“What Hogwarts house would you be in?” It is a common question in conversations between two millennials, but not as common in an interview with an actor. Unless, as is the case with Sam Clemmett, the actor has donned the true Sorting Hat. The 29-year-old played Harry Potter’s son in the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which swept London’s West End in 2016 and jumped to Broadway two years later. Now, the actor appears in Queen Charlotte, the recently released spin-off of the Netflix phenomenon Bridgerton.
The prequel retells Charlotte’s arrival from Germany to British court for an arranged marriage to the heir to the throne, who has no interest in becoming a king or a husband. Clemmett plays the young queen’s only ally, her personal secretary, Brimsley. In Bridgerton, the role is played by veteran Hugh Sachs. “We dived into the backstory that he’d created to help himself with his performance. And then the director said to me, you’ve also got a blank canvas. You don’t have to completely mimic whatever he’s doing. So my way in was to start with the physicality. Someone like that has to be focused every single day to serve the queen. He has to suppress his own thoughts and keep it all very internal. It was a bit of a balancing act,” Clemmett explains.
In the series, Brimsley acts as a stand-in for the spectator. His facial expressions subtly emphasize the emotions of each scene. In the bedroom, it’s another story; Brimsley has a secret relationship with Reynolds, the king’s secretary. Between trysts, they forge a plan to manipulate the newlyweds so that the marriage will work out and the British crown will prosper. The first sex scene between Clemmett and actor Freddie Dennis involved a choreographic challenge: as they undress, kissing and caressing, they try to get information out of each other, because what they most crave is conspiracy.
The intimacy coordinators were essential for both actors to feel comfortable. “They created a very safe and comfortable environment to be able to do our jobs properly. You need to be relaxed when performing because the camera can tell when you’re not,” he says. Before filming the scene, the coordinators spoke with Clemmett and Dennis both separately and together to establish what they were and weren’t willing to do. The final results reveal those limits: there are kisses (without tongue), touching, nudes from the waist-up and a fleeting shot of Clemmett’s backside that almost seems accidental. But it wasn’t. “We had that conversation before,” he says.
A nude scene requires much more rehearsal than one with clothing. The sensuality should flow, the conversation moves at the pace of the body and the supposedly impulsive movements should be precisely coordinated. “As sexy as they seem, those scenes can be really awkward,” he says. “You’re trying to think about the dialogue, you’re doing it in this weird environment with lots of people watching you, you’ve also got to try to stage it and make it believable.”
The intimacy coordinators were present at all times in case the actors changed their mind or decided they preferred not to do something they had originally agreed to. “The intimacy coordinator always comes up after a take and asks, how do you feel about that? Is there anything you need to discuss? Do you need a breath mint? Little things like that put you at ease. Everything is so thorough and thought out, which then makes the job so much easier.”
Queen Charlotte is a big professional opportunity for Sam Clemmett. With this series, Netflix turns one of its most popular series into a franchise. The two seasons of Bridgerton are the fourth and fifth most-viewed content on the platform, only behind the fourth season of Stranger Things, the miniseries Dahmer and the first season of Wednesday, all from 2022. Millions of people in almost 200 countries will be discovering Clemmett this May. And he is aware that it could change his life.
In 2018, an article in The Guardian pointed out that the British film industry tends to favor actors who come from wealthy families, like Eddie Redmayne and Tom Hiddleston, who both studied at the elite private school Eton. Clemmett is aware of that inequality: artistic vocations require a level of economic support that his family did not have. His mother was a dancer as a young woman, but she had to work as a secretary when she got married. His father is a sales director. His brother works in a pub in Norfolk. “My granddad owned a fish and chip van, and he’d catch his own fish and sell it. I grew up in Norfolk. It’s three hours outside of London, in the countryside, but it’s a much smaller community. It was a beautiful place to grow up, and I still have a huge circle of friends there. My parents still live up in Norfolk, so I go back regularly to see them. And the dog, mainly the dog.” When he was 16, he realized that he would have to move to London to get any further in his career. “My mum said, if you go ahead with this and you are lucky enough to get a part, we’ll find a way to make it work. And kudos to them because they’ve sacrificed a lot to be able to make my dream come true.”
At age 22, he fulfilled his first dream: he got the role of Albus, Harry Potter’s son, in the play that continued the dynasty’s adventures. “Walking into a franchise like that is terrifying. But kudos to the director, John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett. They kept all of the press and the fanfare outside of our huge rehearsal space. That took the pressure off. It just felt like creating another play,” he recalls. But it wasn’t. The fans’ expectations were enormous, and the magic tricks required preparation, coordination and logistics never before seen on the West End. “I remember standing there before my first entrance, and I said to Jamie Parker, who played Harry, ‘I think we’ve got something good, but we will find out in the next 10 seconds.’ We walked out and we got to the first scene, and then the first illusion happened in the show and we were standing on platform 9 3/4. We sort of felt the audience relax. I can’t explain it, but there was just an energy.”
Those two years were the most intense moments of his life. He had magic classes: “Not only are you trying to make sure the illusion works, if it doesn’t work, you’ve got to have a contingency plan,” he explains. They performed eight two-and-a-half hour functions each week, with double functions three days a week. The director put them on a strict workout schedule to keep up with the production’s physical demands: they stretched every morning and did yoga each Wednesday, cardio on Thursday and strength exercises on Friday.
On the first day of rehearsals, all the participants in the show passed the Sorting Hat test that indicated what house they belonged to. “Every part of me was like, I want to be a Gryffindor and save the world, but deep down I was like, I think I’m going to be a Hufflepuff. And I’m very happy being a Hufflepuff.”
After the play ended, Clemmett faced a professional drought. Months went by, and no audition gave results. Then the pandemic hit. “When you finish a job, regardless of how successful you are, you think, I’m not ever going to work again,” he says. “During the pandemic no one was working. Afterwards it was ten times harder to not just book a job, but to get a callback, to be on a Zoom with a director or in the room with the director.”
Now, Clemmett lives with his partner in southeast London. When he has a free day, he likes to escape to Norfolk to go fishing. “It’s something I don’t get to do quite as often now. But I love to do it when I’ve got a lot of downtime,” he says. “I’m a big football fan. I support Norwich City. So if there’s a game of football on, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m watching football.”
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition