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Hannah New

A few days after Part 1 of Bridgerton Season 3 dropped on Netflix, 1883 sat down with Hannah New to talk wardrobe, women empowerment, and what Tilley Arnold taught her through walking in her shoes. 

While a newcomer in the Bridgerton world, English actress Hannah New is fierce and isn’t afraid of playing a strong woman. She’s made a name for herself landing powerful female roles in movies like Disney’s Maleficent and shows like Black Sails and The Time in Between. Everything she’s worked on thus far has prepared her for the role of a lifetime, playing Lady Tilley Arnold, the “bad-ass widow” introduced to us in season 3 of Bridgerton. It is in Tilley Arnold’s shoes that New fully embraces her beauty, sexuality and prowess as the most intriguing newcomer to the Netflix period series. 

There’s more to Tilley Arnold than being Benedict’s new love interest. She is confident, independent and holds her head high, contrary to how most of the women are portrayed in the Regency era. Her looks, while not immediately obvious, were somewhat inspired by Grace Kelly, and her wardrobe was influenced by Madame X, a socialite whose portrait was painted in a very controversial and scandalous way. This look inspired Hannah New’s red carpet attire for the Bridgerton Season 3 premiere in New York City earlier this month— which also served as her milestone 40th birthday party. But the Madame X portrait also served as somewhat of a blueprint for what Lady Tilley would bring to the series– a beautiful and sexy widow who not only knows what she wants but is demanding it. And New is the perfect woman to fill her shoes. 

A few days after Part 1 of Bridgerton Season 3 dropped on Netflix, 1883 sat down with Hannah New to talk wardrobe, women empowerment, and what Tilley Arnold taught her through walking in her shoes. 

Congratulations on the release of Bridgerton season 3! There’s been a lot of mystery around your character– how does it feel to finally have introduced her to the world?

Oh, it’s a huge relief that she’s out there finally and I can start to talk about her and it’s really exciting to start to talk about her and let everybody know a little bit about who this lady of mystery is because she’s a lot of fun and she likes to shake the tone up a bit. 

How was the premiere in New York? What a great way to celebrate your birthday!

Yeah. Well, they threw me a fantastic party, didn’t they?

Absolutely!

It was also Tom Verica’s birthday on the same day, so that was really wonderful to be able to celebrate with him. It was just magical, it all just came together and I just couldn’t believe it. If somebody had told me that my 40th birthday was gonna be a Bridgerton party in New York, I wouldn’t have believed them for a second.

What led you to audition for the role of Lady Tilley Arnold?

Well, I was just really lucky that I got the casting through a mate, and I saw the character description, which was all of three words, one of which is hyphenated, so that’s probably just two words– which was “Bad-Ass Widow.” I thought, “okay, cool. I think I can do that.” And also just thinking to myself, “Oh, this is a long shot. I’m not going to get this, so just enjoy it, just don’t stress about it. Have fun with it.” As a fan of the show, and all my friends are fans of the show too, it was just like I could go there with it and play. When I saw what a strong character she was, I thought, “Oh yeah, this is right up my street.” I just enjoyed the audition and then let it go. Then, it was about two or three weeks later that I got the call. The funny thing was about a week before I’d been camping with some friends up in the mountains, and I went out at night to go to the loo, and I looked up in the sky and there was this huge shooting star across the sky, and I didn’t even think about it. I went, “Oh, I wish I could get Bridgerton.” And then I was like, “This show is so universally connected and just magical.” Everything about it is magical, and yes, that was just wonderful.

When I got the call, I had friends over for a barbecue and I was just losing it. That kind of like no inhibitions dancing like Emma Stone in Poor Things, kind of mental. On the other side of the glass, my friends were saying, “Oh, what’s happened to her? She just had a bit too much to drink by now.” I said, “I got it, I got it!” It was just pure joy and, I just felt so blessed and so honoured and so excited to be part of such an illustrious cast. I couldn’t wait to get to the costume fittings and see the set and from there.

I believe in the universe and that things are going to happen if they are meant to, so what a beautiful moment you had with that shooting star!

It’s never happened to me before, ever. So weird. Yeah, not bad!

You sort of answered this question already, but how big of a Bridgerton fan were you before joining the cast?

