Julie Anne Robinson knows you have been talking about that sex scene in “Bridgerton.” The veteran television director oversaw Episodes 1 and 6 of Netflix’s hit Regency romance series, the latter of which contained a montage so hot and heavy, it would have made Jane Austen faint. But Robinson would like viewers to know that filming the sex scene was not as uninhibited as it looked.
For one, it was filmed at Castle Howard, a 300-year-old manor in Yorkshire, England, where the “Bridgerton” crew was not allowed to move any paintings or furniture. They weren’t even allowed to touch the walls.
Robinson recalls one scene in which main characters Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon (Regé-Jean Page) were getting intimate on the lawn of the estate. Page was completely nude. It was filmed on a sunny day, when the castle was open for visitors, some of whom stopped to take a peek at the proceedings—as well as some photos.
“People came running down from the house saying, ‘They’re all looking out the window. They’re all pointing their long [camera] lenses down here,’ ” says Robinson with a chuckle. “ ‘Get those long lenses. Close the whole thing down!’ That was a fun moment.”
Robinson has been nominated for a Directors Guild of America Award for her work on the show, which depicts aristocrats in England trying to marry off their daughters. Since its debut in December, “Bridgerton” has become the most-watched series on Netflix. It has also become an obsession for viewers, thanks in large part to its intrigue-filled world of romance and empire-waist gowns. And it has also captured viewers’ attention for being, well, sexy.
Robinson admits the sex scenes in “Bridgerton” were the hardest thing she’s ever directed because, she explains, “It’s about something that you can never talk about or see.” When shooting a sex scene, Robinson has to convey the emotional state of the characters without dialogue, advance the story, and ensure that the nudity is earned.
“We wanted to communicate each step along the way of Daphne’s journey,” she says. “So each [sex scene] was, I hope, not gratuitous, but a storytelling device to explore a young woman’s sexual awakening.”
Safety was also a huge priority during those scenes, so that no boundaries were crossed. Robinson worked with intimacy coordinator Elizabeth Talbot, who choreographed the movements with the actors and made sure that no body part showed up on camera that wasn’t supposed to be shown and that nothing was touching that wasn’t supposed to be.
“I would pause while we were shooting, and the intimacy coordinator would run in with levels of protection for the actors to just keep them feeling separated,” explains Robinson. She brought in tools like yoga mats and large stress balls. “There [are] a lot of tricks to those scenes that are invisible to the audience.”
According to Robinson, that level of oversight and detail allowed the actors to feel safer in those vulnerable scenes. “They just can feel so much more confident in themselves when they come to those scenes; they know there’s a level of trust.”
There is one sex scene in particular that has been controversial with viewers. It takes place at the end of Episode 6 and drives an emotional wedge between Daphne and Simon, as it leaves both feeling violated, with lines of consent blurred.
Robinson is aware that fans have interpreted the moment as Daphne assaulting her husband. But the team was trying to show the scene through Daphne’s eyes—a moment when the character saw herself as taking control. “I was trying to repivot the gaze to the female gaze for those scenes,” Robinson says. “It was very important to me that you experience this journey through her eyes, through her experiences. And that’s what we were attempting in that last scene.”
Besides the sex scenes, Robinson was able to give some crucial creative input to “Bridgerton.” She advocated for filming at Castle Howard, and she suggested the locations for several of the family houses, including Ranger’s House in London for the Bridgerton house.
“A lot of the country houses that we picked, I knew from my childhood,” says Robinson, who grew up in the U.K. and now lives in Los Angeles. “I used to walk past the Bridgerton house every day; I used to live close to the Bridgerton house.”
Robinson also suggested using contemporary music in the show instead of a purely orchestral score in order for it to feel more modern and immediate to viewers. That is why a cover of Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” performed by the Vitamin String Quartet, is used for the first big ball in the pilot. Duomo’s instrumental cover of Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” is used for the sex montage in Episode 6.
Modern pop songs were also played on set so the actors could dance to them during the ball scenes. Robinson didn’t want the actors to “feel like they’re in something that is alien, distant to them, but rather something that feels very fresh and alive to them.”
Robinson admits that the reception to “Bridgerton” has been “breathtaking.” Even people in her life have been asking her about the series. Unfortunately, Robinson doesn’t know when she will return to the show, as she is under contract to direct television episodes for Universal at the same time that Season 2 of “Bridgerton” is in production. But she hopes she’ll be able to travel back to 19th-century London soon.
“I’m sure I will go back at some point,” says Robinson. “I’m so proud. I’m genuinely very grateful and gratified at the response that it’s had.”
This story originally appeared in the June 3 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.
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