It’s a cold, rainy morning in Bristol, England as I arrive on the set of Bridgerton, a Netflix series produced by Shonda Rhimes: one of her first major projects for the streaming platform. The sweeping period drama centers on the wealthy Bridgerton and Featherington families as they navigate the dramatic waters of Regency-era London. The cast and crew are on location at a gorgeous country house from the 1800s filming the ball seen at the end of episode three, titled “Art of the Swoon.”
It’s a lavish affair, with costume racks whirling past me, extras pacing between scenes, and a smoky haze left over from the Bird Ball, another society affair recently filmed. Unbeknownst to me, it will be another 13 months before Bridgerton—created for television and executive produced by Rhimes protégé Chris Van Dusen—arrives on Netflix for all to stream. In some ways it feels like a lifetime ago, but given the enormous undertaking of the elaborate series, it’s a relatively short time frame.
“I’ll be very honest, nothing about this show has been easy,” Van Dusen tells me between scenes. “But at the end of the day, that’s what makes it all the more rewarding. When I watched the first cut, I was just overwhelmed with pride. I’ve always wanted to be involved with a period show, but make one that’s different.”
And is it ever. As Van Dusen says, this is not your mother’s period show. “It’s vibrant and sensual and sexy,” he says. “We wanted to take what’s always been a traditionally conservative genre and turn it on its head.”
In case you haven’t watched all eight episodes, I won’t spoil anything for you here. But I did uncover as many behind-the-scenes secrets as possible to learn just what it takes to bring 19th century London society to life. From audition stories to makeup and hair secrets, here’s what you might have missed—and what you should go back and watch.
Phoebe Dynevor was nervous about the ballroom dances
“I’ve never been a particularly good dancer, and I was a little bit worried about that,” Dynevor, who plays Daphne Bridgerton, reveals. “But it’s a real bonding experience for all the actors to be thrown into this world and get to play together.” Freddie Stroma, who plays Prince Friedrich, says that choreographer Jack Murray not only taught everyone how to dance for the time period, but tailored dance styles to each character. “He understands dance and time periods and that we’re layering in [elements] that aren’t necessarily historically accurate,” Stroma says. (Case in point, musical arrangements to Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande songs.) “It ends up being really fun.”
Daphne Bridgerton wears nearly 100 dresses on the series
“I have 93 dresses,” Dynevor reveals. “That’s just mad! They’re all made from scratch and hand-embroidered. And there’s six people making just Daphne’s dresses.” Of the dress-making process, costume designer John Glaser tells Glamour that they started manufacturing gowns nearly nine months before filming started, in cities like Budapest, Madrid, Florence, New York, and London. Even with the head start, Glaser and his team continued making costumes during filming.
Dynevor has lots in common with her alter-ego
“I felt her emotion and everything she was going through,” she says of Daphne’s coming-of-age story and figuring out love. “Daphne is very much putting on a front to be someone she thinks people want her to be, versus what’s her. And I have felt that as well.” Dynevor says social media hasn’t necessarily been good for her, because of “the pressure to be this perfect thing, or what you think people want you to be, and then what’s underneath.”
Nicola Coughlin was working in a doctor’s office before her career took off
“I walk around every day going I can’t believe I’m part of a Shonda Rhimes show on Netflix. I don’t know what has happened,” Coughlin says. “I think my imposter syndrome is at an all time high.” In fact, three years before getting the role of Penelope Featherington, Coughlin was working at an optometrist’s office part-time. “I was the girl who tells you when your eye test is due. I used to practice my autograph on the letters, so this is insane to me. I wake up every day so grateful for my job.”
The Featherington sisters are meant to be the Kardashians of the 19th century
“Penelope is old school Khloé,” Coughlin says. “Remember Khloé used to say, ‘I’m the redheaded stepchild, and I have to do everything for everyone.’ I think that’s Penelope. But then, you know, Khloé came back and is flying high.” Coughlin says she thinks Penelope will follow a similar path, but for now she’s definitely the one who’s left out amongst her sisters. “Prudence and Philipa are terrible to her. And then Lady Portia Featherington is a true Kris Jenner—the ultimate ‘momager.’ She’s very ambitious for her girls.”