However, it seems that there has been desperate angst behind the exit of Regé-Jean Page, the Duke of Hastings in Bridgerton, the biggest star of Netflix‘s biggest show.
Tales are circulating of jaw-dropping offers of money — with one source claiming he could have been offered up to $500,000 (£363,775) to appear in the next series, but turned it down flat.
Some suggest that reluctant heart-throb Page, 31, was privately desperately embarrassed by the adulation and attention which came with his role as the ‘Duke of Bonkerton’.
He politely told an interviewer that he found the chatter about being a sex symbol ‘slightly overwhelming’ and was plainly ill-at-ease with the media focus on his ‘chemistry’ with co-star Phoebe Dynevor — who is not his girlfriend in real life.
Page’s sensitivities aside, tempers at Netflix are raging.
Seeing double-07: Watch out, Regé-Jean Page already has the suave style of Daniel Craig’s James Bond
Rumours that Page is next in line to play the movie industry’s most iconic secret agent, James Bond (pictued, Daniel Craig), are already gathering pace
One source told me this week: ‘Everyone at Netflix is VERY jumpy about what has happened. They’re being hugely defensive as they messed up not optioning him for a second series.
‘They didn’t think it was going to be a hit. He’s now got the legal get-out to capitalise on his fame with movie deals while everyone else is signed up for five seasons.’
So while Bridgerton series two has already gone into production — the cast had their first table read of scripts on March 29 before it was even announced that Regé-Jean Page had left — the undisputed star of the show is a free agent.
And rumours that he is next in line to play the movie industry’s most iconic secret agent, James Bond, are already gathering pace.
Indeed, Page as Bond is now so widely anticipated that bookies have shortened his odds from 5-1 to odds-on 7-2. Other contenders such as Tom Hardy and James Norton trail way behind.
And in what could be viewed as the perfect project to showcase his spy credentials, Page has actually already started filming his next project, a big-budget spy thriller.
He’s been on set of The Gray Man for around a month in LA, and the production of that series now moves to Prague.
In the show, which will incidentally be the biggest budget production yet for Netflix, Ryan Gosling is a fugitive CIA agent and Chris Evans is an old colleague chasing him down.
Page is not — yet — quite in the league of those two A-listers and has a lesser role, but this project will leave him perfectly placed to consider a deal to be the next James Bond.
Page has twice attempted to bat away speculation about him slipping into Daniel Craig’s tuxedo.
He told Graham Norton in December: ‘Bridgerton is the only ‘B’ word I am allowed to say — I am not going to talk about the other ‘B’ words!’
He was marginally less evasive when asked that same month by U.S. chat-show host Jimmy Fallon, saying: ‘If you’re a Brit and you do something of any regard . . . people are going to start saying the ‘B’ word.
xPage is not — yet — quite in the league of those two A-listers and has a lesser role, but this project will leave him perfectly placed to consider a deal to be the next James Bond
Daniel Craig as James Bond in the 2006 film Casino Royale
‘I’m very, very glad to have the badge. I’m glad to be in such a wonderful company of people who have the badge. But it’s a badge.’
So how did Netflix let the dashing Duke fall through their fingers? And does Regé-Jean Page really have his sights set on making history as the first mixed-race Bond?
The story begins when executives at TV producers Shondaland were seeking a Duke to be the focus of the first season of Bridgerton.
The show is based on the romance novels of Julia Quinn and has been a massive hit, seen by at least 82 million households worldwide since it launched on Christmas Day 2020.
Page was a natural choice for producers as he was already part of the Shondaland ‘family’ having starred in a legal drama, For The People, which went out in 2018 and 2019.
At that point Page was well known in America as he had played Chicken George in a TV adaptation of the Roots novel.
Born in Zimbabwe and raised from his teens in the UK, he then moved part time to LA in the wake of the success of Roots, and took on serious Hollywood representation.
His career is currently guided by the Mosaic Media Group, a talent management firm that represents Jim Carrey and Sacha Baron Cohen. He is also on the books of Hollywood mega-agents CAA, plus he retains entertainment lawyers Ziffren Brittenham in Los Angeles.
In the UK, he is represented by The Artists Partnership and by the hard-hitting law firm Schillings, whose job it is to dissuade anyone from focusing on Page’s private life. That’s an impressive team.
In a short interview with the industry bible Variety last week, given to explain his departure, Page said that the Bridgerton role had been sold to him as a one-off, with producers saying: ‘Give us a year.’
He said they told him: ‘It’s a one-season arc. It’s going to have a beginning, middle, end. [I thought] ‘That’s interesting,’ because then it felt like a limited series. I get to come in, I get to contribute my bit and then the Bridgerton family rolls on.’
