sinclair for The Untitled Magazine.

In addition to Bridgerton, you’ve had roles in several other popular TV shows like Penny Dreadful, Utopia, Deep State, and Silent Witness. How do you approach taking on such a diverse range of characters?

I can honestly say I approach all roles the same. We’re all flawed and it’s that frailty that interests me. If I can identify with or appreciate that frailty, or see a mirror to myself, then I can hopefully see a way into the character. But I would say I definitely approach every medium the same. I like to map out a journey for the character that stretches the journey of the productions story, which always helps when we often work out of sequence. A back story is not something I tend to indulge in; for me, it’s in the writing and the writing alone. Any back story I create will be different to one an audience member might create. But people work differently and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. Everything is valid.

Can you share any memorable moments or behind-the-scenes stories from working on the set of Bridgerton

There is a moment that Violet has with Colin when he asks her what she hopes for Francesca and the answer as always, is love, passion and friendship. It’s what she wishes for all her children, it’s what she had herself with their father. It’s in this moment she realises that Colin is asking for himself and that the object of his desire is indeed, Penelope Featherington. From this moment on she will steer him in the right direction, until he recognises it himself. It was the first scene I think I had with Luke (Newton) and I loved every minute of that brief encounter. It was like everything falling into place for us all, having watched these two characters skirt around the issue for the last two seasons.

Ruth Gemmell. Photography by Joseph Sinclair for The Untitled Magazine.

Can you describe your working relationship with the Bridgerton cast, especially the younger actors who play your onscreen children? 

I love those kids just like Violet does. All our scenes that we have together are always fun and supportive, it is a pleasure to work with them and they are a joy to be around. I’ve watched a couple of them become adults over these last five years – we’ve all been together for a while now and we work well together. We’ve made good friendships and it hopefully shows in the more intimate scenes. There is a shorthand that we can tap into now. I particularly feel that in the scenes I have with Lady Danbury. I’ve always loved those scenes with Adjoa, the moments between these two friends are always a joy and always inform more.

Outside of acting, what other passions or hobbies do you enjoy pursuing in your personal life?

I think I’m happiest gardening. To watch what you plant grow and flourish is creative and rewarding and in the past, when I wasn’t working, it put me back in touch with that creativity. Walking in whatever weather is exhilarating but even I was beaten by this year’s rain, hopefully some brighter days are around the corner. I’m obsessed with DIY and decorating which is not always welcomed! And bird twitching has become a relatively new hobby, although I am very very amateur (perhaps an enthusiast is a better description). There are two chairs in our kitchen that overlook an apple tree and we sit watching the birds there, cup of tea in hand – or perhaps a gin and tonic.

As you prepare to return for Bridgerton season 3, what are you most excited for fans to see from your character Lady Violet in the upcoming episodes? 

Navigating those children of mine! And perhaps embracing life again, dipping a toe tentatively into that water. I think this season Violet is a little more open, and we see a lot more of that in her friendship with Lady Danbury.

Looking ahead, are there any other dream roles or projects you’d love to be a part of in the future? 

I’m sure there are many but Shakespeare’s Catherine of Aragon in Henry VIII. I love the way she speaks to the King and to the Cardinal when she is being pushed aside – you simply cannot fault her and neither can the King. I’d love to be that erudite and articulate and its nice to play characters who are. I’m drawn to the fragility of man and to how when wronged, we seek to be heard. She is an incredible woman full of strength and yet utterly vulnerable -that interests me. And I love Shakespeare.

Do you have any other projects in the pipeline you would like to share? 

I make an appearance in Cleaner with Daisy Ridley which is directed by Martin Campbell. I can’t wait to see the finished film.

 

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