Bustle Exclusive

Queenie's Dionne Brown Understands The Quarter-Life Crisis

The breakout actor brings Candice Carty-Williams’ buzzy novel to the screen.

A portrait of a woman with braided hair wearing a dark jacket, against a soft-focus blue fabric back...

Dionne Brown had questions about Queenie. The star of Hulu’s new series, which is based on Candice Carty-Williams’ same-named 2019 novel, needed help understanding the titular character, who makes counterintuitive decisions. She’ll tell her family one thing, but do another; she’ll avoid her feelings entirely, even during a breakup.

“I would constantly ask Candice, ‘What were you thinking when you wrote that? What is Queenie thinking?’” Brown tells Bustle. “There were times when I was like, ‘I’m not trying to challenge you,’ but I kind of had to, so that I could relay the tennis match that was happening in Queenie’s mind.”

For some people, that dogged interrogation would be off-putting, but not so for Carty-Williams, who’s also the series showrunner. Instead, she asked the actor to audition. “I recognized how in her head she seemed to be, and how many questions she asked,” Carty-Williams says. “I was like, if anything, she’s a Queenie.”

Disney/Ramona Rosales

The eight-episode show, which debuts in full on June 7, follows the eponymous 25-year-old Jamaican British woman as she struggles through a quarter-life crisis, juggling a miscarriage, an unexpected breakup, and fears of turning into her estranged mother.

When Brown sent in her acting tape, she’d just wrapped her first major TV job, in Apple TV+’s Criminal Record. After a few months of callbacks and chemistry reads, she was offered the lead role.

“[Queenie is] so representative of how painful or transformative your 20s can be,” says Brown, who’s 28. “It’s a time where you have this quarter-life crisis and realize you don't know as much as you thought you did. We’ve all been in a position where we have to rethink our game plan. Like, who am I if I don’t have the things that I thought were gonna make me happy? What makes me happy? That’s a big turning point in adulthood.”

Brown, who grew up in North London, started acting lessons after her childhood ballet classes became “a bit of a financial struggle.” She continued acting in school, and ultimately left university for a program with the National Youth Theatre in 2017, which produced alumni like Daniel Craig and Rosamund Pike. “It’s a bit of a running joke now,” says Brown, who then enrolled in the London drama school ArtsEd. “[My mother’s] like, ‘All the money I paid for your dance classes and now you’re an actor?’ I'm like, ‘I’m doing well, so a win is a win.’”

Below, Brown discusses the pressures of playing Queenie, the Corgis, and the possibility of Season 2.

Bellah, Candice Carty-Williams, and Dionne Brown.Disney/Ramona Rosales

Congrats on your first lead role. Did you feel pressure going into it?

The book did so many things for so many people, and I don’t want to let them down. Initially, [I felt] the pressure as a performer. You get the job, and you’re super happy, but then it’s like, F*ck, I have to do it now. Am I capable? I was putting pressure on myself to tick all these boxes. I can’t do that; I’m one person. All I can do is my best.

After reading the book and scripts, were there particular scenes that made you feel nervous?

Anything that had to do with the gradual decline of Queenie’s mental health. That was looming for me. There were days when I was overstimulated, having to delve back into parts of my growing [up] that were just uncomfortable — that’s the best way I can put it. We’ve all been in positions where we’re not sitting in ourselves as comfortably as other people seem to be. The discomfort is like an itch that you can’t get rid of. Those days were a challenge.

What did you do to unwind on those days?

During that shoot, I spent a lot of time talking to people, answering questions, or being a focal point. Sometimes, when we had the weekend off, I would be in my room, burning a scented candle or sitting in the living room and just not say a word for two days.

Latoya Okuneye/Lionsgate

Queenie has some wonderful relationships with her family and friends, who she refers to as the Corgis. What did you do to build that chemistry with the cast?

I approached everybody like I already knew them, which might sound a little arrogant, but I was just trying to come toward everybody with open arms, because they were playing the people Queenie was closest to. It was also really easy. We all spoke openly and freely, be it about the show or life in general. I think that fed into our performances.

Does the cast have a group chat?

I have a group chat with Candice and Bellah, but we’re not talking about anything in particular. This morning we were talking about juices, because Candice ordered an immune juice and was like, “Guys, this juice is really good!”

Onyx Collective hosted a panel with Queenie’s creator Candice Carty-Williams and stars Dionne Brown and Bellah in London on May 29.Disney/Jack Henry

There seems to be a lot of levity in the cast, especially for a show that deals with heavy topics.

110%. If it were heavy all the time, I would have tried to handle it, but I don’t know if I could have handled it as gracefully. A lot of the things that stress Queenie out are happening to her, but around her there’s a lot of love. The show has a balance between how she's feeling and what’s surrounding her.

That brings to mind her friendship with Kyazike, since it’s one of her strongest relationships.

It’s important to have a friendship like that, because we need people who hold us accountable. They’ll let you know that you’re loved, but that sometimes you are problematic. It definitely mirrors the friendships I try to maintain in my own life.

Dionne Brown and Bellah as Queenie and Kyazike.Latoya Okuneye/Lionsgate

A lot of people have compared the show to Insecure and Girls. What makes Queenie different?

She’s just messy — not to say that those aren’t. But Queenie’s raw. It's the same thing that hit really hard about the book, like, Oh, other people feel like this.

The book came out five years ago. Did it leave an impression on you?

When I read it, I had no idea other people felt like this. When we’re going through hard bouts of trauma or negative self-perception, we make it singular to ourselves. This might sound a bit nihilistic, but [I got] a sense of comfort [from learning that] other people are also in that boat, like Oh, I’m not the only girl who felt like I wasn’t enough, or [worried] I was too loud. Reading the book, you also realize you’re thinking too much toward yourself. You’re gonna break if you don’t stop.

The book ends as a complete story. Do you think there’s room for a second season?

There’s room for a Season 2, but it’s not up to me. I would definitely like to see her journey continue. She has a negative perception of love right now, especially regarding men of her race. I would like to see that develop. I would like to see what she’s doing for herself now.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.