Phoebe Dynevor grew up with period dramas. A longtime Jane Austen fan, the 25-year-old British actress has a share of BBC period pieces on her résumé, including an adaptation of The Three Musketeers and a series based on Charles Dickens’s works. But she had always dreamed of a project set in the Regency. “I think I really specifically wanted to do the Regency era, and to be able to do high-society Regency era is even more amazing, because it’s just so lavish compared to your Pride and Prejudice or your Sense and Sensibility,” she tells BAZAAR.com. With Bridgerton, she finally got her chance.
Set in 1813 London, the new, Shonda Rhimes–produced Netflix series is a lavish and seductive romp into the scandalous lives of English nobility, adapted from Julia Quinn’s book series. Dynevor leads as Daphne Bridgerton, a promising debutante hailing from a powerful family, set on finding a husband ASAP. When a gossip-spreading scandal sheet muddies her reputation and scares her potential suitors away, she teams up with the very eligible Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page), faking a relationship to appear as a desirable bachelorette once again. Of course, she and the duke fall in love, embarking on a hot and heavy romance that uncovers dark secrets from his past.
Dynevor first auditioned for Daphne in February 2019. After months of not hearing back, things started picking up quickly: She was asked to meet showrunner Chris Van Dusen and producer Betsy Beers. A week later, she was called in to read with Page, who was already cast as Simon. Next came the meeting with Rhimes in L.A. The following day, she was offered the job. She and Page promptly began six weeks of diligent prep, ranging from costume fittings to etiquette classes. It was only then that Dynevor truly realized the scale of this production. “And then, as my schedule came in,” she recalls, “horse riding on Monday and piano lessons on Tuesday and etiquette training. I was like, ‘Oh, okay. This is kind of crazy.’”
Even with the “brilliant” Van Dusen as showrunner, Bridgerton was still “very much in [Rhimes’s] sort of light,” Dynevor says. The producer’s commitment to women, diverse stories, and inclusive casting is visible in this show, where members of royalty and nobility are played by Black actors, reimagining a historical genre that’s been long dominated by whiteness. “Just working with Shondaland, I felt really safe as a woman, I think, particularly just knowing that I wasn’t going to be taken advantage of in any way. I thought everything I was doing was going to be for a reason. And just working with someone like Shonda, who’s sort of pushing boundaries and doing exciting things, I just felt very safe and comfortable knowing that it was under her scope.”
The rising actress, whose mother is soap opera star Sally Dynevor and father is screenwriter and actor Tim Dynevor, made her TV debut in the U.K. teen drama Waterloo Road more than 10 years ago. Since then, she’s racked up a handful of small-screen roles, most recently landing a recurring part on the Hilary Duff–starring Younger. Bridgerton seems to be her biggest project yet and is sure to send her into stardom, considering the show is already a streaming hit.
Calling from Northern London before Bridgerton’s premiere, Dynevor opens up about bringing Daphne Bridgerton to life.
To research for Daphne, did you read the Bridgerton books, or did you watch a lot of period pieces?
I actually have a history of doing quite a few period dramas, but I think I really specifically wanted to do the Regency era, and to be able to do high-society Regency era is even more amazing. … These are people that are so wealthy and sort of the top end of the spectrum of wealth. So, that was quite incredible. And then, I read the book, which was great, because I hadn’t heard of the books before I got offered the role. And it was great to read them, because I suddenly got a really good sense of why the books were so loved.
[The show doesn’t] stick to the books. There are parallels for sure, but it’s not exactly the same. And Daphne’s not quite the same person as she is in the books. … What I really got from the books was the romance side. I think that’s one of the main reasons the books are so loved, the real heat of the spark that you feel. That’s what I really took away, knowing that we needed to get that chemistry right.
What was building that chemistry like with Regé, and building that relationship between Daphne and Simon?
It was great. We had six weeks of prep, so we had so much time to get to know each other. We did a lot of rehearsing. I think the thing that actually really helped the chemistry was all the dance rehearsals, because we just spent so much time with our choreographer, Jack Murphy, and loads of time in the studio—just me, Regé, and Jack sort of getting the moves right and dancing and dancing to this modern, fun music. And we just got time to play and sort of form a connection. I think that was so beneficial actually in getting the chemistry right.
And then, we have an intimacy coordinator. So, we blocked and rehearsed all the intimacy scenes weeks and weeks before we started to do things. I think that was really beneficial to us as well. Because by the time we got to set, we knew what we were doing. We felt really comfortable. We knew each other, we’d already formed that relationship. We were very lucky to have all that time.
There are a lot of steamy sex scenes, so how did having an intimacy coordinator help create a safe space to bring that intimacy to the screen?
