Photos Tom Schirmacher
Styling Laura Ferrara
Even in the era when streamings have become the great allies of our escapism, it is difficult to imagine a series as commented on in recent memory as Bridgerton! Coming to Netflix in the middle of Christmas, Shonda Rhimes' production is based on Julia Quinn's bestsellers and, we have to admit: the romantic drama of the Regency period proved to be as beautiful as it was edible.
With a second season already confirmed, it was during our first contacts with the plot that we discovered that its story revolves around two very attractive young lovers, Daphne Bridgerton, played by Phoebe Dynevor, and the Duke of Hastings, played by Regé-Jean Page. The two actors connected from the beginning, getting to know each other between rehearsals and tests, increasingly aware that they may soon also become known names. Getting a Netflix show produced by Shonda was a big deal, and they were getting into it together.
“We had a similar background, a similar work history. We were actually on the same level,” - Dynevor told L'Officiel in a call from Zoom. "We knew it would do the same for both of us. There was pressure behind it and we were both nervous.”
While Page had worked with Rhimes before, appearing in the legal thriller "For the People", the young actress was best known to the public by the American sitcom "Younger" and British television series like "Snatch", "The Village" and "Waterloo Road".
Raised in Manchester, the daughter of actress Sally of Coronation Street and screenwriter Tim of Emmerdale Farm, Dynevor was different from most of her fellow teen actors. Although she started auditioning for papers at 11, she did not attend a vocational school for children, nor did she attend most of high school. Despite getting a role in Season 5 on Waterloo Road at age 14, Dynevor says she didn't solidify her love of work until three years later, when her sixth-grade English teacher cast her as Antigone in a play.
"I didn't like musical theater, and I was also like 'background dancer No. 7' at Bugsy Malone at school," she recalls. But being on stage in a leadership role that required research and really "incorporating" a character, according to Dynevor, was exciting.
Interpreting Daphne, the so clever and beautiful “diamond of the first water” of the London society season of 1813, required working closely with a professional in dance, piano, horsemanship and etiquette. The same thing happened with spending countless hours in a parade of pale and intricately decorated waist dresses, which Dynevor found crucial to enter the zone and personify the character.
But, perhaps the most formidable test involved exploring Daphne's psyche. Educated, but perceptive, perfectly aware of the slightest social error, the character is the object of almost constant envy, adulation and speculation.
“The challenge for me was to get in and discover the inner workings of who she was and how she felt,” explains Dynevor. “It is a lot of pressure for a young woman to have to be good at all of these things, to impress the queen and find a husband. And if they didn't, they would be removed from society. It's intense."
In essence, however, Bridgerton is a delightfully escapist, with writer and series creator Chris Van Dusen and author Quinn creating a fictional “alternative universe” for his characters. In it, race is not blind, but neither is it an impediment to climbing the highest levels of power, including the throne. (Queen Charlotte, played by Golda Rosheuvel, was identified as a descendant of a black branch of the Casa Real Portuguesa). Well-born women are still in complete control of the well-born men in their lives, but at least in Bridgerton, we can glimpse their sex lives through a decidedly feminine look.
There are distinctly modern foundations for the narrative series, including a more robust sense of female agency. However, Dynevor's character remains a product of time and circumstances. Underneath the pomp and corset, Daphne still had to appear engaging and empathetic to today's global audience.
Conveying a sense of relationship was fundamental. "I loved her and immediately knew who she was," recalls Dynevor. "But I thought, if there are a hundred or so countries watching this, I want all women to have a sense of what she's going through." The solution? Channeling the anguish and apprehension that plagued women for centuries and apparently only accelerated in the past decade.
“I just thought about women in the media and the influence of social media - the way the younger generations are growing up with a lot of anxiety and mental health issues. Even before the pandemic”, - she reveals.
It turns out that bringing the connection to the screen may have required some physicality on the part of Dynevor. Remembering her character, Dynevor pauses and unexpectedly starts to laugh. She is remembering her younger sister, who alerted her to the fact that people online were talking about her "neck act". In part, the observations seemed to be rooted in comparisons with actors like Keira Knightley - with similar characteristics and who like period pieces.
"I didn't even know I was doing this, but I think with the corset - and my need to express Daphne's anxiety - there was a lot of tension in the neck," explains Dynevor. Ultimately, she wanted to show the complexity inherent in a character praised as the embodiment of perfection, caught between having to know everything and still ignoring so much.
Even lacking a basic understanding of sex and men, Daphne must present a measured and socially acceptable facade, despite any internal turmoil. "It was about showing two different emotions and not making her feel like that kind of Disney princess - which is all great, because she is scared and vulnerable behind all that wide-eyed naivete."
Of course, with that particular kind of naivety comes parody. Viral videos of comedians like Chloe Fineman and Kieran Hodgson scoff at Daphne's inexperience, which becomes a focal point of the series in later episodes. Sex appears prominently, although with more time spent lingering on male pectorals and buttocks than on heaving breasts.