I’m generally a period drama obsessive – I love it. I love history I loved the show just because it was a real departure from what I know is your standard historical drama except they get everything completely right. What I found so refreshing about the show was that it did meet audiences of today where they are today. For me, I’d watch it and think about how the show is so clever because it’s using history to really speak to people now. I think that’s what’s so amazing about the show. I love just having those conversations with my girlfriends, I’m like, “Oh my God, did you see when he told her what she needed to do to herself?”

Absolutely! 

It’s about female connection. It’s about female sexuality and owning it. I found that so refreshing. I just think for so many years we’ve watched these period dramas that are so male-gaze-orientated. It’s so nice to finally get a show like that. I get why people don’t get it if that’s what they like. That’s fine, this show’s not for them. This show is for people who are into finding joy and escapism and positivity and in some ways it’s like a little mini utopia of the past that’s basically speaking to us today and speaking to how we can find ourselves and find love and enjoy life. Those lessons are just so valuable and I hope it has that impact on others just as it did on me and on my girlfriends. I have to also say, there are a few men I know who are obsessed. 

I mean, as they should be! I feel like this show is definitely not just for women. 

No, exactly. It’s everyone. I think maybe there’s some men who think it’s not for them, but they should really sit down and watch it, because I think they’ll find out a thing or two.

Obviously, part one of the season is out now, in which we get to meet your character – but in your own words, what can you tell us about her?

She is coming into the society to find her fellow rebels. I think that’s the thing, she likes to dip in and out, and I think that’s what she sees in Benedict. She sees that he’s a rebel. She sees that he also is somebody who can inspire her because she sees that he has that little artistic flair and that he’s also attracted to her because she’s somebody who he meets in a tent talking about engineering. I think that there’s a wonderful connection of minds that happens there, and I think that that is one of the most beautiful things about the relationship with Benedict. It’s like, it feeds the two of them on an intellectual and sexual level that is beautiful to watch.

I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say post episode four but all I can say is that the relationship between them feeds both of them in very personal ways, and it allows for their personal growth that’s authentic and sometimes hard. There are moments where difficult feelings have to be leaned into, but they, like my character, could pretend that some of the difficult feelings that exist for her aren’t there, but that would be completely untrue to herself. I think that’s what I’ve really loved. In every character I play, there’s always an element of what I think I might need. That’s why I’m really attracted to those characters where I’m like, “Right, yeah, that’s how you get honest with yourself, and that’s how you show up authentically in relationships and for yourself.” I think the whole season is about that. Every single character is doing that and that’s why it’s so beautifully written and so subtly done. Everyone does it in their own personal way, but they all have to lean into these bits that they might not like to look out. I think we all need to do that at a certain level to become who we are. I would love to be able to tell you some juicy, juicy, juicy bits, maybe we can come back after!

Was there anything in particular you did to prepare for this role?

Yeah! My process is always different with every character, but one of the things I really love to do, because I wrote my master’s dissertation on playing biopic roles. Even if a role isn’t a biopic role, I like to try and find somebody from history who speaks to the way the character’s written. I started doing my research with that, and then I stumbled upon this golden nugget of a woman from history called Harriet Mellon who was the widow of the owner of Coutts Bank. She was the richest woman in England, probably the richest person in England at the time. Her story was a beautiful rags-to-riches story where she was the daughter of Irish immigrants.

She grew up in the theatre, her mother was a costumer, and she then was trained to dance and sing and started working in the theatre. She became an actress and attracted the attention of Mr. Coutts, who was a lot older than her and had all of the conflicts of becoming a stepmother. There were a lot of difficult things and it was a true love marriage, I think, because they had this intellectual connection with culture, with theatre and arts. As that got written into the script, it could not be even better. I could really feed on all of this stuff.

She was also a very benevolent person, she gave a lot to charity. She was also somebody incredibly witty and kind of irreverent and cheeky, and she loved to be a little bit provocative. I think that was so much fun to play with. I wanted to find the ways in which she is naughty, and who picks up on her humour and who picks up on her being naughty and I think that’s so fun. Once I found her, I could just put all of that into it and then I found little connections of my own life, how it feeds into me, so I get that real authentic physiological “poof” of feeling when I think about something in the backstory. She was an absolute blessing, so thank you Lady Harriet Mellon, I really appreciate it!

She then went on to marry somebody who was 17 years younger than her and became a lady as well. I think she actually married someone in the Royal family. I need to check my history, but I didn’t go that far because of the story, sometimes I don’t want to over confuse myself with it. Having the costume and hair and makeup do all of their incredible business, that’s insanely helpful too. Going into costume and John Glazer talking about the Madam X portrait, which then became a real kind of visual for me for her.

