Netflix shows like Bridgerton and Sex Education had experts dub Simone Ashley a streaming sensation. Meanwhile active work with the community platform Diet Paratha – amongst other social initiatives – made her the flagbearer of South Asian representation in the entertainment industry. As accolades and new projects pour in for the actress, here’s a look at her journey so far.
In a rare moment for Western television – particularly a series set in 1800s Britain – an Indian character fondly massages her younger sister’s hair with coconut oil. This ancient practice – represented with great sensitivity in season two of the Netflix period drama Bridgerton – resonated with millions of brown people across the globe. It simultaneously bust stereotypes and generations of stigmatisation the Indian community is known to have endured for decades.
And at the centre of it all? British actress Simone Ashley who set social media abuzz with her stellar portrayal of the feisty and intelligent Kate Sharma. Soon enough, she’d found herself in global headlines – walking the red carpet at several award ceremonies and being actively involved in social campaigns. At the moment, she’s set to star alongside One Direction singer Zayn Malik in the animated film 10 Lives and bring back her iconic role as a noblewoman of colour for the third season. Here’s a look at what led to this point.
Simone Ashley shot to popularity with her role in Netflix’s Bridgerton
Born on 30 March, 1995 to Indian Tamil parents, Simone Ashwini Pillai – who goes by Simone Ashley professionally – was always drawn to the arts. She’s trained in classical music, opera, and the piano. With a stubborn determination to chase her interests, she quit school at sixteen and signed with a modelling agency at eighteen. She also studied musical theatre at the Arts Educational School (ArtsEd) in West London. Several auditions later, she’d landed her first gig in the fantasy teen drama Wolfblood and made appearances in the thriller series Guilt, crime show Broadchurch, and feature films Boogie Man and Kill Ben Lyk.
However, her first big break came with the main character Olivia Hanan in the Netflix series Sex Education. In a podcast, she revealed that role involved several intimate scenes. “We explored the movement of different animals to kind of portray different paces or different sexualities or how sensual something could be,” she noted. Soon enough, she’d received the callback for the second season of Bridgerton based on the Julia Quinn novel The Viscount Who Loved Me. “It all happened so fast, getting the role and then suddenly being on set. So I was very engrossed in bringing this character to life,” she told NBC News.
She played Kate Sharma, a bold Indian woman keen on launching her half-sister Edwina into society. However, things take a dramatic turn when she locks horns with Anthony Bridgerton (played by Jonathan Bailey) and finds herself developing a soft spot for him. The little South Asian details – from the intricate and elegant process of making tea to the joy of a traditional haldi ceremony – resonated with millions, with many brown people taking to social media to express their joy at being represented in Western media. Ashley later iterated in several interviews that she experienced great joy in being instrumental to this change and was grateful for her breakout success with the show.
“It wasn’t until I started seeing the monitors and the shots of me and Charithra (who plays Edwina) on screen and it was two dark-skinned Indian women, two Tamil women on screen,” she said to NBC News before adding, “That was when I was like, ‘Whoa, this is happening.” The season broke Netflix’s single-week record for the most-viewed English language series and Ashley suddenly found herself in numerous headlines, award ceremonies, and social media conversations.
She is vocal about South Asian representation
Ashley is an integral part of Diet Paratha, a community platform that spotlights South Indian changemakers and personalities and has worked on socially-charged campaigns with Johnnie Walker. She also vocalised the challenges those with her heritage face in mainstream media. “For me it has just always been like, ‘I’m just like any other actress, I can do this.” she explained to Huffpost. “But I think, yeah, as a woman and a woman of colour, you do have to work harder.”
She later added that she recognises how she’s a part of a monumental shift in perspectives and broadening of space. “Especially for South Asian women, and how still we’re so early within normalising all of this,” she noted before adding, “You hope the goal is that one day it is just completely normalised and there’s a sense of ease for women of all heritages and cultures to have doors open for them.” Simone recently landed first Disney princess role in The Little Mermaid where she played Ariel’s older sister Indira.
She’s received several accolades and has exciting projects lined up
Besides receiving critical acclaim, Ashley bagged the 2022 IMDb Starmeter Award for the best Breakout Star. She was also nominated in National Television Awards, Hollywood Critics Association TV Awards, Asian Achievers Awards, and TV Choice Awards. She’s been listed in Forbes 30 under 30 in European entertainment as well as the Time 100 next – all while appearing on several magazine covers and interviews.
On the work front, she recently revealed that the new season of Bridgerton will reveal a more vulnerable Kate Sharma. She also noted that it was set to be a lot steamier than the earlier seasons. That aside, she’s currently in the headlines for starring in the highly-anticipated animated title 10 Lives which tells the tale of a selfish cat who takes his nine lives for granted. Directed by Chris Jenkins of the Duck Duck Goose fame – the film will also feature Zayn Malik.
All images: Courtesy Simone Ashley/Bridgerton,Netflix
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: Simone Ashley will reprise her role as Kate Sharma Bridgerton in season three of the Netflix series.
Answer: Reportedly, the Bridgerton casting team reached out to Simone Ashley for the role of Kate Sharma while she was on set of Sex Education.