Who What Wear

Bridgerton's Hannah Dodd Is Quietly Confident and Knows What She Wants

June 13, 2024   |   Written by Maxine Eggenberger

A person only needs to spend a few minutes with Hannah Dodd to know that she takes her work and craft very seriously. In my 13 years as a journalist, I have met and profiled many celebrities and creatives, and in many instances, the talent is on time and ready to get going. It’s either that, or they’re running seriously late. However, I can say with absolute certainty that no one I’ve interviewed has ever been early—no one except for Hannah Dodd.

We meet, as often happens these days, via Zoom, with our call scheduled for 10 a.m. As part of my pre-interview ritual, I log on 15 minutes early to ensure the link works and my background looks professional, read my questions aloud and prime my recorder. It’s 9:49 a.m. when Dodd dials into the call. “Oh, hello,” she beams. “I didn’t think anyone would be on here yet—it’s great to meet you! I’m Hannah.” We exchange pleasantries until everyone else who needs to be on the call dials in (on time, I might add). In those extra few minutes together, I already get the impression that Dodd is grateful to be here—by which I don’t mean on a video call with me, though she does seem genuinely delighted with this, too. I mean here, at this moment in her life and career. She’ll later tell me she feels “lucky” and that “the stars aligned” to help her reach this place. Me? I have a sneaking suspicion that luck has nothing to do with it.

She’s dialling in from her home in London, the exposed red brickwork in the background going some way to confirm this. Behind her is a kitchen and a table upon which a Netflix gift bag and a bottle of Glossier’s You perfume sits. Dodd looks radiant—skin dewy, cheeks flushed and hair loose and naturally tousled. She wears a black T-shirt with a small scribe of white letters written across the chest, which I can’t quite make out. On the surface, she might seem like a very typical, freshly-turned 29-year-old—fun, bubbly, bright—but, let’s face it, she’s not your average 20-something. Dodd has become one of the most recognisable faces of 2024 since joining the cast of Netflix’s record-smashing regency series Bridgerton. Our meeting comes a few weeks before the third season debuts to a global audience, and you’ll probably be reading this on the day of (or very near to) the premiere of the season’s final four episodes. Now, weeks later, it’s interesting to reflect on our conversation. In doing so, I get the feeling that the reality of what was about to unfold for her hadn’t quite sunk in. Whilst it’s always tempting to skip to the end and read a final chapter, I find the most fulfilling stories unfurl when you’re invested from the beginning. That’s where I guide our conversation.

Dodd grew up on the outskirts of London, between Essex and Surrey. “It’s funny; if I speak to someone from Essex, they always say I’m ‘more Surrey.’ Then when I’m in Surrey, I get told I’m ‘so Essex.’” However, with London on her doorstep, it’s clear Dodd saw the opportunities being so close to a city full of culture could afford her. “I really had a great childhood,” she says. “Living so close to London, it was liberating being able to get the train there on weekends. It opened my eyes to more possibilities.” Perhaps it was this, being so close to theatres and galleries, that helped carve Dodd’s passion for the arts, though her family would probably argue it was something she was born with.

When I ask about her family and whether they supported her aspirations and dreams, Dodd speaks with a fondness that tells me their bonds were and remain close. She’s reflective for a moment before she answers. “I was just really, very lucky. I still am.” She says her parents love to tell the story of how she started dancing early—so early they knew there had to be something in it. “I was two, apparently. Two, when dancing really started to interest me. My big sister is a couple of years older than me, and my parents were taking her to and from dancing classes. Being the younger sister, I wasn’t happy that she was allowed to do something I wasn’t,” she laughs. “Then, one day, when we were waiting for her class to finish, I took my chance—I ran and joined in. The teacher, of course, just let me, but I was drawn to it very early on. From day one, says my mum.” Dodd, however, wants to make one thing clear: “She wasn’t a ‘dance mom’ though,” she reassures. “[My parents] weren’t pushy in any way. As I got older, they were very supportive, but this was my thing. I had to be responsible for showing up and making it happen.”

