Phoebe Dynevor was—almost-but-not-quite literally—born to wear a tiara. The daughter of British soap star Sally Dynevor, whose stint on the long-running Coronation Street made her a period-piece fan-favorite, Dynevor was born with the high cheekbones and posh inflections that made her an obvious choice for Shonda Rhimes’s Regency drama Bridgerton. The choice was so obvious, in fact, that once her audition tape made the rounds, she was suddenly, after months of no contact, called into the Shondaland office in Los Angeles to meet with showrunner Chris Van Dusen and producer Betsy Beers. The chat clearly went well: Days later, Dynevor was on a plane from L.A. to London to begin six weeks of prep in the arms of Regé-Jean Page, who plays her character’s love interest Simon Basset.
But what excited Dynevor more than a spontaneous trip back to her home country was the prospect of working with Rhimes herself. “I was such a fan of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, and all of her characters are always super dimensional and interesting, particularly the female roles,” she says. “I knew that this was going to be a different sort of period drama in the way that the women were going to have real agency. They were going to actually be interesting and dynamic characters.”
As Bridgerton continues to dominate the Netflix charts, ELLE.com grabbed a few minutes with Dynevor to discuss the challenges of filming a period piece, her intimate scenes with Page, and what she hopes to see in Season 2.
What’s so dynamic about this show is how it reinvents the Regency era, modernizing it without de-historicizing it: the feminist attitudes, even the modern pop songs played by string instruments. With that in mind, how did you research and prepare for your role as Daphne?
I think the context of the era was still really important for Daphne’s character arc, so I wanted to get all of that right. The etiquette stuff—we had an amazing choreographer who did all the dances with us and taught us how to properly curtsy and bow and build good posture.
And we all read a lot of articles. At one point we had a group chat just for the girls where we’d share articles and books that told us what it was like to be a woman in that time. That was really important for all the women’s stories, actually, to understand how empowered they were even within the context at that time. Women were very oppressed. All these little things: how difficult it was to give birth for women, the fear behind that, how important it was for them to find a man.
So, for instance, I learned how to ride sidesaddle, which was interesting, but there’s a scene where Daphne has to jump on a horse and quite quickly get somewhere, and I really pushed for her to be riding astride as opposed to sidesaddle. I thought that wouldn’t be like her—when something quite desperate was happening, she wouldn’t be sidesaddle.
Daphne is presented, at first, as the stereotypically chaste, innocent young girl, the perfect “diamond.” But she quickly realizes just how little she knows about the world and her own body. She has this awakening both internally and externally. How did you think about filming that coming-of-age in a way that was respectful of its complexity, but still very fun?
I wanted to get to the center of who this person was. And with her sexuality, exploring that aspect of someone who hasn’t ever been told about what sex is, about what marriage actually entails, and having to figure that out on your own without help—that’s sort of weird for us to think about now, in a time of literally being able to Google anything. But to be so kept away from all that and having to discover that on your own? It must be such an isolating, strange thing to go through.
What was it like filming those intimate scenes, having to learn through Daphne’s eyes?
I think what’s interesting about her story and her arc is that, because it’s a television show, it’s her journey condensed to eight episodes. But my period of going from a young woman to a semi-adult was a lot longer than that. Years and years of finding yourself and figuring out who you are as a person. We have the time now to actually find ourselves before we settle down and marry and have kids. But for someone like Daphne, her only way of finding herself and figuring out who she is is through getting married. It’s sort of a condensed way of evolving, I think. And she does a lot of growing up within very little time, which is quite interesting to play with.
A huge part of your chemistry with Regé is your body language, the way you dance around each other both literally and figuratively. What practice went into that?
Both Regé and I were quite nervous about it because I certainly haven’t really danced before. But it was also great discovering that chemistry, and I think we figured out a lot of their relationship in our rehearsals. There’s something about the waltz in particular, where one person leads and the other follows, that helps you get in tune with each other.
We rehearsed only with modern music, so we weren’t sure what music they were going to put over the themes in the show. That was really fun because it brought us to the present day and made it feel more relatable. And we were singing our favorite songs and got to dance to our favorite songs. We rehearsed to Plan B, to a Stormzy track, Rihanna, and “Havana” by Camilla Cabello.
What was it like when you first met Regé? How did you two develop such a real intimacy?
The six weeks prep really helped in that. We spent so much time together; we were also staying at the same hotel, which was quite funny to see each other for breakfast. We had a lot of rehearsals, and then we rehearsed together on our own. By the time we got to set, we knew each other really well, we had spent a ton of time together, so we weren’t getting to know each other as filming went on. And then we had an amazing intimacy coordinator, who we blocked out all the intimate scenes with. They were very intricately rehearsed. And I think that made us both feel really comfortable.
What are you most looking forward to finding out in season 2?
If the seasons are sticking to the books, then it’s Anthony’s turn to find love, so we’re passing on the baton, in that respect. I want to see Daphne get involved in Anthony’s love life a bit, as he sort of meddled with hers quite a lot. I think that will be fun.
© Lauren Puckett