From Prussian prince to NASCAR driver: Freddie Stroma is following up his royal part in Netflix's Bridgerton with a professional race car driver role in the streaming service's new comedy, The Crew.
"I wouldn't call Prince Friedrich similar in any way to Jake Martin," Stroma, 34, jokes to PEOPLE of the contrasting parts.
The British actor made the transition pretty quickly, as the two Netflix series shot one after the other. "I was in London filming Bridgerton and this came about, so as soon as Bridgerton was finished, we had Christmas and New Year's and then went straight into this role," he says.
Stroma confesses he "did not know a lot" about NASCAR before signing on to play the face of the fictional Bobby Spencer Racing team, run by a crew chief portrayed by Kevin James. Luckily, Stroma didn't have to actually step behind the wheel. "We had a simulator which is very realistic and that was very fun," he says. "It was also eye-opening as to how difficult [racing] is."
His character Jake loves to rip off his shirt and appreciates the female attention that comes with being a pro athlete. But when Jake insists "monk" is short for "monkey" — à la Joey Tribbiani's "moo point" — you wonder whether he might've taken one too many hits to the head.
"When it first came about, I was like, 'Which direction do I want to go?' And it definitely felt very Joey — that not-really-knowing-what's-going-on, but he's still charming," Stroma says of finding inspiration in the Friends character. "It's fun just playing completely out of the know when everyone else knows what's going on."
Ditzy but lovable Jake constantly faces the pressure of being replaced by another driver thanks to new management. Stroma knows the feeling.
"When I did Game of Thrones, I was supposed to come back to shoot more in the next seasons, but I was shooting a show called Time After Time at the time. So they replaced me with Tom Hopper who is a friend of mine, which was really cool to know that a friend was taking on the role," Stroma recalls. "But that was one annoying moment."
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Being a workplace comedy, The Crew also deals with relationships between colleagues. Stroma met his wife of four years, Johanna Braddy, on the set of UnReal, though he advises of workplace romances: "Go through HR and be very careful. That's murky water right there!"
Along with cult hit UnReal and mega-popular Game of Thrones, Stroma has also appeared in beloved franchises such as Harry Potter and Pitch Perfect. But he says fans mostly recognize him, "bizarrely enough," from A Cinderella Story 3.
Stroma admits he almost didn't tune in to his latest success, Bridgerton. "It's so painful to watch myself that I just don't like it," he reveals. "You know when you hate your own voice?"
It took three weeks of Braddy, 33, asking him to check out the period piece drama together before he caved. "The show was great," Stroma says. "I just hate watching myself."
And don't bother asking him what season 2 holds. "Your guess is as good as mine," Stroma says. "I have no idea whether they bring me back or not."
The Crew hits Netflix on Monday.
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