James Phoon: 'Bridgerton' actor on how representation matters

  • by Gary L. Day
  • Tuesday June 25, 2024
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James Phoon (photo: Instagram)
James Phoon (photo: Instagram)

In 2022, a young gay actor living in London got some very good news. He learned that he had been cast in one of the most popular shows currently on television.

When James Phoon was told he would be joining the cast of "Bridgerton" for its third season, he could not have been more delighted.

"I love that show so much," he enthused in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "It's so well-written and well-produced. It's a joy to be a part of."

Phoon plays Harry Dankworth, a sweet Regency-era English gentleman who marries into the Featherington family via his wife Prudence (Bessie Carter). The popular Netflix costume drama recently wrapped up its third season, and Phoon is using his off-time to go back to the theatre, opening in a new play called "Underdog: The Other Other Brontë," which had a successful run in London and has just moved north for a limited run in Newcastle.

Bessie Carter and James Phoon in 'Bridgerton' (photo: Netflix)  

Since joining the "Bridgerton" cast, Phoon has been understandably subjected to a significantly elevated level of attention, no doubt partly because he's openly gay. When asked how he feels about the increased press attention being given to him, often called "the next hot thing," Phoon laughed, and then emphasizes that the spotlight provides a way to promote LGBTQ issues close to his heart.

"There is so much work to do," he said, referring to today's perilous political climate for LGBTQ people. "Things can regress so quickly. I welcome any platform that can be used to prevent that."

James Phoon (photo: YellowBelly Photo)  

Fortunately out
Phoon was born in Brighton, of Chinese and English descent. He's been a Londoner since his graduation from the Guildford School of Acting with a B.A. in acting. Phoon has been out his entire professional life.

"I came out when I was about 13 or 14," he said. "It's always been an important part of who I am."

Phoon is fortunate in that being uncloseted from the beginning hasn't negatively impacted his career trajectory.

"At least not directly, as far as I can tell," he surmised "I know a lot of actors are urged not to be openly gay, but I haven't experienced any such pressure."

"Bridgerton," while always popular with the LGBTQ audience, gained additional buzz when the show runner teased early on that the show would directly address same-sex relationships for Benedict Bridgerton. While the main series had not delved into same-sex love before now, a prequel spinoff series focusing on Queen Charlotte did include a subplot in which the Queen's personal attendant was in a gay romance with the attendant of King George III.

Phoon was excited when he learned that "Bridgerton" would feature a gay storyline, even though it wouldn't involve his character Harry Dankworh.

"I completely understand; it would have been out of character for Harry." He also doesn't believe that it should always be important that gay actors be cast in gay roles. "That's why it's called acting. You're playing something other than yourself."

James Phoon (left) and fellow cast members in 'Bridgerton' (photo: Netflix)  

Nonetheless, as an out gay actor with British and East-Asian heritage, Phoon understands the importance of representation.

"Just because we haven't heard about them before, and because the story and the spotlight hasn't been on them, it doesn't mean they didn't exist," he said. "It just means we didn't know about them, and I think it's really important to show that."

When the "Bridgerton" gig wraps up, Phoon would love to find more work in the fantasy genre; one of his early stage roles was Craig Bowker Jr. in "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child."

"I love all the fantasy-ish superhero magic stuff," he said. "I know that's not a cool thing to say, but I love them. The X-Men films, "Harry Potter," the "Twilight" movies, all of those fantasy world escapism-type things I loved."

So, if Marvel's Kevin Feige or DC's James Gunn called him up, he would definitely take the call.


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