Her makeup just did this wonderful, almost sixties bouffant. She’s just a girl that had a hard time. She’s got the acceptance in society because she’s still doing it. I remember the first time I looked at myself in the mirror and went, “Who is she?” And I was like, Hmm, Bridgerton Bordeaux. There was that kind of feel of it. You can pull on all of those different references and create this multifaceted person just because you have such talented artists working on you. I live in the west of Ireland and have a farm, so most of the time I’m in wellies and overalls, and then I get to go to England and wear ball gowns. I love the juxtaposition and the transformation, and I think that it’s a beautiful thing to be part of such an amazing team.

I love that you found a real woman in history with a similar essence of this brand-new character! There were no preconceived notions of her and you really got to create her with the script that you were given, which I love. I did see you recently shared a timelapse of you transforming into Lady Tilley Arnold on your Instagram. Can you walk me through that process? How long were you in hair, makeup and wardrobe each day on set?

Well, I think throughout the series, obviously, like the first time you do it, it feels like it’s forever. But then the girls just really get to know your face, they could do it with their eyes closed, and it’s like.. it just happens. Every morning it’s an early call — if we’re starting on set at seven, depending on how far we have to travel, if we’re at the studios or not, it could be like a half past four call in the morning. You arrive there with big puffy eyes and you’re wondering where your coffee is. But they just work their magic and I also just love watching artisans at work, so I just sit there going, “Wow, look at this!”

They’re just also lovely and so sweet and it sets a day off on the right foot. I was probably in the chair for at least an hour and a half. Then dressing would probably be like 20 minutes. A lot of those dresses take a while to get in and out of, and it needs a team. The minute I had the full shebang on, it was so easy to embody her because the look and the feel of it all just felt so right.

This series is known for having extravagant, work of art wardrobe pieces. Did you have a favourite look from your character?

Yeah. I think there’s a dress in, I think it’s episode seven, I can’t remember properly, that is just Mugler-inspired Dior-esque. I remember when that came out, I thought it was something you’d wear to the Met Ball. It is insane and just so beautiful. It was full of crystals and the fact that you can just go there and make it sparkle and make it shine, and then it made my body just felt like it was out of this world. I work out, I surf and I like to feel strong. It is not something like I want to be skinny or whatever, but when you put a corset on… You feel like a strong, sexy woman. That dress, when you see it, it’ll make sense.

I’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.

There’s also a dress at the Queen’s Ball that has some beautiful jewelry as well. So yeah, watch out for that lot.

Were you able to keep any pieces or accessories from your character?

I would so love to, but I’m afraid not. No, everything goes back into storage because you never know if they need you to come back and do some other stuff. The amount of work that has gone into those, the people that work on them, deserve to keep them. That’s not to say that I haven’t got the details of the woman who made my dress. Her name’s Kate Simmons, she’s absolutely insanely talented, and she lives down the road from where my mum lives so I can ask, “Can you keep every single 12 of every single outfit because I might come to you and say, “I’m going to the Met Ball, will you make it for me?”

Exactly, manifest it!

That would be like a dream come true.

I love it when actors make playlists for their characters – did you have a playlist for Lady TIlley? 

Yeah, it’s something I love to do. I really do. I think there were a lot of songs that I would probably say made me, in my teen years, start to sort of discover my sexuality and discover who I am. Then some beautiful classical pieces that I just felt like got me into the period. I like very contemporary classical stuff, like Ludovico Einaudi and people like that. I feel cinematic. I quite often listen to that before stepping on set. Then we got to learn the Tilley and Benedict dance with a beautiful arrangement of “Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado, which was banging.

Oh wow, that is incredible!

So cool. When Luke and I heard it, we just thought, “This is phenomenal.” We just had it in our heads for days and that’s what was so beautiful about getting to know Luke through dance especially when you’re that close to somebody. He’s an amazing dancer, he’s an amazing musician, so I stepped on his toes a lot but he’s so gracious and lovely and we’d find ourselves hanging out on set just practicing dancing together. I think I want to do more dancing. That’s all I now know! I want to dance, dance, dance.

Although this series is a period piece, I love the way Bridgerton hasn’t shied away from powerful female characters. How does it feel to be a part of a show that embraces strong women on screen?

