Claudia Jessie can’t wait for Eloise to figure out what sex is. “I’m excited for her to find out how this works because I reckon she’d be confident,” Jesse says, reflecting on her Bridgerton character’s complete lack of sexual education.
“It’s wild, isn’t it? On my first ever day, we were filming somewhere where there was a low flight path and a massive plane went over. Obviously, they made a joke,” she remembers. “They said, ‘We can’t have a plane in the early 1800s.’ And I said, ‘Well, if they don’t know what sex is, they’re going to flip out when they see that in the sky.’ It is bizarre to think about how under-prepared they are.”
The whole plot of Bridgerton, Netflix’s latest period romance in partnership with Shondaland, essentially revolves around the Bridgerton sisters’ ignorance about reproduction. For Daphne, Eloise’s older sister played by Phoebe Dynevor, that ignorance is core to her romantic journey with Simon, the Duke of Hastings. (One could argue, and some have, that their courtship includes more than one issue related to consent because of Daphne’s inexperience.)
“If Daphne had had knowledge, everything would have come out differently. And so, this is an example of a plot that I would say, hopefully you couldn’t write in present day because hopefully nobody would keep an adult in that much ignorance,” explains Julia Quinn, author of the book series Bridgerton is based on.
In contrast, Eloise’s quest to find out how babies are made—so she can ensure she doesn’t get pregnant and has a chance to pursue a career of her own—is a much-needed bit of comic relief in an otherwise steamy romance story. “She steals every scene she’s in,” Quinn says.
With a resume including appearances on Call the Midwife, The Finest, and 2018’s Vanity Fair, Jessie is no stranger to wearing period costumes and working in the UK’s historic homes, but she says Bridgerton, with its anachronistic music and candy-colored aesthetic is not an ordinary period drama.
“It’s totally different from anything I’ve ever been in before. And, it seems fitting that we should be allowed to have a period piece that looks just as flawless as we want a period piece to look, but has the pace that we live at today,” she says. “Maybe people who aren’t too interested in period pieces will be now because Bridgerton is so contemporary, so modern.”
Here, Jessie reflects on Eloise’s journey to unmask Lady Whistledown, opens up about on her own experience reading the Bridgerton books, and shares her thoughts on a potential season two.
Bridgerton is one of the first major TV adaptations of a romance novel. Why do you think it’s taken so long to see this kind of story on a platform like Netflix?
It feels like I don’t want to question the wonder of the universe, the timing of the way things come together, because conditions have to be perfect for stuff like this. And the fans, who have been reading these books for 20 years have been fantasizing about this forever. I think the fantasy has already been out there.
These books come with such a loyal fan base, a beautiful fan base, so the conditions have to be perfect. And then, we’ve got Netflix and then, we’ve got Shonda Rhimes and this amazing collaboration that’s happening. And this being the first project that they’re doing with Shonda. Again, it just feels like I don’t want to question too much about how the universe can work out so lovely and the timing can be so perfect. That’s what it feels like, perfect timing.
Throughout this season, Eloise wants nothing to do with men, or with marriage, or babies, but book readers know what comes next for her. Did you read the books?
After my audition for Bridgerton, I put it out there to the universe, and I bought the book. I was like, “Right. If I commit, then I’ll get the job.” And it worked. So I read the first book and then I listened to two and three on audio book, and then I bought four and five. And five is where Eloise is knocking about, so I do know what’s happening, but it’s an adaptation and there are loads of twists and turns. We’ve got this beautiful blueprint already with Julia Quinn’s amazing novels, and they’re always very true to the heart of what Julia wrote, but there are twists and turns.
I’m excited to see Eloise’s journey. I am, but I do struggle to see her going on a date. How she is right now, as we know her from series one, I can’t imagine what she’d be like. It’s interesting though because I was reading the hard copies of this first one, so a bit on a bar stool or whatever, traveling somewhere.
And obviously, it’s a very sexy series. But when I’m reading it, I could move my book a little bit if someone’s lurking. But then, when I went to audio books, it was in my brain. The sex scenes were so vividly put into my head, so it was quite a funny transition from going from books to my own imagination and then, someone injecting the words into my head.
One of the most complex relationships in this romance is the connection between Penelope and Eloise. What do you make of their friendship?
When I think about them, they grew up opposite each other. And while the Bridgerton family is so filled with love, I reckon there’s a bit of an adoring eye roll from her family when Eloise expresses how she feels. But with Penelope, she’s got someone who she can have that back and forth with. They both talk about, “I wonder what it would be like to be in a university, or to do one of these things.” They can have those back and forths, which I don’t think Eloise has with anyone else. There’s an equal that she sees in Penelope, but also, it’s so complex because Eloise is the talker and Penelope is the listener.
That’s going to change with time because I think there’s a lot of desire in Penelope’s heart, and she’s probably not brave enough to share with someone, because Eloise is so brazen. Eloise is such an exciting character, but there’s also something to be said in her learning how to slow down and to maybe see that Daphne’s idea of a perfect future, of a husband and children is perfectly wonderful. And it’s nothing to scoff at if her best mate has got fantasies about maybe marrying her bloody brother. I can see things really changing for them. I think that they’re each other’s ride or die, so I don’t really think it would ever end them, but I think…
Eloise is obsessed with Lady Whistledown, and she is a worthy opponent to try and find her. But, I reckon, more than half of the obsession is the fact that for her, Lady Whistledown is an expression of the potential for freedom that Eloise talks about so avidly. And, she wants to find her because Lady Whistledown is pocketing people’s money while slacking them off, outing them, and she’s got her autonomy. She’s a working woman. That’s Eloise’s idea of heaven. She hasn’t seen that displayed anywhere, and so the relationship between her and her best mate, it’s going to be very, very complicated when [Lady Whistledown is revealed].
This show has tons of buzz on social media. Can you talk a little bit about your choice to stay off it?
There are certain things that work for people, and there are certain things that don’t. And for me, my absolute happiness, my truest happiness—I don’t think that would happen on social media. I feel like Bridgerton is the way that I get to reach out to people. Do you know what I mean? My job gets to be expansive and that’s exciting. But I feel like social media’s not for me, and it hasn’t been since forever, really. I’ve taken a breather for years now, it’s going really well.
Can you share anything about season two? Will there be more to Eloise’s story?
I really hope so. All I can say is that I pray, I pray, I pray, because imagine Eloise’s debut into what she considers to be a bizarre ritual and doing it, shaking it up. Being Eloise in that environment really excites me. It excites me to see the development of Eloise and Penelope’s friendship because they’re at such a pivotal age. To see that develop, I would love it more than anything, and I hope that everybody else would want that as well. I really hope it happens.
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