A version of this story about “Bridgerton” stars Phoebe Dynevor and Nicola Coughlan first appeared in the Comedy & Drama Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
“Bridgerton” stars Phoebe Dynevor and Nicola Coughlan both took on the roles of Regency-era women who were whip-smart, yet very naive when it came to matters of love and lust. But as the first season of Shonda Rhimes’ smash-hit Netflix series went on, so did the evolutions of Daphne Bridgerton (Dynevor) and Penelope Featherington (Coughlan) into characters who knew what they wanted and weren’t ashamed to go for it, despite the restrictions put on them by society.
Though they’d have expected nothing less from a Rhimes-produced period romance, Dynevor and Coughlan were still overjoyed to learn how their characters were developed through deep, rich season-long conflicts.
“One of the things I loved most about Season 1 was that arc, being able to play Daphne really young and vulnerable and naive and then getting to show her by the end of Episode 8 as a fully grown woman with a baby,” said Dynevor, who was Season 1’s leading lady opposite the now-exited Regé-Jean Page, who played her love interest, Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings.
Of course, getting to the part where Daphne has a baby with her husband Simon first involved shooting several passionate love scenes between her and Page, something that was done in such a way that it made Dynevor even happier with her role in the series.
“I’m just so proud that we really worked in such a safe environment where we used intimacy coordinators,” Dynevor said. “I think a lot of directors and people in the past have just felt uncertain about working in that kind of way because, is it going to hinder the scenes? I feel proud that we were able to not only work in a really safe environment and make sure everyone was comfortable, but also in a way that was very much the female gaze — as opposed to the male gaze, which we’ve seen so many times. And I love how much the audience loved that because it is a new way of seeing those scenes. We were still able to create magic while making sure everyone was safe and had a voice.”
For Coughlan, her job was playing the pivotal part of Penelope, who fans find out in the finale is the true identity of mysterious society gossip columnist Lady Whistledown (who narrates the series in the voice of Julie Andrews). Keeping that secret from viewers on screen, while also throwing in little hints with Penelope’s attitude and all-seeing eye, was no small task.
“When I found out that Penelope was Lady Whistledown, I thought, ‘Oh, my God. Not only have they given me an amazing part — they’ve given me the part. They’ve given me something that’s so important.’ It’s been really hard to take it in that they trusted me with that, but I loved it.”
Coughlan’s slow burn to the reveal of how important her character has been all along is something she saw reflected in the overall arc of “Bridgerton’s” first season, too.
“It’s quietly revolutionary in a lot of ways, in terms of the diversity of casting, in terms of telling women’s stories and allowing there to be complicated women.”
Things will get even more complicated for Penelope/Lady Whistledown in Season 2, Coughlan says, as fans will be able to see her balancing both roles at the same time.
“It’s so much fun because last time I got to do it, but in a super subtle way,” Coughlan says. “It could never be overt, because you didn’t want it to be obvious to the audience. So with Penelope’s reveal, you’ll hear people saying, ‘I knew straightaway’ and ‘I never expected it.’ I don’t want to say too much but, but you will be on the journey with her this time. And it’s this really fun thing for the audience to be in on it. And I’ve always been excited to sort of marry those worlds together because I thought with Season 1, she’s such an innocent. She doesn’t know this world, it’s her first experience in it. Then coming in to Season 2, she’s a bit more wise. She knows the game a little bit more, but also getting to see both sides of her and to play, it’s so much fun. I really am having a ball, I can’t lie.”
Dynevor’s part will become more complicated as well, due to how much Daphne has grown now that she is a married woman and a mother — and the fact that she’ll be referring to her husband, Simon, off screen, as Page will not appear on Season 2 of “Bridgerton.”
“Seeing her in Season 2, I think she’s really owning that and owning herself a lot more and stepping into that role of being a mother and being able to give Anthony (her oldest brother, played by Jonathan Bailey) advice in whatever way she can,” Dynevor said. “She’s a grown woman now so she can call more shots and be more in control. And I think it will be a really different, interesting Daphne in this season.”