Actress Nicola Coughlan On Her Netflix Series Bridgerton

Aside from Shonda Rhimes and Netflix, what were some of the major selling points of the project for you early on?

That it felt really fresh. For any project, it has to start with a good script. If it doesn’t, there is nothing you can do to fix it. You can get the best actors in the world, the best cinematographer, the best director, everything, [but] it doesn’t make a difference if you don’t have a good script, and Bridgerton had an excellent script. The characters were really complex, and that’s something I’m always drawn to. Penelope starts off as this real innocent kid who has been pushed into adult society way too young. She knows it. She doesn’t want to be in the marriage market. She wants her best friend Eloise by her side. She has no allies. With Eloise, you can see Penelope is witty. She’s smart; she has a lot to say. Then when she’s around Colin Bridgerton, she’s a lovestruck puppy. She’s a romantic. I think that’s what Shondaland does really well—they write women who are complicated and are not one thing or another. People would say to me, “[Penelope] is really sweet,” and I would say, “She is, but she has a lot more to her than that. Things get really complicated for her really quickly because she’s not equipped to deal with the things she thinks. She’s clever, so she takes 10 steps ahead, but then she’s in trouble.” 

Yes, things unravel for her a bit as the season goes on. How would you say you and Penelope are similar?

I think in ways we are similar. I have definitely been that lovestruck puppy. I have definitely seen the boy I liked dancing with other girls, and I remember that, and it’s heart-wrenching. [Your] first love is so intoxicating and it takes over everything. She’s loved Colin Bridgerton since she was a little girl. In the novels, she fell in love with him when he fell off a horse when she was nine years old. He is so kind to her and sees in her what a lot of people don’t. She is this wallflower that fades into the background. I’ve had that in life where I say, “I want to be an actor,” and people go, “Really? Do you think you are going to make it as an actor?” People can underestimate you, and I’ve felt that. I think in ways that we are different. Penelope internalizes a lot more. I think she is a real observer. She takes everything in, but I say this to friends as well: You can’t internalize forever because it’s going to come out. I think for her, it does come out, and in a major way. I am also terrible at keeping secrets. Penelope can keep endless secrets. I am rubbish. I’m not a bad friend telling my friends’ stuff, but for myself, when something happens, I’m like, “Okay, but I have to tell my sister.” Also, I’m very close to my sister and Penelope is not so much with her sisters. That’s another big difference.