Maanya Patel while getting hair and makeup done on the set of Bridgerton, with her laptop on her lap to do homework in between takes.
Maanya Patel while getting hair and makeup done on the set of Bridgerton, with her laptop on her lap to do homework in between takes.

In Conversation with Maanya Patel

Maanya Patel is a third-year Theology and Religion student at St Peter’s College, and an incredible violinist. She is a member of Chineke!, a British black and minority ethnic orchestra, and was on set for all three seasons of the hit Netflix series Bridgerton, as well as the spin-off Queen Charlotte. She was also featured in a music video which Alicia Keys recorded with Queen Charlotte’s Global Orchestra, recorded as promotion for the series, and acts in an upcoming Amazon Prime original, My Lady Jane. I sat down with her to discuss all things Bridgerton ahead of the upcoming series release on 16th May, and discuss what it was like to be on set, and what it was like to juggle Oxford and acting.

Lucy Pollock: So, tell me about how you started your involvement in Bridgerton.

Maanya Patel: I got involved during my gap year, filming season 1. They were looking for female musicians of colour, and reached out to me and I happened to be free. Had I not accidentally taken a gap year, I would never have been involved! I was on set for season one, and had two days of filming, but wasn’t really included on-screen. I had no idea who the main characters were going to be, as we didn’t really know the plot yet –- I hadn’t read the books or anything –- so we didn’t really know what was happening outside of our five-second scene which we were in the background for. 

L: How was it juggling Oxford and filming during the later seasons?

M: Filming was mostly during the holidays, so I was able to keep my work-life balance. Obviously I still had to revise, and I even have pictures of me with my laptop, getting my hair done, so I was able to continue to revise and write my essays during filming. Because there was so much downtime and time where you’re not on set, I was still able to get plenty of work done, and it didn’t really take away from my work. If anything, the conversations that I had with other people on set, about religion, culture, society, and sociology provided me with completely different perspectives about my course — separate to the perspectives that an Oxford student or professor would hold, because the people I was speaking to on set had a whole variety of experiences. The thing about working as an extra is that people tend to have another job, so I was able to gain connections in a really wide range of fields: my eyes were opened to the world of remote work, which has influenced what I’m going to do after I graduate. 

L: What can you tell me about your experiences as a woman of colour on set? 

M: What I really love about Bridgerton is the way in which it features people of colour and people with disabilities within the show. I spoke to Adjoa Andoh (who plays Lady Danbury) about Oxford and how to get people from minority ethnic and low socioeconomic backgrounds into the arts, so that people can see that it can be a viable career. It is very difficult for ethnic minorities to get into the arts, but that’s what we wanted to challenge. The great thing about Bridgerton is that it’s supposed to be a little fantastical and unconventional, and that really came through in Queen Charlotte. The Alicia Keys music video features all women of colour, and I think that whilst it has been criticised as tokenism, this tokenism is needed to highlight the gaps in the arts and the normativity that tends to pervade. I also really love that Bridgerton hired professionals to play certain roles: professional musicians are on set for all the ball scenes, they hire professional pony handlers and roles like that: I think that’s a really positive way of doing things.

It is very difficult for ethnic minorities to get into the arts, but that’s what we wanted to challenge.

L: What are some of the positive experiences you’ve had on set?

M: A lot of the costumes that I’ve worn have been from other productions: I wore a dress that was used in the Royal Opera House’s production of Swan Lake, and in My Lady Jane I get to wear Gwyneth Paltrow’s dress from Shakespeare in Love, which is really cool. Not only do I take on the history of the character and the period, but I also get to take on the history of the dress. 

Also, all the big ballroom scenes tend to have the same extras, and I thought it was really sweet that Luke Newton (who plays Colin Bridgerton) remembered me every time we filmed a scene together. 

There was one time on set where we were filming at four in the morning, so I was napping in between takes, and Luke and Nicola Coughlan (who plays Penelope Featherington) were next to me and woke me up before we started filming again. 

There was also another time where we were filming a ballroom scene in this gorgeous pink ballroom for season three, and I spun around and my hairpin fell out, and Luke Thompson (who plays Benedict Bridgerton) picked it up for me, which was quite a surreal experience.

L: That sounds like something straight out of a rom-com! Did you have any negative experiences on set?

M: I was really excited to meet Simone Ashley (who plays Kate Sharma), because I was excited to meet a woman of colour who was playing a lead role, but overall she was quite cold and not very chatty. Also, people tend to see the glamorous side of it all on-screen, but for a single second of screen time I do about four days of filming, including getting onto set at four in the morning and sitting in a makeup chair for an hour, all whilst wearing a very tight corset and an itchy wig. 

L: What were the costume fittings like?

M: It felt like being a doll being dressed up — I was poked and prodded and made to look “perfect.” It was a bit disorientating honestly: nothing about what you wear is your choice, and a lot of the costumes could be uncomfortable. Bridgerton being a period drama meant that I was never in anything too revealing, but there were times where I’d be uncomfortable about a costume choice, like them using heat on my hair or the amount of makeup I’d have to wear. 

L: What’s it been like seeing yourself on screen?

M: I think my friends have been a lot more excited about it than me! I tend to film these scenes about two years before they get released, so the excitement has mostly faded before I actually get the chance to see myself.

L: Overall, what do you think you’ve learnt from your experiences on the set of Bridgerton?

M: I’m a person who quite likes structure, and you don’t really have that on set. We got maybe two weeks of notice before a shoot, and would only really be told the location a day or so before. Filming for Bridgerton really got me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to adapt my schedule. I sometimes went days without access to technology and had to get used to early mornings and late nights: the whole experience has made me far more adaptable, I think! 

Catch St Peter’s own Maanya Patel in Season 3 of Bridgerton, premiering on Netflix on 16th May.