‘Bridgerton’ puts Nicola Coughlan in the spotlight: ‘I’ve gone from doing plays for 10 people to starring in a global show’

The third season of the two-part Netflix series continues the sauciness and romance of the show, and brings back the sex scenes of its first episodes

Nicola Coughlan, in the third season of 'Bridgerton.'
Natalia Marcos

“Dear reader.” More than two years have passed since the voice of Julie Andrews welcomed viewers to the second season of Bridgerton. The series — based on Julia Quinn’s romantic novels, and one of Netflix’s biggest hits — has taken its time before returning with a third season. What’s more, this season will force fans to be patient, as it is divided into two parts: the first four episodes were released on May 16 and the next four will arrive on June 13. Neither part, however, is short on the expected flirtation, romance, sexual tension and, unlike the previous season, sex.

Produced by Shonda Rhimes, the queen of addictive TV, the series creates its own version of London high society in the Regency period, one that is stylized, racially diverse and with a contemporary perspective. The show focuses on the marriage market, in which young women look for the best possible husband. Each season follows one of the eight Bridgerton siblings, but the real main character of the new season is Penelope Featherington, who until now had remained in the background. After all, she is the character behind the pseudonym of Lady Whistledown, the mysterious woman who writes the pamphlets detailing secrets that are the talk of high society.

The new episodes begin with the start of another season of pairings and Penelope’s decision to turn her life around. With her friendship with Eloise Bridgerton broken after she discovers her secret identity, and heartbroken after hearing her crush, Colin Bridgerton, say he would never dream of courting her, Penelope gives herself a makeover and goes on the hunt for her husband. Colin — who returns from a trip to Europe as one of the most sought-after singles on the marriage market — even offers to help her. Logically, the situation is set to get complicated quickly, with unexpected suitors, twists and secrets revealed.

Luke Newton como Colin Bridgerton y Nicola Coughlan como Penelope Featherington, en la tercera temporada de 'Los Bridgerton'.
Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton and Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington, in the third season of 'Bridgerton.'LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

Like her character, actress Nicola Coughlan, 37, has also gone from being in a supporting role to the lead. “A lot of Penelope’s journey is a journey I had to go on myself. Right before finding out I was going to be the leader of series three, I was very much like, ‘Oh, it’s so fun to be the character in the background who’s weird and doing his stuff and being funny.’ Then I got the call from Jess Brownell [head of the new season, replacing Chris Van Dusen, creator of the series] who told me, ‘It’s going to be you and Luke [Newton]’ and I felt sort of not ready and a bit terrified and I had to learn how to step into the spotlight the same way Penelope does,” Nicola Coughlan told EL PAÍS a year ago in a short interview held as part of the Tudum Fan Event organized by Netflix in June 2023. Despite lasting a few minutes, the speed at which Coughlan speaks meant she was able to provide many insightful reflections on the third season, which she had just finished shooting.

“This is a series that so many people like and has such passionate fans that you want to do it as well as possible,” she says of the responsibility she felt of leading the plot. “When we film, for example, the big balls, which can five days, normally you’ll do your moments and then you step off to your trailer while the leads get filmed. But soon Luke and I realized that, oh, it wasn’t someone else’s responsibility, it was ours,” she says. In the now classic balls of Bridgerton, this season will feature instrumental versions of contemporary songs such as Happier The Ever by Billie Eilish, Give Me Everything by Pitbull and Snow On the Beach by Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey.

Nicola Coughlan, en el tercer capítulo de la tercera temporada de 'Los Bridgerton'.
Nicola Coughlan, in the third season of 'Bridgerton.'LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

Known thanks to the comedy Derry Girls — which about a group of teenagers in the turbulent Northern Ireland of the 1990s —, Coughlan believes that one of the reasons for the success of Bridgertons is how diverse and inclusive the casting is, a job that fell to Kelly Valentine Hendry. Contrary to what happens in the books, which insisted on explaining that Penelope lost a lot of weight by the time she becomes the lead, Jess Brownell wanted the character to keep her curvaceous shape. In the show, Penelope’s change is more about her attitude and confidence.

Coughlan says it is important that her body image not be an obstacle to her value as a performer. In 2018, when she rose to fame with Derry Girls, she wrote an article in The Guardian demanding that she be judged as her work as an actor, not on her weight after she was described in a review as an “overweight little girl.” “Everything I’d done to create my character had been reduced to a hurtful word and casual comment on my appearance [...] He was meant to review my work. Instead he reviewed my body. That is not acceptable,” she wrote, referring to reviewer Philip Fisher.

Rosa Hesmondhalgh, Kathyn Drysdale y Nicola Coughlan, en el primer capítulo de la nueva temporada de 'Los Bridgerton', preparando el cambio de look de Penelope.
Rosa Hesmondhalgh, Kathyn Drysdale and Nicola Coughlan in 'Bridgerton.'LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

In Bridgerton, the challenge for Coughlan went beyond leading the plot (“I was used to doing plays where 10 people would show up. So to be part of this global show that I so much love was a privilege,” she says); it was also starring in sex scenes. “You know, Bridgerton’s quite a racy series. That was very intimidating, but Luke was amazing and I had a great person holding my hand the all along way, we talked all the time and we supported each other a lot. I don’t think I could have done it without him, to be honest.”

For the actress, her character has gone from being almost a child in the first season to being prepared to show herself as she is, with her pros and cons. “She and Colin go on that journey together. They both have to come to a point where they realize who they really are as people and fully see each other for the first time,” she adds. “Each season has its own identity. In my mind, the first season was about passion, the second was about longing, and the third I think is about romance. It’s so romantic. It takes your breath away. They’ve written it so beautifully. I hope we’ve done justice to the script.”

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