This nurturement continued in Dodd’s formative years of education. “I went to a very, very normal school, not one especially geared towards the arts, but I was fortunate to have incredible performing arts teachers. They were all passionate teachers; many had just graduated from dance or drama school themselves. They understood where I wanted to go and where my passions lay, so I felt quite connected to that industry, even when I was younger. I don’t think I’d be here if the timing hadn’t worked out. If the stars hadn’t aligned and they weren’t at the school whilst I was there as a student.”

I imagine “determined” is a word those closest to Dodd would use to describe her. At 15, she began modelling, not because she wanted to be the next Kate Moss, but as a way to fund her dancing career. “I knew I wanted to be a dancer—that’s what I always wanted to be—and that I’d need money to do it. I was introduced to the idea of modelling and thought it could be the solution. I was 15 when I started getting the train to London and doing castings. That opened the world of opportunities I had a little bit more. Yet, even then, I never thought about becoming an actor, and modelling was a means to becoming a dancer. That’s all I wanted to do. If I wasn’t working or at school, I was training. I thought my destiny was The West End. That was very much my pathway.”

Dodd may have been ambivalent about modelling, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t good at it. Along with a healthy string of shoots for brands including Topshop and Boden, she was also cast in one of Burberry’s iconic Christopher Bailey-led campaigns. When she tells me which one, I can picture it immediately. A classic beauty wearing a beige tulle gown whilst snow falls around her. That was her, that was Dodd.

Undeterred by high-profile bookings, she remained steadfast in forging a career as a dancer. That was until 2018 when she was cast in the Hulu series Find Me in Paris. “I realised then that I could be just as passionate about something else as I was dancing,” she reflects. From there, she secured a role in the British period drama Harlots. She then became part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the blockbuster movie Eternals before appearing as a young version of Sienna Miller’s character in the miniseries Anatomy of a Scandal. In 2022, Dodd starred alongside Millie Bobby Brown in Enola Holmes 2, where she stepped into the shoes of Sarah Chapman, a role inspired by one of the real-life leaders of the 1888 match girls’ strike. The announcement that she’d be joining the cast of Bridgerton as Francesca, the character previously portrayed by Ruby Stokes, came soon after. Stokes had been offered a starring role in Lockwood & Co., another Netflix series, and she had to step down as the sixth Bridgerton sibling due to scheduling conflicts. “Ruby and I will always share Francesca,” says Dodd. Still, this was a full-circle moment for Dodd, who confided that she had auditioned for the first season.

“I did! And I really wanted [the part],” she says, though she doesn’t reveal which she auditioned for. “I’m so grateful to Kelly [Valentine Hendry], Bridgerton‘s casting director; she’s great at remembering actors and coming back to them for things. So, in a way, I was in the process right at the very beginning. This time around, my agent got in touch to say I had been asked to film an audition tape, but I had no idea what it was for. There was a big level of secrecy and zero context. It had been a long day; I had just finished up work at my part-time job, and I was so tired, the microphone wasn’t working properly when I was doing the tape, and I had to quickly redo it. That’s what got sent off. That is never a great feeling when you’re auditioning, especially when you’re someone who usually likes to be organised.

“I didn’t hear anything for three months, which usually means you didn’t get the job. But then I got a call saying the Shondaland team [Bridgerton’s production company] wanted to meet with me—from there, I found out it was Bridgerton and Francesca. I was stressed because I had no time to read the books or watch any of the episodes again. And I like to prep! In a way, it was good, as I just had to respond to what they were asking me to do in real time. It was hard as they couldn’t tell me the context of the lines they were asking me to read. A few days later, I got the call saying I got the part, so I must have done something right,” she laughs. You could say “Good things come to those who wait,” but I think “Good things come to those who work hard for it” is more appropriate. In the time it took the Bridgerton team to cast Dodd, she’d created quite an impressive CV for herself, which will only further serve her prospects in a competitive industry.

