Think of “Bridgerton” as Shondaland’s Christmas gift to the world.
“Bridgerton,” an eight-episode series based on the hugely popular Julia Quinn romance novels, will be out on Dec. 25.
Produced by Shondaland for Netflix and created by showrunner Chris Van Dusen who has previously worked on shows “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” Bridgerton offers the same level of sexiness and scandal as other Shonda Rhimes shows but it is set in a very different time period: England in the early 1800s. Van Dusen describes it as a “big, steamy Regency love story” and one that turns the traditional period genre on its head.
In “Bridgerton,” it’s time for Daphne Bridgerton to choose a proper husband. But there are things getting in her way. Other eligible girls (and their mothers) are on the prowl. Her older brother keeps turning down potential suitors. Lady Whistledown, the mysterious high society scandal sheet writer, has some not-so-great things to say about Daphne. And then there’s the sexy and rebellious Duke of Hastings who refuses to be tied down.
Van Dusen said, “With ‘Bridgerton,’ you’re going this wonderful daring take on love and relationships in the 19th century but you’re also going to get everything that comes along with this being a Shondaland show—smart, funny, tortured characters figuring out who they are, who they want to be, what what they’re capable of.”
We interviewed Van Dusen and some of the cast on Zoom. Here are excerpts:
Chris Van Dusen, showrunner and creator
Did you feel any extra pressure because the books have a lot of fans?
I did and I think it was a good, healthy kind of pressure. The books have such a rabid international fan base and I knew from the beginning, I wanted to get it right for them. I think fans of the books are going to see all the elements they love in the series as well.
Can you talk about the cast of “Bridgerton”?
We have an amazing sprawling cast, a diverse cast, not just in terms of ethnicities.
Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page are so amazing. Phoebe has this thing about her, you just want to watch her. Regé, he’s amazing to look at and the levels of depth that he brought to Simon was really beautiful and really painful.
We, of course, have Julie Andrews and working with her will remain a highlight of my career forever. Jonathan Bailey who plays Anthony brought such a complexity to the role. It’s such a talented group of actors that that completely elevated this material and surpassed any expectations I had.
How easy/difficult was it to get Julie Andrews to be the voice of Lady Whistledown?
She was always at the top of our wish list. We sent her the scripts and surprisingly, she said yes. She loved them and she wanted to be a part of it and she’s been so amazing to work with. She’s a total legend and a total pro and she gets to say the most scathing things as Lady Whistledown, the most nontypical Julie Andrew things and she’s been a blast.
Can you talk about the decision to use modern songs in the show?
Finding the music of the show was really an evolution and we really came to that in postproduction after we saw what the show really looked like. Classical reinterpretations of modern pop songs really struck a chord with us. They really capture the way the characters themselves feel and hopefully that spirit and that liveliness is what the audience watching it will feel, too.
If Lady Whistledown’s society papers existed today, would you read them?
I would because I’m a little bit of a tabloid junkie. With Lady Whistledown, we really get to explore the power of the written word and see how she affects the characters and the story. It’s a modern reference to what the tabloids do today and what social media does today for sure.
Phoebe Dynevor (Daphne)
Did you read the books before filming and what did you like about it?
I read the novel when I got the part. It was quite interesting to see the way Chris and the team had taken these beloved books and sort of brought them to life. It’s very exciting to see how they created this world.
What did you like about this series?
The first thing that struck me was the fact that Shondaland and Netflix were making the show. They are just a dream team. I knew that with Shondaland being involved, the women would not be without agency. It was really exciting for me to see these really well-thought-out women that were more than just what meets the eye. They are layered and complex characters. It’s any actor’s dream, really.
How did it feel to wear those costumes and do you think they represented the challenges of females in the 1800s?
Oh yeah, definitely. I think it’s quite sad when you watch Daphne do all these crazy things just to look all right . . . the scars on her back. There’s aspects of that even now. I sometimes wear heels and I’m like, why am I wearing heels? These are not fun to wear. Those aspects of being a woman are not necessarily gone now.
What set secret can you share with us?
I’m wearing a wig. Wigs are great. I washed my hair on Sundays and the rest of the time it was just glued to the back of my head. So no social things for me in the evenings. There were a couple of times we’d go for dinner and I’d try to pull off the scraped-back look.
Regé-Jean Page (Simon)
Did you feel pressure knowing that the books the show is based on have such a big fan base?
It’s a privilege to play to an audience that’s already passionate about the work you’re doing. In my head, it’s like signing for a major football team and then playing to a stadium full of fans. Everyone’s invested in this team and you get to delight them with what they’re expecting, and then delight them doubly with what they’re not expecting. It’s hugely energizing.
