Nicola Coughlan + Phoebe Dynevor on the Bold Choices That Landed Them ‘Bridgerton’

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Despite their distinct training backgrounds and character construction techniques, “Bridgerton” stars Nicola Coughlan and Phoebe Dynevor agree on plenty when it comes to acting. It’s a fickle business, for one, and no matter where actors are in their career trajectory, they can count on two qualities persisting: fear and self-doubt. 

“You have that fear where you go, I don’t think I know how to act anymore, I don’t remember anything!” says Coughlan with a laugh. “You make up all these things in your head, I think it’s just like this defeatist voice.... You just have to tell it to shut off. It’s so unhelpful, it’s so stupid.”

“It doesn’t go away,” adds Dynevor. But reflecting on her periodic dry spells as a working actor, she says it’s usually just as you’re ready to give up that the industry presents the perfect opportunity. “When you’re on the cusp of throwing in the towel, something will yo-yo you back in!”

Such was the case for both actors before “Bridgerton,” Netflix’s period drama adapted from Julia Quinn’s novels by Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland and showrunner Chris Van Dusen, turned them into stars overnight. As Penelope Featherington and Daphne Bridgerton, respectively, Coughlan and Dynevor were part of the show’s 2021 SAG Award–nominated ensemble cast; to call the second season, now filming in London, highly anticipated would be a vast understatement. 

“I had so many failed auditions pre-‘Bridgerton,’ ” remembers Coughlan, a student of drama and improv in England and her native Ireland before getting her big break onstage in “Jess and Joe Forever,” followed by ITV Encore and Hulu’s drama “Harlots” and the hit Channel 4 and Netflix comedy “Derry Girls.” 

“I don’t think you can ever really prepare yourself for something to hit like ‘Bridgerton’ did, because there’s not many things that hit like that,” says Dynevor, who got her start as a child actor on the drama “Waterloo Road,” then “Dickensian,” “Snatch,” and TV Land and Paramount+’s “Younger.” Navigating such a whirlwind career moment is made easier alongside co-stars like Regé-Jean Page, Jonathan Bailey, and Claudia Jessie, she adds. “I couldn’t imagine doing this alone, you know?”

While Dynevor calls herself “very instinctual” in her approach to text, Coughlan generally begins building characters around their vocal mannerisms and accents. “With Claire [on ‘Derry Girls’], it’s all very frantic, she kind of can’t sit still,” she says, slipping into the distinct regional dialect of Derry. “With Penelope, I think she’s afraid to move...like when she’s gesturing, it has to come back to her.”

“The only thing I do for everything is read the script a billion times, back to front, every single bit,” says Dynevor. “There’s always something that I really need to do for a role. And for ‘Bridgerton,’ it was, I need to make this person relatable and real, and modernize her.”

Asked for their tips for fellow artists, Coughlan and Dynevor underline the importance of making strong, clear acting choices. “I’d go in and try and guess what they wanted,” says Dynevor of her auditions. “And that’s a big no no, because you have to go in and—even if you don’t feel confident or whatever, you have to go in and make a bold choice.”

“Always make a choice,” agrees Coughlan. “You’re never gonna know whether you’re making the right one, but you might as well just try and then you can rein it back.

“Stay hungry for it,” she adds. “If it’s not enough when you’re even performing in a fringe theater with 20 people in the audience, it’s still not going to be enough if it’s a big Hollywood movie. You’ve got to find the joy in whatever job you’re doing or lucky enough to have.”

Tune in also for an intro from Backstage’s industry news contributor (and “Bridgerton” expert) Diep Tran, as well as casting insider Christine McKenna-Tirella’s recommended notices of the week: a Christmas TV movie needs young talent based in London, and Amazon Studios and Lizzo are seeking dancers.

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