Martins Imhangbe: The journey of Bridgerton’s breakout star from theatre to stardom

On a crisp December afternoon in 2020, amidst the merriment of Christmas celebrations, a young British-Nigerian actor named Martins Imhangbe found himself experiencing a different kind of anticipation. He had recently completed filming for a pilot on Netflix, a period drama shrouded in secrecy. As the premiere loomed, a knot of nervous excitement tightened in his gut. Little did he know, the release of that pilot wouldn’t just mark the debut of a new show; it would mark the meteoric rise of a star.

Martins Imhangbe as Will Mondrich on Netflix's Bridgerton

Bridgerton, the record-breaking Netflix sensation, would become more than just Imhangbe’s breakout role; it would be the catalyst for a whirlwind journey that propelled him from the intimate world of theatre to the dazzling spotlight of television. But Imhangbe’s story transcends the opulent ballrooms of Regency London.

From his formative years on the stage to his unwavering dedication to boxing and philanthropy, we delve into the life of this captivating actor as Bridgerton returns for its eagerly awaited third season. Prepare to be enthralled as we explore Imhangbe’s transition from stage to screen, the intricacies of portraying the multifaceted Will Mondrich, and the lasting impact Bridgerton has had on his life, both on and off the glittering stage.

The early days of an actor

Unplanned stardom. That’s how Martins Imhangbe describes his meteoric rise to the forefront of television. This British-Nigerian actor, once a self-proclaimed “restless young man” who thrived on cracking jokes with friends, found his calling on a completely different stage—the stage of the high school drama club.

“From there, I ended up being a show and got some good praise for the dramas I acted in. It inspired me to take acting seriously, and I decided to study Performing Arts in college because of this”

Fueled by a passion ignited in high school, Martins wasn’t about to settle for just any role. He landed a spot in drama school thanks to his teacher, Lisa Stubbs’ unwavering support, and spent the next three years honing his craft. Graduation wasn’t the finish line; it was the starting pistol.

Offers trickled in, but Imhangbe remained selective. “Some projects just didn’t feel right,” he explained. “The timing wasn’t there, or the role wasn’t a good fit.” His commitment was to exceptional theatre, a rigorous training ground to refine his skills.

Martins Imhangbe and Rose Riley on the set of Othello via Onceaweektheatre
Martins Imhangbe and Rose Riley on the set of Othello via Onceaweektheatre

And refine he did. A string of impressive productions followed: “A Human Being Died That Night,” “Cinderella,” “Romeo and Juliet,” the internationally acclaimed “Lionboy” by Complicité, “The Skriker” at the Manchester Royal Exchange, “Octagon,” “Luce,” and “The Royale” in London.

In 2018, his dedication paid off. He landed the roles of Bart and the Duke of Aumerle in “Richard II” at the Almeida Theatre, a performance so powerful it earned him an Ian Charleson Award nomination. The production was even filmed for National Theatre Live. Theatre remained his passion, but fate, as they say, had other plans.

How Martins Imhangbe landed his Bridgerton role

Unbeknownst to Martins, his unwavering commitment to theatre was about to propel him onto a far grander stage. While captivating audiences in a production of “Death of a Salesman” at the Young Vic Theatre, his agent arranged a pivotal encounter—casting directors for a shrouded Netflix period drama. Martins secured the role, oblivious to the fact that he was about to become an integral part of the cultural phenomenon known as Bridgerton.

“All I knew then was that I had this role to play the part of a boxer in a period drama, and I thought ‘this is interesting.’ I wasn’t aware of how huge it was going to be.”

The audition process itself was streamlined. A self-recorded tape sufficed, followed by a swift response, and just like that, Martins found himself thrust into the captivating world of Bridgerton. No elaborate meetings with producers were necessary; his raw talent spoke volumes.

“Interestingly,” Martins reflected, “my character was supposed to be in a couple of episodes. However, the narrative trajectory shifted, and they expanded on my role. So now I am in season 3, and it just came by surprise. It evolved quite naturally.”

The nuances of screen

Naturally, I was curious about Martins’ experience transitioning from theatre to television. Was it a seamless switch, or did it take some adjusting?

Martins was clearly confident in his theatre background, crediting it as the foundation for his work on Bridgerton. “The show itself is very collaborative,” he explained, “with lots of rehearsals. It felt a lot like a theatre company, just for the screen.”

That’s not to say there weren’t challenges in adapting to a new medium. “Screen acting is definitely different,” Martins admitted. “I had to learn the importance of subtlety, really understand the nuances of my character, and tailor my performance to each specific shot.”

He also confessed to experiencing imposter syndrome—those moments when he questioned his readiness for the big screen. But instead of letting it hold him back, Martins used it as motivation. “The set became a training ground for me,” he said, “a place to hone my craft and build confidence.”