II feel so blessed because it’s written by strong women. It’s not a cliché of a strong woman. It’s a complex, fallible, woman with darkness that is also working through that darkness. I think that’s what I really, really love to play. I think I’ve been very lucky. I’ve always played strong women. I think that’s one of the things that has always really attracted me to the roles I did in Black Sails, she was kickass but also had a lot of other issues and other problems in her past that made her very complex and having to live in a man’s world and prescribed to masculine modes of business and masculine modes of interaction and communication.

I think that what’s so refreshing about Tilley is that she doesn’t have to fit into any of those masculine modes of being and she doesn’t have to be the shrinking violet. You see her in her scene where she’s talking to her solicitor at the top of the stairs and she’s just like, “No, you are my solicitor. You’ll do the job I’m asking you to do and you’ll do it for the price I’m telling you you’re going to do it for. You’re not going to overcharge me because I’m a woman.” I think that a woman standing her ground like that is so wonderful to play, and I always think, “Oh, I need a bit more of that.”

I’ve really enjoyed playing it from that kind of female paradigm because Shondaland is that. Shondaland is a woman-led creative company that puts forward these complex, but really authentic women and don’t make them fit into this mould and don’t make them have to pretend to be anything other than themselves. I think that that’s a wonderful lesson for all of us.

She doesn’t have to abide by the male gaze — I think she controls the male gaze. I think that’s what I love about it. If you look at the way it’s framed, you see so much of how she looks at Benedict. Benedict doesn’t objectify her. She sees the gaze, but she then throws it straight back at him. The way that is done by just the framing and the lighting is so wonderful. The time given to it and the time given to his reactions that you don’t always get in other shows — it’s quite often like, “Oh, here comes the sexy lady” — and it’s completely objectifying all the angles. That doesn’t happen in this show. You don’t need to because the costume already makes the character look incredibly sexy and wonderful. You need to see the eyes and face, you need to see how they’re staring into each other’s souls. I think that’s what’s so beautiful about all of the relationships. Definitely the case with Penelope and Colin this season, you see them looking straight past all the glitter and feathers into each other. I think that’s the most beautiful thing to watch, and that’s when you start to go, “Oh, I want that kind of love.”

When you shared the first image of your character on Instagram, you mentioned in the caption that ‘she taught you a thing or two’ – what did you learn from her throughout the process of bringing her to life?

I think she taught me that when there are difficult things that come up in relationships, to take a moment, to take a step back and look inside yourself. Don’t look at the other person. Don’t look at what you think they’re doing to you. I think there’s a moment where she has to be honest with herself and authentic with herself, and I think that that is a refreshing thing to watch and a really refreshing thing to play. It’s that feeling of, “Hold on a minute.” I think maybe part of the past moments I might have just been, defensive or come straight back at something that I felt was egregious. But actually, in those moments, it’s really good you just look or try and make a relationship be something that’s not or settle for something in a relationship that doesn’t quite meet your needs.

Looking inwardly, I think that’s what Tilley does really beautifully. She kind of looks inwardly, she looks at the deepest part of herself, and she communicates her truth with honesty and compassion and directness in a way that’s sometimes hard to hear, but it’s not cruel. It has real integrity. I think that that’s what she taught me. It’s to take that pause, listen to yourself, find the truth of what you need, and see whether that person can meet you at that point. And ask the other person, tell me honestly, what is your need? Let’s see if we can make this work, but let’s not pretend that we’re trying to make something work when it’s not. I think, for me, that was the real takeaway. I think it’s a really mature way to love and that it takes a long time sometimes to learn these lessons.

We’ve covered what you learned from her, but what do you hope fans take away from Lady Tilley Arnold this season?

I hope that fans see that we should step into the moment that is our moment and shine. I think that’s the thing — don’t shy away from your shine. That’s what’s really lovely and I think some of us sometimes can be a bit bashful. Find what you know is beautiful about yourself and step into it and own it. I think that that’s what I hope people take away from Tilley is that she steps into her sparkle and owns it in a way that’s really authentic and beautiful. I hope that other people can take a little bit of that and go forwards and shine too.

That is so beautiful, thank you so much for sharing that with me! 

Thank you so much, Rachel. I  really appreciate it. It’s so nice to be able to talk about her, finally.

Bridgerton Season 3 will be split into two 4-episode parts, with Part 1 premiering on May 16, 2024, followed by Part 2 on June 13, 2024.

Interview Rachel Martin
Photography Evan Brown

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