While “Bridgerton” fans continue swooning over the Duke of Hastings – not that they can be blamed, Regé-Jean Page is after all one of the hottest faces on the small screen right now – allow me to introduce you to Penelope Featherington, played by the talented Nicola Coughlan.
I was fortunate to land a virtual interview with the 34-year-old Irish actress and I must admit that her poise, quirks and wittiness made her almost indistinguishable from her character.
Her affable disposition made the chat an absolute delight.
When asked about her familiarity with Julia Quinn's novels, which follows the lives of several families in the ton society during the Regency era, she admitted: “I wasn’t at all familiar with the books. I’d never heard of them.
“When I had gotten the role, I started looking them up and I realised what a huge fan base they had.
“It was amazing and a little bit overwhelming because I realised that they really loved the character, Penelope, so there was a certain amount of pressure that I didn’t want to get that wrong for the fans of the books.”
She expressed her hope in the Netflix adaptation being as well-received.
The fact that the series has been trending around the globe and that it has been the nod for a second season is indicative of its clout with fans.
I shamelessly admitted to binging on all eight episodes in one go. Coughlan laughed, grasping the addictiveness of the series.
Interestingly, she didn’t think she would get the part.
“It’s funny, as an actor, no one ever knows about the next role they are going to have. When something comes in and you know it’s Shondaland, you know that it’s Netflix, you know that it’s going to be a big deal – I did not expect to be cast. I thought this was going to be such a big show.”
Although this is a period drama, there’s a defiant freshness is how the story is told.
The actress added: “‘Bridgerton’ follows the rules and then throws them out. Shondaland populates the world with who we want and creates new rules.”
Although Penelope, who is often dressed in the loudest colours, may not be front and centre in the storyline, her character is likeable.
Coughlan explained: “I think the reason they love her is that she is the person we felt like at one point in time or another.
“She’s such an outsider. She really struggles to find her place. She doesn’t’ really fit in with her family.
“They really discount her. When she’s at the ball, she feels awkward. And then she has this unrequited love for Colin Bridgerton.
“I feel that is something we have all been through. It’s a real coming-of-age for her. I think she’s so innocent, to begin with, and has that wide-eyed optimism that fades as it is replaced by all these challenges.”
While romantic dilemmas form the cornerstone of the series, it is underpinned by solid friendships, too.
And Penelope shares a close bond with Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie) despite the uncomfortable hostility between their families.
The actress sang the praises of her co-star.
“She, genuinely, is the kindest, sweetest person. She is so funny and such a talented actor,” she shared.
Coughlan didn’t hold back on her feelings for Shonda Rhimes.
“I’ve read the ‘Year of Yes’,” she confirmed. “She’s so inspiring and so strong. She created her own genre on television.
It’s clear by the way she represents woman like Olivia Pope and Meredith Grey. I loved “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder”.
“I got to visit the set in February (2020). Shonda Rhimes took me around Los Angeles and I got to meet Viola Davis, which was incredible.”
With “Bridgerton” each character is three dimensional.
And Penelope’s close-bond with Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker) is laden with plenty of twists as she finds herself torn between keeping a secret and following her own heart.
Despite Penelope’s awkwardness, frustrations and insecurities, her strength of conviction in doing the right thing makes her an unsung heroine.
As such, Coughlan can be proud of that fact that she has made Penelope as likeable as the character in the book. Talk about a job well done!
“Bridgerton” is streaming on Netflix.