“Learning from other actors was amazing. In particular, there was Emma Naomi who played Alice Mondrich, Lady Danbury (played by Adjoa Andoh), and Duke of Hastings (played by Regé-Jean Page) in season 1. I collaborated with, learned from, and spent time with all these actors. It felt like I was in school and was learning from others,”

Beyond the opulent costumes and dazzling settings, what truly resonates with Martins is Bridgerton’s focus on humanity.

“It’s a beautiful show,” he enthused, “lavish and glamorous, of course. But beneath the surface, you see real people. People who might not always get their stories told are finally being celebrated.”

Martins’ voice filled with pride as he continued, “Being part of a production that features a Queen of mixed heritage, like the real Queen Charlotte, and gives them a voice? That’s incredible. It feels like an honour to represent these individuals who deserve to be seen and heard.”

Meet Will Mondrich, the working-class hero 

Meet Will Mondrich, the working-class hero

Bridgerton’s social tapestry extends beyond the glittering balls and aristocratic intrigues. At its heart lies Will Mondrich, a compelling character who embodies the spirit of the working class. Martins’ voice resonated with genuine enthusiasm as he elaborated on Will’s personality. “He is, in essence, a self-made man,” Martins declared, admiration evident in his tone.

Will’s story draws inspiration from a historical figure: Bill Richmond, England’s pioneering Black boxing entrepreneur. Initially conceived as American (reflecting Bill’s birthplace), Will’s narrative underwent a transformation, becoming deeply rooted in British soil—a testament to Richmond’s true legacy. Martins’ research into Bill instilled a profound respect for the show’s creators.

“Will’s inclusion serves as a powerful validation of Bridgerton’s dedication to honouring Black history,” Martins explained. “He represents those often marginalised figures who deserve recognition and a place in the narrative.”

Within the series, Will utilises boxing as a springboard for social mobility. His fists pave the way, and meticulously organised exhibitions provide for his family’s future. Martins describes it as an “extraordinary journey,” highlighting Will’s tenacious ascent from humble beginnings. Remember the strategically lost fight? It became the foundation for his bar, a symbol of his entrepreneurial spirit.

However, societal constraints remain. Will requires a powerful patron, and the Bridgertons step up to the plate. By the time season 3 unfolds, Will’s fortunes have dramatically shifted. His family inherits a title bestowed upon his son and wife alongside the prestigious Kent Estate—a remarkable trajectory that elevates him from the lower echelons of society to, in Bridgerton parlance, “a gentleman of the ton.”

The key to Will’s transformation? An unwavering love that is being shared with his wife, Alice. This enduring bond will be the subject of our next exploration.

“Will and Alice display the epitome of true love outside of societal expectations or exchange. Usually, people marry because of someone’s title or name, but Will and Alice show that you can be in love and have a family without it being based on a title. It’s the purest and most authentic love relationship within Bridgerton,”

What does it take to play Will Mondrich?

Playing a boxer-turned-family man is no easy feat, but simply embodying the archetype wasn’t enough for Martins. He craved to breathe life into Will, to showcase not just his physical prowess but also his vulnerabilities and humanity.

“The key was to humanise him,” Martins explained. “Yes, he’s powerful, but beneath that exterior lies a man with emotions, a man capable of reason, of friendship, of tenderness.”

The physical transformation was equally demanding. Martins embarked on a rigorous training regimen with his personal trainer, Kung Heart. Boxing in the 1900s was a different beast altogether. Martins and Kung Heart had to modify both fighting styles and diets to achieve the sturdier physique of a bygone era.

“We even had a boxing coach on set, Brian Nichols,” Martins chuckled. “He was a real character, full of energy and…well, terrier-like noises! I felt a bit silly mimicking him at first, but Brian’s purpose was brilliant. He pushed me to let go, to unleash my inner fighter, to be bold, and to own my space. His enthusiasm truly ignited my own.”

Another hurdle: mastering the 19th-century dialect. The Bridgerton crew brought in a dialect coach to guide the actors, a challenge for those with ingrained London accents.

“Londoners have this habit of shortening words,” Martins explained. “We say ‘that’s’ instead of ‘that is.’ The dialect coach had to constantly remind us, ‘This ain’t 21st century London! We gotta respect the era!'”

Through dedication, training, and a dash of playful coaching, Martins transcended the stereotype. He brought Will Mondrich to life, a compelling character etched in both strength and vulnerability.

A boxer’s heart, and an actor’s soul

While acting has always been Martins’ passion, boxing has become a cherished companion. His journey began in 2016, but portraying Will Mondrich in Bridgerton ignited a deeper love for the sport. Martins’ trainer, Kung Heart, played a pivotal role. “His approach is fascinating,” Martins explains. “He intertwines principles with physical training, emphasising the mental aspects alongside pure athleticism.” Bruce Lee’s philosophy of “be like water—smooth and fast” resonated deeply with Martins.

