An interview with Netflix Bridgerton stars: Phoebe Dynevor, Jonathan Bailey, and Nicola Coughlan on modern-day romance

An interview with Netflix Bridgerton stars: Phoebe Dynevor, Jonathan Bailey, and Nicola Coughlan on modern-day romance

Art of the swoon

Text: Emily Heng

There isn't a specific genre for shows with an omniscient narrator slash all-knowing entity, but there should be. These figures typically serve as a major plot point in dramas like Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl; a catalyst and impetus propelling the pre-existing drama swirling in the leads lives. Shonda Rimes's latest Netflix-scripted drama, Bridgerton, gainfully employs this enigma in the form of Lady Whistledown. The author of a gossip column — voiced by Julie Andrews — proves fond of divulging many a scandal within the competitive sphere that is London's high society. At the heart of it is the Bridgerton family. Season one focuses on eldest daughter, Daphne Bridgerton, as she attempts to make a love match in the competitive marriage market.

Touted as the next Gossip Girl set in the Regency-era, Bridgerton has all the makings of a teen cult-classic: scandalous romances; conniving characters; and visually arresting outfits that people could build Pinterest boards around. And yet, to reduce it to a drama catered for young adults seems like an act of disservice, somehow. After all, the eight-episode series successfully examines social issues with a critical eye, melding classic romance tropes with modern sensibilities to appeal to current audiences. It is a sentiment that the cast agrees with — as told to us by leads Phoebe Dynevor, Jonathan Bailey, and Nicola Coughlan. We got them to dish the dirt on their character journeys, the audition process, and their love lives in a roundtable. Get it on the scoop before Bridgerton premieres on 25 December.

Bridgerton is set in Regency London. What do you think the viewers would be able to relate to, and what did you relate to the most in the series?
Nicola Coughlan: While it may be a period setting, I think things like human nature don't change, even if the times do. So, I think there's still a lot of the same struggles that we are expected to handle in society. Pressure with regard to how you look, pressures about getting married... I think with the male characters especially; they have to deal with the pressures of patriarchy. All of it is just so relatable because it feels so human. It's not a crazy painting on a wall. It's so much more fun and gratifying to play something that is real, if that makes sense.

Phoebe Dynevor: I really enjoyed playing many aspects of Daphne. I have a younger sister who grew up with social media and I missed that, because I didn't have Instagram in school. And I think it's really tough for young women and men growing up in that world, doing everything with a filter on it, and it was no different back then. Daphne is sort of presenting this filtered version of herself to society, all of it exacerbated by this gossip column, and there are just so many parallels to how we are living now.

Jonathan Bailey: The show is so incredibly sexy, smart and chic. The portrayal of each character's mental health is great, where they're all really complicated and different. I think for the Bridgerton siblings and Featherington daughters — particularly Penelope — go through a series of betrayals that is very delicate in a way where she is made to feel anxious, or not good enough. There's amazing things with Eloise as well, where she doesn't want to be presented to be society, and there are a lot of human moments with that. At the heart of it, there's just a lot of dark stuff going on and I think that's what humanity really is.

A large part of Bridgerton is focused on love and romance. What is the best romantic advice you've ever received?

Jonathan Bailey: [Starts singing New Rules by Dua Lipa].

Phoebe Dynevor: My mum always told me that I have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the right one. That was great when I was young.

Jonathan Bailey: I love that you were... wait, isn't it then you find a prince?

Phoebe Dynevor: [Laughs] My mum didn't tell that story right. But I think that's great advice. You know, you go through heartbreaks and when you have your first love, and it seems so real when you are young but just know that there's more fish in the sea. I think that might be my... I don't necessarily believe in a soulmate which is probably... [Laughs] Daphne definitely does, which is where we differ. I should stop talking now.

Nicola Coughlan: I feel like it's not necessarily dating advice, but break up advice. Just remember: no matter how terrible you feel in a break up, you will always look back in the future and say, "Thank god I'm not in that situation. There's always light at the end of the tunnel, you are better off happier alone than together with someone in a bad relationship.

Jonathan Bailey: I remember getting some advice which stuck with me, which is trust that there is love for you. Trust that it is there, and it is coming for you. That's really lovely.

Nicola Coughlan: Your answer is so much nicer than mine and Phoebe's.

Lastly, what was it like, bringing the world of Bridgerton to life?

Phoebe Dynevor: I just vividly remember it was such a whirlwind casting experience. Suddenly, I was on a plane flying to London with a big suitcase, because I was living in L.A. at that time. The first day in London, I walked into this huge warehouse they had just to make the costumes, and seeing the scale and amount of people working of it was just... wow. It was the first time I realised the whole scale of it. The costumes really helped bring it all to life, and it was overwhelming and really exciting.

Jonathan Bailey: I think the really amazing thing as an actor is that you know so much of the work comes in way before you get on set. When you are doing a period drama, it's just so visual. Every detail was just there, and it's amazing. I remember a specific moment where I was sure that Anthony should have a moustache and sideburns. And Chris Van Dusen was like, "Yeah, you can try it." They let me do it but took it off during the actual shoot [Laughs]. The whole culture of it is phenomenal, and there are mood boards that detail all the costumes and hair for each character.