Bridgerton season three: Nicola Coughlan, Luke Newton and Jess Brownell on sex scenes, comedy and fantasies

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
6 Min Read
Bridgerton season three is on Netflix from May 16.
Bridgerton season three is on Netflix from May 16. Credit: Netflix

If there’s one thing Netflix drama Bridgerton is known for beyond its rich, pastel-coloured production design and its feverish but low-stakes gossipy drama, it’s the steamy bodice-ripping sex scenes.

When the Shonda Rhimes-produced, Regency-era set series debuted at the end of 2020, tongues wagged on screen and off as viewers were seduced by the hot-and-heavy romance between debutante Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Hastings, an imperious Duke whose cold rakishness hid a past pain.

The second season stepped it up in irrepressible chemistry between its lead characters, Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sharma, but some fans complained there were fewer explicit intimate moments between the lovers. It’s fair to say that as much as Bridgerton fans are invested in the charged glances and whispered words, they want to see the physical manifestation of that desire.

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It’s something Nicola Coughlan, the Irish actor who plays Penelope, was very aware when she and co-star Luke Newton discovered their characters, already dubbed ‘Polin”, a portmanteau of Penelope and Colin, would be the focus of Bridgerton’s upcoming third season.

“Those were the first things that I worried about so much,” Coughlan said. “It’s such a conversation piece in the show. It’s a really important part of it. And we’d only seen the ones in season one at that point, and I was like, ‘How are we going to do that?’.”

Bridgerton season three is on Netflix from May 16.
It’s Polin’s turn to be in the spotlight. Credit: Netflix

Coughlan was brimming with questions, like how does it work, what does an intimacy coordinator do and, significantly, is it going to make things awkward between her and Newton, her onscreen love interest and offscreen friend?

“Then, actually, it wasn’t at all awkward because we both committed so much to this season, and giving it everything, that it very much was just woven into the process, and we could really communicate with each other,” Coughlan recalled.

She and Newton worked with the production’s intimacy coordinator (a kind-of choreographer for sex scenes) Lizzy Talbot who gave the pair freedom, control and an overriding sense that they were in charge of what they had to do for Polin’s big moment.

“We would make suggestions of certain things we wanted to happen or what we wanted to show, didn’t want to show, do or not do. We felt a lot of ownership of those scenes,” Coughlan explained.

Newton said Talbot and her team also gave them exercises of how to bring themselves back into the real world and leave those simulated emotions at work.

The key to a great sensual moment on screen comes not from how well a TV series or movie might depict the mechanics of intercourse – thrusts, heavy panting or the placement of body parts. It’s more impactful when the act reflects the characters and the story you’ve been invested in. How much do you want two fictional people to get their happily ever after, even just for 20 minutes?

Bridgerton season three is on Netflix from May 16.
Luke Newton, Nicola Coughlan and Jess Brownell in Australia as part of a global promotional tour. Credit: Netflix

Penelope and Colin’s consummation can’t be a rehash of Daphne and Simon nor can it mirror Anthony and Kate’s. The contours of their romance is vastly different to what came before, and that informed a small change for the overall tone of the third season.

For the Bridgerton fans that have breathlessly hung onto every word from Lady Whistledown, the in-show gossip writer, they know that Penelope has secretly been in love with Colin, the third Bridgerton brother, for a long time, but he has, in the words of showrunner Jess Brownell, “taken Penelope for granted”.

“People might think Colin doesn’t deserve her in certain ways, because he hasn’t,” she continued. “He has kept her in the friend zone. He hasn’t recognised her feelings but, this season, that’s really going to shift. Suddenly, Penelope actually has Colin in a frenemy zone and I think that allows Colin to realise, ‘Oh, I’m going to have to work for if I want this person in my life’.”

But it’s not playing a case of Penelope playing hard to get, it’s not a game to her.

That dynamic of friends-become-lovers is a new one for Bridgerton, so Brownell and her writers leaned into rom-com territory, dialling up the humour more than the series previously has.

That means looking to classics of the genre including When Harry Met Sally, the paragon of how to convincingly tell that story.

“Nora Ephron is my goddess, I worship her. There’s a little bit of Richard Curtis vibes going on, some John Hughes,” Brownell said, referencing the scribes behind When Harry Met Sally, Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Breakfast Club respectively. She also name-checked classic romantic drama, arguably weepies, An Affair to Remember and Love Story.

Bridgerton season three is on Netflix from May 16.
Luke Newton and Nicola Coughlan are the leads of the third season. Credit: Netflix

So, when it comes to grand romantic moments, Bridgerton’s third season is going to be well-covered for inspiration.

The series remains one of Netflix’s most popular shows. The first season is still the streamer’s fourth most watched English-language TV series ever with 929 million hours clocked while season two is ninth on the list at 797 million hours.

It’s a series with larger-than-life romances, gorgeous gowns and meticulous production design so that every visual element looks delicious enough to eat. Even though it is, technically, rooted in a historical period, Bridgerton is a fantasy. It’s escapism.

Coughlan, Newton and Brownell is currently on a global promotional tour for the third season and Australia was one of the first stops. The streamer took over the NSW Southern Highlands community of Bowral to re-create the world of Bridgerton with flowers and decorations festooned over the quaint town. There was a garden party on the grounds of a nearby estate, complete with horse and carriage, hot-air balloon and a tarot card reader.

Coughlan, Newton and Brownell did surprise meet-and-greets with fans who literally cried and shook at meeting Bridgerton stars. Some of those who made the trek to Bowral, about 90 minutes outside of Sydney, came as far as Los Angeles just to be part of it. That’s the level of devotion in the fanbase, who wanted to, just for an hour or two, take a walk in this world that doesn’t, and couldn’t, exist.

Even Coughlan, Newton and Brownell, who knows how the sausage is made, can see the appeal of living as if they’re really in Bridgerton.

If there was one element of Bridgerton Newton could import into his life, it would be living in a community where everyone knows each other. “I’ve always wanted to have my local pun where I know everyone behind the bar, and you’re like, ‘yeah, mate, let’s get a beer’,” he said. “Just knowing people around town, because I’ve never lived in one place long enough to get to know people.”

Bridgerton season three is on Netflix from May 16.
Nicola Coughlan is also known for her work in Derry Girls. Credit: Netflix

Coughlan chimed in and said she would love it if all her friends lived nearby and she could just pop across the square for tea.

Newton continued, “My mates always said we should buy houses next to each other but obviously, as you become an adult, you realise it’s not realistic.”

“It would be nice, though,” Coughlan added wistfully.

Bridgerton has never been about realism, and you need only to look at the fact this England-set show is written predominantly by Americans to know that that was never what it was going for.

Brownell pointed out that in Bridgerton, it’s sunny all year around when London is notoriously not that. “It’s such a fantasy of London and of this period. We’re trying to let modern audiences connect with the dating rules that were going on,” she said. “Then we are all still looking for love, whether it’s modern day or Regency era.

“But I think weekly balls sound fantastic!”

Bridgerton season three starts streaming on Netflix on May 16

The writer travelled to Bowral as a guest of Netflix

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