However, it seems that there has been desperate angst behind the exit of Regé-Jean Page, the Duke of Hastings in Bridgerton, the biggest star of Netflix’s biggest show
Daniel Craig and Eva Green in the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale
However, it is curious that in interviews around the release of the show in December, Page himself seemed to indicate that he would be sticking around.
He told TV Guide: ‘I know that . . . the deal is that you get a happy ending. But as far as continuing to explore characters . . . They get married very young. They still have a lot of growing to do. They have a lot to do, and I think it’ll always be fun to watch them do that together.’
Darrell Miller, an attorney at Fox Rothschild who negotiates contracts on behalf of talent, producers and directors, comments: ‘It is a cardinal rule to have options on the lead actors in a series.
‘This situation is extremely unique and it could blow up the show and turn off many female viewers who loyally watched season one because of Regé-Jean Page.’
Nick Soltman, a showbiz lawyer at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump concurs that a typical deal would give ‘basically infinite options for the studio to exercise after each season, and they can lock in talent for as long as they want essentially’.
Except that in this case, they didn’t.
I am told by impeccably placed sources at Netflix that the deal signed by Page did not give Netflix any options to extend his contract beyond series one.
The source said: ‘He’s completed his professional obligations towards Bridgerton. He was only ever contracted for one season. We are grateful for his work and wish him well.’
The source confirmed that Phoebe Dynevor, who plays his wife Daphne, will be back but that Page won’t even return for a cameo. ‘We would love for him to come back but we support him moving on,’ he said.
As for the efforts made, following the release of the series, to get him to agree to return in some way, the source said: ‘There were conversations to see if there was a chance.’
The Hollywood Reporter magazine believes that he was offered up to $50,000 (£36,365) per episode if he came back for between three and five episodes of season two.
Others say that he was offered ‘the moon on a plate’ and told he could name his price, and that ‘it could have been double that’.
However, by the time those negotiations started in late January, Page’s team were already on the point of signing various deals for him to appear in films.
These most significantly include a mega-budgeted telling of Dungeons & Dragons, the cult board game.
He has already filmed Sylvie’s Love, in which he plays a jazz musician, that’s now streaming on Amazon Prime.
The ultimate aim is to have a big film career, and it’s indicated that this is why he turned down the chance to go back to play Simon Basset in Bridgerton.
Indeed there are signs that Page, who says he lives in a ‘post-modern Buddhist bubble’, was somewhat irritated by the female attention.
He batted away talk about his chemistry with Phoebe Dynevor, saying that was all down to the script.
‘I think everything you need to know is on camera. That’s why we presented it so beautifully for you. All the sparks that flew off of the beautiful scripts that we were handed, and so I think that the sparky scripted material are more than enough,’ he said.
He was annoyed when it emerged that he is dating Emily Brown, 30, a writer and part-time footballer. The pair live in an £800,000 house in North London.
The son of a Zimbabwean nurse and an English preacher, he spent his childhood in Harare, and his teen years in North London.
After a stint as the frontman of a punk band, he trained at the Drama Centre London, whose alumni include Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Tom Hardy. His former teacher Annie Tyson describes him as ‘elegant, charming and ferociously intelligent.’
He is an accomplished singer, he writes and performs music with his brother, Tose Page. Actor Malachi Kirby, who starred with him in Roots, said: ‘He can sing, he can dance, he can act, he can do it all. He writes. He’s just an artist.’
Last year Page devised a filmed dance and music piece performed at Battersea Arts Centre and inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests.
He said: ‘I felt this urgency to reconnect with the creatives I knew in London and to contribute to my community at a time when we were all apart. We just made this piece almost as art for art’s sake, but also to try to help our community, since I am always asking myself how I can make my skills useful to other people. If you get creative enough, you can figure out how.’
It’s clear that, like Daniel Craig, he is a deep thinker in a burly package.
Of Bridgerton, he observed: ‘We’re seeing this Regency romance through a feminist lens, examining what masculinity means for a broken anti-hero like my character and how he can then allow himself to change and be loved.’
Would it be mean to say that not all of Bridgerton’s fans were fully alive to the intended subversion?
But, naturally earnest, he takes acting very seriously and regards it as a way of exploring the human condition.
He said: ‘It’s this really freeing profession. It’s a great way to spend your time as a human: learning about other humans and then sharing that knowledge.’
Those who ask him about favourite films, actors, clothes or hobbies are met with a pointed refusal to answer. As his actor friend Kirby observes, he doesn’t do small talk.