When we first met, we had the room with a bed in it, and she just came in basically with a bag of things. And it was yoga balls and yoga mats and bits of cutout things and just all these tools that you can sort of use.
It really was like shooting a stunt, it looked real, but we’ve got padding on. The angles are very … I mean, I’ve shot intimacy scenes before in the past without any of that. And I can’t believe really how new this all is, because it just changed the game. We felt super safe and it just meant that when we got on set, we already knew exactly what we’re doing. We’d blocked it all so specifically. I knew exactly where his hand was going to go at what point. So it just meant that there wasn’t any room for a director to go, “Oh, I want to see this now.”
I want to dive into Daphne a little. She has a lot of agency, but at the same time, she’s also very naive and sexually inexperienced; even her mother can’t tell her how certain things happen in real life.
I mean, it’s quite brilliant that Daphne is really, at heart, very empowered, and she has a lot of agency and she says no. Her instinctual behavior is her strength and her resilience and her determination and all of those things. But then, that was obviously all clouded in the context of her being a woman in Regency England and everything that meant. Literally, her life was to find a husband. We look at that now as independent women and think, Wow, that’s crazy that that was all she could get from life.
But I think if she was born today, she would be probably running her own business at this point. So it was quite interesting to play with all those aspects and also play with just the pressures that she felt. I really wanted to give her a little bit of anxiety. I wanted her to have something very modern about her in the way that she’s quite anxious. It wasn’t really in the script, but it helped me to understand her more. Because it is a different world, but there’s so many parallels with media and the way women have been portrayed in the media and Instagram and the pressures of being perfect and all those things that are involved in that.
I’d love to go into that a little more too. What were some of the present-day parallels you saw as you were going through the show?
There were so many. I think society doesn’t really change, technology does. Everything’s so similar. I really found it interesting, the parallels between Lady Whistledown and the tabloids and just how we love to build women up and then tear them down. I think you really see that with Daphne. One minute she’s the diamond and she can do no wrong. The next minute, she’s slowly falling in everyone’s eyes. And I think that’s such a common theme now, and we see that all the time, especially for women. My sister’s nine years younger than me. She grew up with social media. She’s known no different. And I think the pressures of being young and thinking that you have to look a certain way or sort of put on this perfect pretense to the outside world. … There’s so many modern elements to it, and I think it just feels so relatable because of that.
Daphne’s being naive and nobody telling her anything about the sexual experience reminded me of how a lot of things are still taboo for women today when it comes to sexual expression or how you present your body. Did that jump out to you as well?
Yeah. I really loved the fact that it was the female gaze throughout the story. And there’s so many scenes that I was so used to seeing the other way around growing up—the man laying back on the bed and the woman stripping off. There’s a lot of things that flipped in the show. And even Daphne just at the boxing rings watching Simon flexing his muscles and rolling up the sleeves, I think that was really important for me to do. It’s so funny how so much can change. I keep talking about my sister, but there’s so many things that are different than when I was her age, I didn’t really see and now we’re seeing so much more.
I think at 17, if I’d have seen a show that was really geared towards a woman’s sexuality and her finding that and not the male, and not the woman being sexualized, it would have been so interesting to see that growing up. So I really liked that about the show and I thought, There is intimacy throughout the show, but it’s all to tell this story of a young girl growing up and finding her sexuality. Which I think every girl can relate to and hasn’t necessarily seen that much.
And then when it came to the sets and the wardrobe, obviously, it was such a big, grand production and you wore some really beautiful looks. Did you have a favorite?
There were so many. I have 104 dresses. It was very overwhelming. So it’s so hard to pick one, because I literally have a new dress for every scene.
But there’s one in Episode 8, it’s literally the first scene, when Daphne is getting her portrait done and she’s wearing this dark green, velvety dress, and it just hangs really beautifully. And there’s something about it that really shows that she has become a woman and grown, and she’s no longer wearing petals and light blues and pastel. She’s now sort of holding her own. And I didn’t know there was something really special about wearing that dress, because I just felt really like she’d grown up, and that was a shift in who she was as a woman.
Season 2 hasn’t been confirmed yet, but where would you like to see Daphne and Simon’s story go? Are there things that you think you would like to see explored if the show continues?
Yeah. I think, obviously, if we’re sticking to the books, it’s sort of Anthony’s turn now. But there’s no such thing as a happy ending, is there? I think love’s always shifting and changing. So who knows? I’d like to see what happens next. And also, I’d like to see Daphne get involved in Anthony’s love life, since he was so involved in hers.
Yeah, she’d be at the balls just filtering people out for him.
Exactly. Saying, “Nope, not that one.”
© Erica Gonzales