What did you like about playing your character Simon?
One of the most exciting things about him is being able to reinterrogate what we find attractive about this archetype of the tall, dark, mysterious, broken romantic hero and really dissect why that broken man is attractive in the first place and where his redemption arc is. Reexamining what the values of masculinity are in the 21st century through a 19th-century lens is very exciting to me.
Is there anything that you wish Simon would have done differently?
Everything. Absolutely everything! I think the fun of watching Simon is watching him do the wrong thing over and over and over again until he doesn’t.
You had to learn a lot of new skills to play this role. Which was the most challenging and which did you enjoy the most?
In terms of my favorites, probably not boxing because these guys had me going full Rocky. I was up at 5 every morning, I was running down to the gym, a horrible man was horrible to me for an hour every morning and then I went home and cried in the shower and then came to set, it was great. (Laughs) Boxing was challenging and horse-riding was a lot of fun, though we had some devilish horses who didn’t necessarily like taking instruction.
What set secret can you share with us?
Half the time when we’re in carriages, those aren’t horses pulling them, you’ll just have four grips shoving the carriage, shaking it so it looks like there are horses. We’re sitting completely still with a green screen inside the studio and you try to keep a straight face (while) having a very deep, intimate moment with your costar, knowing that you’ve got four guys going, “How long is this gonna last?” That’s my favorite set secret.
Which of the modern songs used in the show is your favorite and why?
I’m going to pick out “Thank you, next” because why wouldn’t you?
Jonathan Bailey (Anthony)
“Bridgerton” is such a visual feast. What was it like for you to actually be stepping into that world?
A dream come true. It’s such a sexy, sensual thing to be able to wear those costumes. It makes playing the character so easy, in a way. It’s fantasy. I can’t imagine a greater life experience than to be able to really inhabit a historical time in that way.
Any fun stories from the set? Did anyone fall off their horse?
I got to know the different nationalities of the horses and basically all the Bridgerton brothers wanted the same horse. The Spanish horses are really bouncy. And I remember having a riding lesson and going out on a hack with Luke Thompson who plays Benedict. And I was like, “Why are you so calm?” And he’s like, it’s Spanish, it’s Spanish. I was like, “Can I not have the Spanish one?” The Spanish horse got passed around. It felt like a real boot camp.
What are your thoughts on the love stories in the series?
I think romance is a lot about identity and having to work out who you are to be the right person for somebody else or to know who is right for you. Romance is tricky . . . I think falling in love and falling out of love is probably a form of madness, it’s probably one of the biggest and most joyful (things) you can go through as a human. What a brilliant way to have all these characters doing that.
Is there any set secret you can share with us? I know you decided to grow your own sideburns even if you didn’t have to.
I know. (Laughs) I had a pair of riding boots that are quite loose around the top and you could slip a little packet of popcorn in there. I always had snacks for everyone. And in my hair as well. A burger.
Nicola Coughlan (Penelope)
How does it feel to be playing a character from a beloved series of books?
It’s really special. It feels like a real honor because you feel like they’re entrusting these people that people have loved for a really long time onto you so you want to do a really really good job. Sometimes with period dramas, people can feel very two-dimensional, but in “Bridgerton” it felt like they were real people with real flaws and real problems. As an actor, it was just a dream of a job to do.
What do you think of your character Penelope?
I feel really lucky to play her because she goes on such a journey. She starts off really sweet and she’s so misunderstood and she’s quite lonely but she’s not just that. Something that Shondaland does is they write really complicated women—they’re not one thing or the other and that’s the way human beings are. I love playing her.
Do you think the show would appeal to people who aren’t really fans of period dramas?
I’m not actually a big period drama watcher, I’ll admit. I loved the script because it didn’t feel like one in a way. “Bridgerton” feels like we had the rule book, read it, then threw it out and did something completely fresh and new and different. I loved how snappy the scripts were, things happen quickly. It’s a world that feels very alive and very quirky and I think that’s what made me love it so much, really.
Any fun stories from filming?
They didn’t put me anywhere near a horse which is probably a very wise thing but I had a full body corset. If I dropped anything on the floor, I couldn’t bend over. You’re just sort of walking around like a baby. I once laid down in the green room and I couldn’t get myself back up again. (Laughs)
Do you have a set secret to share, too?
Marc Pilcher (makeup designer) and his team were just incredible. At the end of a long day, they’d be like, “What do you want?” They had a mini bar in the trailer and they had prosecco chilled for me which I always very much appreciated.