SPOILER ALERT: This story contains spoilers for Season 1 of “Lockwood & Co.,” now streaming on Netflix.
Ruby Stokes ain’t afraid of no ghosts — even in a world overrun by them.
On Netflix’s “Lockwood & Co.,” Stokes wields a rapier sword as Lucy Carlyle, who hunts down spirits in an alternative London where young adults have psychic abilities, and use them professionally to subdue ghosts.
Based on the books by Jonathan Stroud, and developed by Joe Cornish (“Attack the Block”), “Lockwood & Co.” has been a breakout for Netflix since its Jan. 27 premiere –– scaring away competitors from the streamer’s Top 10 list (which it’s reached in 74 countries).
Stokes herself is no stranger to a Netflix phenomenon, having played Francesca Bridgerton in the first two seasons of the Shondaland sensation “Bridgerton.” But to accommodate filming “Lockwood & Co.,” she appeared only a few times in Season 2, and eventually stepped away from the role, which has since been recast.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Stokes tells Variety. “But it was incredible being part of a cultural moment like ‘Bridgerton.’”
On “Lockwood & Co.,” Lucy’s extrasensory skill is being a “Listener,” someone who can sense the presence and emotional state of ghosts, a handy talent in the fight to keep the living at the top of the food chain. Cast out of her training after a tragic clash with a spirit, Lucy leaves home to join the ranks of the London-based Lockwood & Co, an independent ghost-hunting agency run by the ambitious, reckless Anthony Lockwood (Cameron Chapman) and his research-focused deputy George (Ali Hadji-Heshmati).
Throughout the first season, the team fights for credibility alongside more established agencies, and hope to score some by taking a case no one else will touch. The job is to trap the spirit of a doctor named Bickerstaff who was obsessed with ghosts long before The Problem, the mysterious global event that has caused the dead to linger. But the team soon discovers Bickerstaff’s body was buried with an object known as the bone glass, which is fashioned from the bones of seven living people as a means of catching a glimpse of a mysterious force referred to as The Eternal.
By the finale, Lucy, Lockwood, and George have stolen the bone glass from relic hunters, but must fend off attacks on multiple fronts in London’s most haunted cemetery.
George is tricked into handing over the Bone Glass by his friend, Pamela Joplin (Louise Brealey), who wants its power; Lockwood teams up with an enemy agency to ward off the mob of angry relic men; and Lucy must use her rare gift to talk with ghosts, namely a disembodied head they keep in a jar, to descend into the cemetery’s catacombs in order to save George.
Ultimately, Lockwood & Co. pull out the win, but not before the show teases future mysteries. An assassin after the bone glass, known as the Golden Blade (Harry Treadway), warns Lockwood there are bigger forces at play than even he knows — but, naturally, doesn’t elaborate any further.
Lucy also gets a cryptic warning from the head in a jar, who peers into the bone glass only to exclaim something is wrong and The Eternal is now trapped.
To unpack all the paranormal activity, Stokes spoke with Variety about the burgeoning phenomenon of the show, the potential Lucy/Lockwood romance that has fans swooning — and saying goodbye to “Bridgerton.”
The reaction to “Lockwood & Co.” has been pretty effusive. Are you happy to see its rise?
From the moment we all stepped into the audition room, when we were doing the chemistry read, it was evident how comfortable Ali, Cameron and I were with each other, and we created a shorthand. Having good relationships on set in turn makes for an incredibly fun working environment. Not only that, but I got to do stunts, sword training and underwater diving! It was a long shoot, and it was tough at times. Every shoot has its challenges, but it was incredibly fun.
Lucy goes through a lot in the course of eight episodes. But one of her biggest discoveries is that she has the rare ability to talk to Type 3 ghosts, a rare kind of spirit that can communicate. Her gift serves Lockwood & Co. well in hunting down the bone glass, but what do you think it will be like to have this power moving forward?
Throughout the season, she makes it evident that she is proud of her talent, but she wants to keep it behind closed doors. We learn that having that weight to bear is quite huge for her. If we were to see Lucy’s story grow beyond this season, I think it would be her harnessing that power more, and learning how to confidently deal with that being on show to everybody. Personally, I think that would affect Lucy, having other people put a magnifying glass on what she can do. But I think she can deal with it. She loves Lockwood and George enough to work through that.
The Golden Blade teases there are bigger forces at play than even Lucy, Lockwood and George understand. Have you read ahead in the books to get a sense of what could await your characters should you get a second season?
I have read the books. I know what The Problem is, and how it originated, and maybe some characters who appear one way aren’t what they seem. So I do know the big forces at play in the books, but that’s not to say the TV adaptation won’t take it to an even grander scale. Or even in a different direction. I’ve got no idea what they might do. I’m equally excited as everyone else.
Fans have fallen for the romantic tension between Lockwood and Lucy. Have you and Cameron seen this reaction from fans, or talked about what that relationship could be between your characters?