Having a female intimacy coordinator and shooting these scenes in a technical manner similar to acrobatics allowed Dynevor to feel at ease and, above all, protected, according to her. But it was not always so.
Recalling the not-so-distant era before the “Me Too” movement, Dynevor remembers filming a pilot at age 19 and feeling incredibly exposed and relatively powerless. “If you were a promising actress or actor and wanted to work, you would have to do the they sent you - or it wouldn't work, you know?”
Dynevor says she has noticed positive changes in the industry over the past five years, particularly around the shooting of sex scenes on sets once dominated by men. Still, it never hurts to have someone who fully understands what it's like to be super known as part of a sexy and fictional TV duo at your side. Like Daisy Edgar-Jones from the Normal People series, who connected her via FaceTime shortly after Bridgerton's debut.
"She knew exactly what I was going through, being part of a couple and [having] that kind of success - known worldwide, during the pandemic," recalls Dynevor. The actress is not yet used to being especially famous or having famous names approaching. But as Bridgerton's fan base just grows, the cast will inevitably come under the spotlight. And while Dynevor still feels the weight of expectation to maintain a camera-ready appearance, some of her colleagues do not follow the same standards.
"Even at Zooms, I was expected to dress well and look my best," recalls Dynevor of the recent interview. “Some of my male castmates were using what they wanted. If you are in the spotlight as a woman, there is definitely still pressure ... It's like the first thing they look at”. It is tempting to draw a parallel between Dynevor and Daphne, although the actress is quick to admit that things have improved a lot, especially in terms of dress.
The conversation turns to contemporary fashion, but not without first mentioning Polly Walker's incredible slim waist on the show. (Walker, who also played Dynevor's mother in Prisoners' Wives, was one of the few characters capable of highlighting her hourglass silhouette.)
Daphne had the most indulgent dresses, but she certainly never had the luxury of relaxing in sleepwear, which was how Dynevor tuned in to the recent Dior collection 2021 spring / summer haute couture, virtually. "It was fun. I mean, it wasn't the same," she admits. "I was literally watching in my bed in pajamas, but it was great."
Although she is an admirer of French houses like Dior and Chanel, Dynevor is not so obsessed with labels and is aware of the need to shop more sustainably. “If I'm going to buy something, I like it to be of good quality and to be able to use it in the coming years”, she argues. "I'm not interested in the latest trends and I don't want to throw away my wardrobe every year."
That said, the actress recently started experimenting with the perceived pitfalls of recycling pieces, especially with cameras on the prowl. "I have absolutely no awareness that people would like to take a picture of me," she says. "And I was recently picked up at the airport, wearing exactly the same wrap and exactly the same scarf."
Dynevor is better able to heal her life and image on Instagram, where she has 2.2 million followers and less than 200 posts. There, you're better able to see her alongside her castmates on the set and in photos for the press. You'll also see selected images of powerful women, such as Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris.
The choices may have less to do with politics than simply celebrating female strength. “I'm not afraid to have a voice or to have resilient people who don't agree with me. It doesn't really bother me that much, ”explains Dynevor. “I am also aware that I am not informed of everything. But I am aware of what it means to be a woman. So, if I want to share a post about Kamala Harris, which I think is incredible, I will do it ”.
For now, the feed remains a mix of the truly personal and brilliant professional. But if Dynevor can amplify a vital message, she is able to do so. That's what happened when Prevent Breast Cancer, a UK non-profit organization with about 4,000 followers, asked Dynevor to share a post about the importance of self-examination.
When it did, it got more traction than anything they've ever posted. "I know that at least 1 million women are seeing a post on how to check their breasts," recalls Dynevor. “It is a joy, in that sense, to have a platform and spread awareness.” And while she recognizes the potential to convey a plethora of messages, Dynevor certainly does not feel compelled to become anyone's mouthpiece.
First of all, she reminds us, she is an actress. While Dynevor will admit that more projects have come recently, that does not mean that the floodgates have been opened. Part of the bonus, she explains, simply comes from calling for incredible roles. “I always hope to fight for things, because I think that is part of the fun. But there is also the idea that one day you won't have to fight as hard as an actress, you basically fight and fight and fight and keep fighting. So, it would be nice not to have to do that ”.
For now, Dynevor is looking forward to possibly writing and directing one day, along with roles of resonant characters. "My next project, potentially, is the opposite of Daphne in every way," she reveals. Although she cannot discuss the details - and swears she still doesn't know how Bridgerton's next season will unfold - the actress is feeling confident about the possibilities. “I love a good challenge. I love playing Daphne, but I would really like to keep doing different things. I'm excited about the prospects ”.
We will probably be paying attention.
HAIR Kevin Ryan Arte + Comércio
MAKEUP Romy Soleimani The Wall Group
DIGITAL TECHNIQUE Christian Delfino
PRODUCTION Jenny Friedberg and Zoe Adlersberg
CASTING Lauren Tabach-Bank
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANTS Jon Brown and Alex Kalb
STYLING ASSISTANT Jon Amer Macarambon