Those who have watched the first two seasons of Bridgerton will know that, although present for many scenes, Francesca Bridgerton doesn’t initially play a central role. So, although she was taking over the role from a fellow actor, Francesca was still, in essence, a blank page upon which Dodd could write her interpretation. But first, she had to read the books. “The first thing I did after finding out I’d got the part was order the book,” she says. “I just had to know everything I could about her. To me, Francesca is interesting because she’s not mentioned frequently in the books [that] she isn’t the main focus [of]. And then you get hers, and you realise what has been going on in her life; this is who she is as a person and what she stands for. And it’s the same with the show. My only goal was to do her justice.”

I wonder if joining a cast who, for the most part, had already been filming together for years was daunting for Dodd, to which she admits, “I was so scared. The imposter syndrome was so intense—the most intense thing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.” Though, as it turns out, she shouldn’t have been scared. “I soon realised that the Bridgertons are just as much of a family off-screen as they are on. It’s the most welcoming group of people. And they’re all so grounded and down to earth that it almost doesn’t feel like you’re shooting a huge Netflix show. It feels like you’re going to work with your mates! The best thing about working on the show is that everybody wants to do their best, whether it’s the costume designers, set designers, choreographers, actors—anyone. Everybody is bringing their best, which is such an amazing environment to be part of.”

One thing you should know about Francesca is that she plays the piano. And one thing you should know about Hannah Dodd is that she didn’t play the piano before 2022. “I had never played the piano, but I really wanted to make sure my portrayal of Francesca looked authentic. So, a week after I got the job, I started piano lessons. You know what, though? Learning to play the piano is quite a long process! We didn’t have [a long time], so I had to focus on learning the pieces I knew I would be playing without fully understanding the proper complexities of how to play them. It was more like finger choreography—I feel like there’s been some very nice editing on those scenes,” she laughs. Dodd is doing herself a disservice here, such is her commitment to seeing things through in their entirety. “It was really fun to learn a new skill. Very frustrating, I admit. Learning something new is very humbling as an adult, but one of my favourite things about being an actor is getting to push myself and try new things.”

This wasn’t the only research Dodd embarked on for her Francesca metamorphosis. “I started researching different known introverts to see if there were little things I could pick up there.” In a world where gossip reigns and drama blooms, Francesca Bridgerton is a welcome tonic. Stoic and very composed, she enters her season knowing what she wants—a smart match, not necessarily one of love. Like Francesca, Dodd is a thinker and observer whose actions speak louder than her words. “I immediately saw parallels between Francesca and myself,” says Dodd. “Where she is entering a new world, I was also entering a new world. In a way, I could use how I felt to inform how she was, too. She’s observing what’s going on just as I was observing what was going on.

“She has a very practical mindset, which is something we [the Bridgerton team] talked about from the very start; she’s not fighting this element of her life—it’s not a shock to her. She’s an introvert who doesn’t want to be the centre of attention, so the quicker she does what she needs to do, [the quicker] she can be out of the spotlight. What’s really lovely is I think there’ll be a lot of people who relate to her in a way they maybe don’t to the other siblings. Doing all of this—press interviews, photoshoots, talking about her, all of this—has made me realise we’re more alike than I initially [thought]. But I think I am quite introverted. For her, the small things make her happy, like playing the piano. I like to think I share that with her—I love reading a good book and value time alone to recharge.”

Another thing I can see reflected in Francesca’s character and Dodd’s real life? Conviction. I ask what drew her most to Francesca and what she might like to adopt from her, too. “As much as she’s shy and very nervous about being in that environment, what I think is quite special about her is that she’s not really interested in being the centre of attention. She’s not looking for the validation of other people. She does have a slight people-pleasing nature about her, but she also can listen to herself and ultimately go after what she wants. Not needing to be validated by the masses is something very special about her.”