It’s not actually anything we ever sat down and had a discussion about, Cameron and I. I think it’s all there on the page when we came to those scenes. There was nothing asked of us to bring to those characters in those moments, I think they just spoke loudly enough off the page. And like I said, I think Cameron, Ali and I are fortunate to have the friendships that we have. When we were all playing off of each other, it all came very easily. All the subtext is in the writing for us. But I agree with people I’ve seen talking about how a slow burn is really good fun. You don’t end up getting it all straight away. Wherever it goes, I would be excited to see what happens between every character really. Let’s not forget there was a potential for Kipps [Jack Bandeira] and Lucy in Episode 6 as well.
And they share another moment in the finale, when Lucy agrees to guard the secret that Kipps’ talents are fading.
Even though they haven’t even kissed yet, Lucy and Lockwood are now the subject of many TikTok videos championing their flirtation. Have you seen any of those?
I actually have! The production company, Complete Fiction, that made “Lockwood & Co.” has a Twitter, and they have retweeted some TikTok edits. First of all, they are edited phenomenally. The slo-mo and the music and the transitions — it had me rooting for them too! I’ve also seen the term “Locklyle,” like Lockwood and Lucy Carlyle, which I thought was pretty cool. Like I said, a slow burn is fun, and gets people wanting more.
Fans have also started to come up with some wild theories of what could be behind Lockwood’s mysterious locked door, which he opens in the final moments of the season. Book readers will know what’s behind there, but the show could always put its own spin on it. Have fans brought their theories to you yet?
I haven’t heard of any theories, but I have seen people, even some who have read the books, say they want to leave it up to interpretation. I haven’t read the theories either because even as I was reading the books, like going from Book One to Two, I enjoyed that moment of not knowing what’s next.
It sounds like you are just as big a fan of the books.
Yeah, definitely! This is an incredibly loyal book adaptation. There are things that have been adapted and changed to suit the screen more, but that’s what I loved about the books. I loved how informative they were, and how built up this world was. It is like a parallel to our own –– it could exist. What Jonathan Stroud has done is just incredible. And I’m just enjoying that other people are enjoying what we made with such love.
Even with all the confidence and power Lucy finds through Season 1, she is still grappling with the guilt she carries over her ghost-locked friend Norrie. Do you think she still has work to do to find some peace with that part of her life?
I think she is constantly trying to fathom and understand what happened. We see it when she is having those moments in the bath and making that connection with [the ghost] Annabel Ward. Obviously, Annabel reminds her of Norrie, and I think she’s always trying to piece that bit of her past into her present.
We had other scenes we didn’t end up including where she goes outside and picks daisies and looks at herbs, and I think all of it is Lucy trying to grasp onto something like a conclusion. We are creatures of routine and comfort, and you want a conclusion and closure. She obviously, in part, blames herself, and she has a lot of interior turbulence because of her past, but who are we without our pasts? I defo want to continue exploring that side of Lucy because it is very informative of who she is as a person.
At what point during your time on “Bridgerton” did you get this role?
It was between the two. Every lesson I learned on “Bridgerton” was so valuable, and it propelled me, and allowed me to go on and take on a lead role on another show.
Both of these series are ensembles. Is that something that what you look for in a project?
I’m never going to shut any door before it opens. I just love telling all sorts of stories. That’s the joy of this job, and long may it continue. I love people, and I love working with so many people, and that’s what was so brilliant about “Bridgerton” and also brilliant about “Lockwood & Co.” I met some great friends for life, and had some really brilliant times, and learned so many new skills. I love the heart of a show being a character story. That’s really exciting for an actor to really delve in.
You have since stepped away from the role of Francesca Bridgerton. Was that a difficult decision?
It wasn’t an easy decision. But it was incredible being part of a cultural moment like “Bridgerton.” The versatility in acting is so joyous, and there was something about Lucy that just drew me to her. I found her very exciting and being presented with that opportunity, I wanted to take it and explore it.
“Lockwood & Co.’s” filming schedule coincided with the production of “Bridgerton” Season 2, and meant you didn’t appear as much as fans had expected. It became the subject of memes playfully pondering where Francesca was hiding. Did you see the fan outcry for more of you?
I did see the memes people were creating, and they tickled me! They were funny and very joyous. I think the fans of both “Bridgerton” and “Lockwood & Co.” were very supportive and encouraging and fun about it all. But I don’t want to delve too deep sometimes, because you can read a lot of stuff and start overthinking things. I like it to end my scrolling somewhere.
Up next, you are starring in Paramount+’s series “The Burning Girls” with Samantha Morton. What can you say about that project?
Yeah, it is based off of a book by C.J. Tudor, and it is sort of a thriller-esque story. It is about Samantha Morton, who plays a vicar, and I play her daughter. It is set in rural England in what appears to be a very tranquil, serene village that actually holds a lot of secrets and untold truths. The heart of that show is very much female driven, which is exciting. Samantha is just incredible, and it is about our mother-daughter dynamic.
With “Lockwood & Co.” out in the world and doing well on Netflix, are you proud of taking a leap with this show?
I loved spending time on this show, and creating it. It was a real passion project and a real joy. And I met so many incredible people and learned so many incredible skills. It has been really exciting to see the reaction, and watching people absorb it and love it as much as I do.
Are you going to take up fencing until there’s news on Season 2 so your sword skills don’t get rusty?
Definitely! I never want to lose those sword skills. That’s an invaluable lesson I’ve learned. And I got really fit and strong too, which was really exciting.
This interview has been edited and condensed.