In the depths of the winter coronavirus surge, along came a show that brought a much needed respite and a lot more. Debuting on Christmas Day, the Regency-era Bridgerton, the first Shondaland series for Netflix, provided escapism with its vibrant mix of Jane Austen-meets-Gossip Girl while also redefining the period drama and romance genres with its contemporary storytelling and multi-racial casting.
Based on Julia Quinn’s novels, Bridgerton captivated audiences around the world to shatter Netflix’s viewership records as 82 million households globally watched the first season (partially or in its entirety) in the first four weeks. In an interview during Deadline’s Contenders Television awards-season event, Bridgerton creator/executive producer/Season 1 & 2 showrunner Chris Van Dusen and stars Phoebe Dynevor (Daphne Bridgerton) and Nicola Coughlan (Penelope Featherington/Lady Whistledown) spoke about the show’s enormous success.
“Just seeing how much it has impacted people’s lives and people saying on the street, ‘Wow, thank you, we really loved your show’, moments like that are really lovely, especially in a time that has been quite difficult for a lot of people,” Dynevor said.
Added Coughlan, “This is such a wonderful escapist piece that had so much depth to it, I think it drew people in.”
The “incredible response” to the first season, headlined by Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page, does not put extra pressure heading into Season 2, Van Dusen said.
“There has always been pressure on this show because these books are really beloved across the world and they have such a passionate fanbase and following that there always has been a healthy pressure for me to get it right,” he said.
Van Dusen was immediately drawn to Quinn’s “funny, sexy and emotional” novels when approached by Shondaland, but he was never interested in a straight adaptation.
“I’ve always loved a period piece and I’ve always loved the genre,” he said. “But I think they are considered a little conservative and a little traditional, and I knew from the beginning that I never wanted Bridgerton to be that way. We really worked to tell these stories and explore these characters through a really contemporary lens, and you see it from the way we cast the show to the set on the show, to the way it’s edited, to the themes we are exploring. It is set in the 19th century but you sometimes forget that because what we are exploring is really modern and it’s really universal.”
Neither Dynevor nor Coughlan had been familiar with the Bridgerton books before auditioning for the series. Both found ways to relate to their Regency-era characters.
“There are a lot of differences between me and Daphne but I think she values family, which I also value, and at a time when women had only one option, she was as determined to make that happen as I am in my career I guess, and I think that was sort of my way into Daphne,” Dynevor said. “I admired her more because she made it happen but she called the shots, and she also found love. Their sexual evolution was very important to the storyline and something me, Chris, Regé and everyone involved really wanted to tell truthfully and in a way that was safe for everyone.”
“I’ve related to her in a sense that I’ve seen the boy I really like dancing with another girt and felt that pain,” Coughlan said of playing Penelope, while also noting “the fascinating dichotomy of her being Penelope and Lady Whistledown that has to play concurrently, that she is this low-status young woman and then the most powerful woman in society.”
Van Dusen would not divulge details about Season 2, which is based on the second book, The Viscount Who Loved Me, and centers on the eldest Bridgerton sibling, Anthony, played by Jonathan Bailey, as it is starting production. But he did say, “I’m excited to finally get back to it, this wonderful cast and amazing crew, continuing the Bridgerton story.”
In Season 1, Bridgerton costume designers Ellen Mirojnick and John Glaser created 7,500 unique pieces specifically for the show, and there will be more of that going forward.
“Costumes are a big part of the show, and of course, Season 2 and beyond you are going to see some of these amazing costumes,” Van Dusen said.
From the get-go, Van Dusen and Shondaland had envisioned Bridgerton going on for eight seasons, each following the love story of one of the Bridgerton siblings, which would be a record for a Netflix series.
“I hope so,” Van Dusen said when asked if they are sticking to that plan. “The show is based on a series of eight books in total, and I think it would be a joy to be able to explore stories in seasons for all the siblings.” (Bridgerton is currently renewed through Season 4, with Jess Brownell set to succeed Van Dusen as showrunner in Seasons 3 & 4.)
Dynevor and Coughlan both said they are on board with the idea of doing eight seasons of Bridgerton.
“There is a lot more gossip to tell. Sign me up,” Coughlan said.
Check out the conversation in the video above.