We talk about the Bridgerton episodes I’ve seen—ahead of our meeting, I was given early access to six of the eight total episodes, and in the last, Francesca becomes frustrated with her mother, Violet Bridgerton, played by Ruth Gemmell. As a viewer, I felt this gave Francesca a more rounded arc, and I wanted to get Dodd’s take on this, too. “When you’re a shy personality, people can sometimes think that means you don’t know what you want and don’t know what you’re talking about. But that’s not the case … That hurts a little bit.”

Giving a voice to women questioning societal norms is a recurring theme woven throughout Dodd’s showreel. In Anatomy of a Scandal, she plays a young Sophie Whitehouse, whose husband has been accused of raping a woman who, up until that point, has kept the crime a secret for decades. In Enola Holmes 2, the story is based on the 1888 match girls’ strike and the life of labour activist Sarah Chapman, whom Dodd plays and who had been repeatedly silenced in her various attempts to expose the industry’s poor working conditions. Clearly, something draws Dodd to these sorts of stories and roles.

“I love playing strong female characters,” she says without hesitation. “When you hear the words ‘strong female characters,’ maybe Francesca doesn’t come to mind, but if you know her story, she really is a pillar of strength—her story is one I’d be proud to hopefully get to tell [in its entirety] one day. I mean, I’m not at a point in my career where I can say, ‘This is all I want to do’ or ‘This is all I want to audition for,’ but I do love these sorts of stories. And I love research. Enola was so great to learn about those real women—the fact that we don’t get taught that story at school is wild to me! It’s a whole history that we’ve never been taught. So, to get to represent such an incredible woman was such a blessing.”

As we near the end of our conversation, I ask Dodd how she’s feeling about our Summer Issue’s fashion cover shoot the following day. Given that she’s already modelled for Burberry, I’m sure it falls well within her comfort zone. “I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable going into it, but I enjoy it. Working with stylists and seeing their eye for pulling together looks is really inspiring, as is learning about different brands and how they’re developing and changing for the season. There’s something about playing different characters on a shoot that I like; getting dressed up and seeing yourself differently, understanding the vibe of the shoot and the kind of story you want to tell.”

In terms of the brands or pieces we might find inside Dodd’s wardrobe, it reads very much like a typical Who What Wear UK fashion feature. “It’s a range—I like to mix more affordable options with some special pieces. I’ve been sent a few pieces recently, which is lovely, so I’ll be experimenting with those. But really, my style is quite classic. I’m always drawn to more timeless pieces as I’m conscious of overbuying—we don’t need to do that. I’ve got a lot [of pieces] in my wardrobe from 10 years ago that I still love to wear. That’s the key, I think.”

I often treat myself to something I’ve had my eye on to celebrate a milestone or a significant achievement, so I always ask anyone I interview if they’ve done the same thing. “I don’t think I bought anything when I booked Bridgerton, but after I did Anatomy of a Scandal, to celebrate, I bought myself an old, beat-up Chanel handbag—it was secondhand from the ’90s and had cigarette burns on it. I’d always wanted a vintage designer bag, and when I saw it, it was massively discounted because it was in such a state, but I loved it. I got it restored. That’s probably the biggest purchase I’ve ever made.”

Taking a moment to celebrate your accomplishments is important, especially when you’re as dedicated to your work as Dodd. After all, you need to look up to truly appreciate what’s around you. Before we part, I ask her, if she could tell young Hannah anything she knows now, what would that be? She pauses. “What would I tell a young Hannah now?” she repeats. “You know, I don’t think she’d believe any of this. I barely believe any of this. That’s a really nice feeling, actually. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself—I still do, to be honest—but I would probably just say it’s okay. You’ve got to go on the journey. It might not look the way you thought it was going to look, but you’ve got to go through it. It all works out better than you ever imagined.”

The complete third season of Bridgerton is now available to stream on Netflix.