Eloise Bridgerton isn't like the rest of London's high-society girls.
The second-born Bridgerton sister, played by English actress Claudia Jessie, serves as a refreshing dose of feminist reality. Throughout the first season, Eloise is the obvious antithesis to her older sister, Daphne, who is coyly courting the handsome—and notoriously emotionally unavailable—Simon, the Duke of Hastings. Though both siblings aren't privy to the truths of womanhood— they're totally clueless about sex, marriage, and motherhood—their similarities stop there. Daphne daydreams of becoming a mother and following her chosen path of duchess-dom, while Eloise loves to read, write, and fervently challenge any patriarchal standard she comes into contact with. Even in a lavish, fictional world, where the bulk of society centres on debutante balls, society gossip, and marrying up, Jessie's portrayal of Eloise reminds us that there's more to women than merely "finding their match."
It's the combination of romance, family drama, Regency-era feminism, and seductive scandal that has turned the Shonda Rhimes production not just into another Netflix hit, but rather the streaming network's greatest success story yet. Eighty-three million viewers have tuned in to Bridgerton, solidifying its status as the television lover's staunchest, newest obsession.
Below, Jessie speaks with BAZAAR.com about how she's soaking in the success of the series, why she can't stop thinking about her character, and what she hopes lies ahead for Bridgerton's recently announced second season.
Obviously, the response to the show has been massive, even breaking viewing records on Netflix. How has it been taking in Bridgerton's success?
When you join something that's from Netflix, you know it's not gonna be terrible. It's not like any part of me was surprised when it was a huge success—it was never that. I always knew it was gonna be huge because of the team behind it, and the scripts are so wonderful, and the characters are so well written, and the actors are brilliant. Every single team behind it was so talented.
Now, coming up to February and January feels like it's been a year since it all started, just because of how incredible the response has been. I still feel like I don't know [how to take it all in]—maybe because of the pandemic and being mostly indoors and sort of everyone feeling quite isolated at the moment has maybe separated me from feeling it, truly. Maybe I just haven't caught up with it yet in my heart. I still can't believe I even got the job. But I'm not surprised. I feel very proud to be a part of it, and I was proud to be a part of it before it was released. I think it's just a testament to everyone behind it.
Eloise has become such a fan favorite. What drew you to taking on this role? Especially with a cast of so many different dynamic women, why do you think she stands out so much?
I think what drew me to her is the thing that makes her stand out so much, actually. And the fact that she is sort of as close to the audience as you're going to get really character-wise. She feels the most contemporary, and I'm aware that I play her as well with a sort of contemporary edge.
I think what makes us stand up against the other characters is how she doesn't internalize anything. You can see [how other characters] struggle internally in their thinking, almost like they're sinking inside of themselves, and how they struggle to communicate with each other properly, and they get tongue-tied and nervous and cut over themselves. Eloise did not have that problem. She's so outwards, and everything that comes out of her mouth is the exact stream of consciousness. ... And she's hilarious—she's simply hilarious. She's a rebel, and she's a lovable rogue, and she's ridiculous and quick—and I think that's why people love her.
She's also kind of the unsung feminist of her family, which is why I instantly loved her so much. Like you said, you gave her this contemporary edge because, to me, she seems very ahead of her time.
Whenever I read her on the page, I was aware of how intelligent she is—alongside her sort of cluelessness as to, you know, sex and relationships, and certainly how babies are made—but she's actually incredibly intelligent and well read and mature. But I was also aware that I am a grown woman in my 30s, and so I was very aware of wanting to maintain a sprightly youthful spirit, which is why I made her speak so bloody fast.
I sort of made it look like she was never really thinking about what she was saying, because she was just so strident in everything she did, and I think that comes from some having a privileged, sheltered upbringing, but also from her freedom as a young woman to explore her mind, which she believes should be hers to complete. I guess why she's relatable is because what she's doing is correct—she's exploring her thoughts and her rights to be autonomous. Whilst I do think she is the feminist voice, I think she's just the one that's shouting about it a bit more, rather than you see it with the boys and their struggling with their roles in society. Or how you see with Daphne trying to figure out what sort of life she wants. And you see in the queen and in Lady Danbury, and their versions of feminism.
With Eloise, she's the one that's talking about how the patriarchy isn't working for anyone, even towards the people it looks like it's working for, because it ultimately makes them people they're not. I think that's why people love her. There's not one person that hasn't felt like they've been on the outside looking in and going, "What the hell is that?" And I think that's why she's so relatable.
What was that like, getting into the headspace of a super-smart but also slightly naive teenaged girl?
It's so unbelievable to think that she doesn't even know biologically [how sex works]. My way in was to do it through comedy. It would always be funny when Eloise would ask, "How do you come to be with child? We must find out otherwise, so we can make sure it never happens to us!" Comedy makes things believable. Because if there's anything we all know, it's how to make fun of ourselves, and to make fun of situations to make them a bit easier.
You guys will be coming back for a second season, and there have been some hints that each season may focus on a different character. If a season were to focus on Eloise, what would you hope happens for her?
I think about Eloise all the time. I think about how much fun she would have being exposed to sort of owning her life. Firstly, I'd like to see her debut [ball], because she's going to do it and she's going to shake things up and basically take the piss out of it. I'm excited for that. But I would really love to see Eloise just really own every space she's in. She had this vision that her sister was the perfect debutante, and then Eloise comes sort of like crashing through with her own personality. She is given a little bit more freedom to be herself, with Phoebe being in a high-status relationship, and it gives Eloise a bit more room to have her own space.
What drama can you not wait to revisit for Season 2?
Eloise not knowing who Lady Whistledown is! She is going to be pissed! I just can't imagine what that is going to be like. That's such a shock to a friendship. You have this woman, this character, this mysterious scribbler that Eloise is basically a bit in love with, and kinda wants to be her best mate—has been lying to her, writing about her family, and causing scandals. To me, that's the most compelling thing in the world.
Also, anything that Lady Danbury and the queen do—anything that they do, I'm going to be watching. I don't care. I'll watch them eat toast. I'll watch them stare at a cup of tea. I will watch them blow their noses, and I'll have been moved.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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