This newfound love for boxing transcended the ring. “The discipline, the controlled breathing,” Martins emphasises, “is crucial in both acting and boxing.” He highlights the importance of breath control for managing nerves and staying present in the moment. “Being able to flow, to adapt and embody various characters,” Martins continues, “mirrors the fluidity you need in the ring.”

One specific memory stands out: his first punch. “My mind raced,” Martins recalls. “Should I retaliate? Should I defend?” But amidst the chaos, he found solace in his breath—a valuable lesson in perseverance. “Boxing, like acting, requires a strategy,” he explains. “You go in prepared, but you also have to adapt to unexpected blows.” This ability to maintain focus fuels both his on-screen performances and his desire to step into the ring someday as an amateur boxer.

Watch full interview here

Martins as a champion for change

Martins’ heart extends far beyond the boxing ring and the silver screen. A dedicated philanthropist, he utilises his platform as an ambassador for global non-profit organisations like RED and ONE to champion causes in Africa.

“Africa has always held a special allure for me,” Martins shares, his voice brimming with a desire to contribute. Curiosity propelled him towards RED, where site visits to Tanzania and Zanzibar ignited a passion within him. “It was eye-opening,” he reflects, “a powerful reminder that our voices can have a profound impact.”

Martins found himself particularly drawn to RED’s fight against the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. “Silence only fuels the fear,” he observes, a firm believer in open communication. “If it means dispelling shame and encouraging dialogue, then I’m more than happy to lend my voice.”

Visiting organisations like Zappa Plus, which uses drama to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS medication, solidified his commitment. “The power of storytelling to educate and empower was truly inspiring,” he marvels. Witnessing firsthand how drama could impact healthcare knowledge was a defining moment.

But Martins doesn’t just witness; he seeks solutions. His visit to a hospital founded by Bill Clinton exposed the challenges of long-term support. “The cycle of starting initiatives and then leaving them unsupported is a real concern,” he critiques. This sparked a new focus: ensuring programs have lasting impact. “Maintaining these relationships and contributions is crucial,” he ponders thoughtfully.

Action speaks louder than words, and Martins doesn’t shy away from it. He hosted a dinner in London to raise awareness and inspire others to get involved. “Sharing my experiences sparked a fire,” he explains, a hint of pride in his voice. “One of my friends—now a RED ambassador herself—is a testament to the impact we can have together.”

Martins’ unwavering dedication to raising awareness and fostering ongoing conversations embodies his commitment to creating positive change in Africa. He is a true champion for change, fighting not just in the ring, but for a brighter future on the continent he holds so dear.

Martins as an enduring inspiration

Martins’ journey extends far beyond the applause and the final curtain. His story offers a compelling message for aspiring actors, particularly those facing underrepresentation: silence the noise. Racism exists, a harsh reality, but it cannot be a roadblock. Define your vision, claim your rightful space in the industry, and drown out the external voices of doubt.

For minority actors, the path can be fraught with the burden of expectation – societal and even self-imposed. Martins urges you to embark on a journey of self-discovery. Identify what truly matters, what values define you, and how you wish to be portrayed. Embrace your inner voice and forge your own unique path.

This pursuit may feel like a marathon, not a sprint, but Martins’ secret weapon is unwavering resilience. Stay true to your core, and eventually, you will carve a distinct niche for yourself within the entertainment world.

A legacy beyond the footlights

Family and heritage are Martins’ unwavering foundation. He carries his Nigerian roots with immense pride, a testament to the vibrant cultural identity instilled by his parents. Speaking Nigerian at home is as natural as breathing, a constant connection to his ancestral roots. This sense of family extends beyond his parents, with siblings playing a vital role. His sister’s presence in Abuja, Nigeria, serves as a vital link to the land of his heritage.

“It’s in my blood,” Martins declares, his connection to Nigeria a profound truth. This deep, personal attachment transcends spoken language and cultural practices. Visits to his family further solidify this bond, each one a celebration of his heritage.

“Never forget where you came from,” Martins concludes, a timeless reminder of the importance of honouring his Nigerian roots. His story stands as a testament to the power of family, cultural immersion, and a deep personal connection in maintaining a strong sense of self.

The curtain hasn’t fallen on Martins’ story yet. He is currently captivating audiences in “Between Riverside & Crazy” at London’s Hampstead Theatre . Additionally, keep an eye out for his upcoming short film, “Painkiller.”


  • ChiAmaka Dike

    Chiamaka is the Features Editor at Marie Claire Nigeria. She is a woman who is passionate about God, women, and top-notch storytelling in all formats. Send all feature pitches her way -

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