For stage actor Martins Imhangbe, the realm of television is a whole new world. Branching out from his past roles on the stage like in Death of a Salesman and The Tragedy of King Richard II, Imhangbe is making his small screen debut this year in the highly anticipated Shonda Rhimes creation Bridgerton. The show, based on the series of novels by acclaimed romance writer Julia Quinn, follows the titular Bridgerton family during the height of Regency-era London as they play the socio-political game of high society. The series is Rhime’s first foray outside of her comfortable home at ABC, and Imhangbe is part of the delightfully diverse ensemble cast which includes Julie Andrews, Jonathan Bailey, Adjoah Andoh, Ben Miller, Julian Ovenden, and Polly Walker.
Imhangbe plays Will Mondrich, an up-and-coming boxer and close friend of Duke Simon Basset. The role is based on the real-life boxer Bill Richmond, a boundary-breaking sportsman of the time who was born into slavery in the USA and went on to be world’s first black sporting superstar. Imhangbe is a boxing enthusiast himself, but in truth he sees more of himself in Mondrich than just a love of the sport. He sees a hardworking family man full of ambition like himself, which blends wonderfully with the vibrant and colorful cast of characters around him.
We had a chat with Martins Imhangbe about the world of Bridgerton and his role as Will Mondrich, as well as his transition from stage to screen. Check out the full interview below.
Tell us about Bridgerton. How did you get involved with the project?
I was doing a play at the time – playing Happy Loman in Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic theatre – and it was coming to the end of the run. The casting directors came to see it, an audition came through and I was very excited about the project and role. I put myself on tape, and was offered the role.
On the show you play boxer Will Mondrich. How did you prepare for the role?
I had some boxing experience already but boxing in the 1800’s is completely different to what it has evolved to now, so I had to unlearn everything I knew and adapt. I was personal trained by Cuong Hua 3-4 times a week during filming, working on strength and conditioning which got me in shape and ready to take on all the intense boxing sequences, which were choreographed by the late and great Brian Nickels, who sadly passed away during the end of filming. I’m sure he’ll be very proud of his work on the show.
I understand Mondrich was based on the real-life boxer Bill Richmond, did you do any specific research on him for the role?
I did a lot of research and as boxing enthusiast I was so shocked that I never knew or heard about him before. His story is a fascinating one and I’d recommend looking him up, especially if you are a boxing fan. What he managed to achieve during those times, especially being a black man, is inspiring.
Walk us through the character of Will Mondrich. Do you personally connect to the role in any way?
Will is an ambitious fighter but also a family man with a big heart and seems to balance both very well. He has a loving relationship with his wife Alice, played by Emma Naomi, and his children. His loyalty to Simon is very strong and they seem to have each other’s back through thick and thin. I would consider myself very ambitious, family-oriented and also a boxing enthusiast, so I would say those parallels helped me along the way when getting into the role.
Bridgerton appears to be very much an ensemble piece. How does Will Mondrich blend in with the many faces and stories of the show?
There is so much in this show for everyone — all the character are very detailed and compliment the world of the show very well. In the midst of gossip and romance, boxing seems to fit quite well in shaking things up from the prim and proper expectations of society. Will represents the working class, striving to provide for his family through what he knows best: fighting.
Were you a fan of any of Shonda Rimes’ shows on ABC before signing onto Bridgerton?
Yes I am a fan of Shonda Rhimes and Shondaland, they produce such great content which challenges the status quo when it come to diversity, equality and depicting women in extraordinary roles. We love to see it and also proud be a part of it.
How about Julia Quinn, who wrote the novels Bridgerton is based on?
I hadn’t heard of Julia Quinn before, but I got to meet her during filming and she was so warm and welcoming. My character is not written in her novels, so it was great to know that she was proud of it all. I look forward to becoming acquainted with more of her work.
Is there anyone in the Bridgerton cast you had a particularly good time working with? Anyone you had worked with before?
I hadn’t worked with anyone before but have been a fan of many of the cast members – so it was a lot of fun to do scenes with them and be a part of this ensemble; the whole team were extremely welcoming. I particularly got close with Rege, Emma and Adjoa as the majority of my scenes were with them. We became an onset family which made some of the long, cold days of filming warm and pleasurable.
You are most known for your stage work, particularly The Tragedy of King Richard II, and Bridgerton is your very first television credit. Have you found the transition from theater to screen difficult?
I didn’t really find the transition difficult due to the welcoming and generous nature of the cast and crew. So I felt like I was able to be curious and ask questions. The main differences for me between stage and screen are the different scales of performance. In the theatre you have more space to be quite big and expressive so you can clearly communicate your story telling with the live audience and people sitting in the back row of the theatre. With TV everything — depending on the shooting frame — is quite contained and you can afford to do less because the camera picks up so much. Having said that I had very expressive scenes. For example my boxing matches felt very much like doing theatre during filming as I was feeding off the energy from the supporting artists in the crowd.
How has your experience been as an associate artist in the Complicité Theatre Company?
I love theatre and have been so blessed to have done so much of it over the years and I feel like that’s where I’ve really grown as an actor. In my opinion Complicité have been so revolutionary over the years when it comes to theatre and devising. Every new production feels like a renaissance. And they continue to be curious and challenge the way we approach creating new and exciting theatre productions. I love collaborating and pushing myself mentally and physically, so working with Complicité over the years has been perfect in that regard.
Of all your stage credits, which has been your favorite or most rewarding to work on?
It’s really difficult to have a favorite. I’ve grown and learnt so much about myself through playing all these various roles. Each experience has been so unique! But playing Happy Loman in Death of a Salesman is definitely up there. It was very emotionally draining and to have done 8 shows a week for 12 weeks straight. Wow. That was a huge challenge for me and definitely rewarding to be part of a show with an African-American family at the centre, and for the show to still resonate today so strongly after all the many years from when it was first written.
Have you been able to take on any new acting projects this year? How has the pandemic affected your work?
The pandemic has been so challenging especially with all the uncertainty and not being able to really to make any plans. I’ve been blessed to have been able to work here and there. I shot a short sci-fi film called Digging for Film4 directed by Elliot Barnes-Worrell. I also invested in some recording equipment so I was able to work from home and recorded some projects with BBC radio which should be announced next year. It does feel really weird not being able to truly connect with others due to all the restrictions, especially with how intimate the industry usually is.
Going forward, do you think you’ll stick to television or would you like to continue your work on the stage?
I’d like to gain more on-screen experience but at the same time I want to follow the work – If the project is right then I’d love to be involved. I really care about thought provoking narratives and the impact they have in shaping our perceptions within society wether that is on stage, screen or radio.
Do you have a particular philosophy you stick to as an actor? Or words of wisdom that keep you going?
There’s peace in accepting that I won’t get everything I want — and building the tenacity to keep striving forward.
Is there anything on the horizon we can look forward to from you in 2021?
Nothing I can speak on but I am excited for 2021 and also hoping that the pandemic eases off and we can get back to a more harmonious way of existing.
Do you have a New Years resolution and if so what is it and why?
I want to exist more on the other side of fear. So I’m going to challenge my excuses and get out of my own way. I can be my own worst enemy at times.
Bridgerton is available to stream on Netflix from Christmas Day, December 25.