When Nicola Coughlan announced that season 3 of “Bridgerton” would focus on the love story of Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) and Penelope Featherington, viewers couldn’t help but wonder why the show was strayed from the Julia Quinn books on which it is based.
While the first two seasons of the Netflix hit followed the books – first focusing on Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and then Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathon Bailey), the third book is about Benedict. Jess Brownell, who stepped in as the new showrunner on Chris Van Dusen’s exit, exclusively shares the reasoning with Variety.
“I really feel like it’s Colin and Penelope time. Because we’ve been watching these two actors on our screens since Season 1, we’ve already invested in them quite a bit. We know who they are as people,” she says. “I feel like, especially in the last season, there are these tense moments between them where it’s like Colin almost realizes that Penelope has feelings for him but just can’t get over it. not quite. Instead of treading water on that momentum, we wanted to push it into their season. It really was the perfect time to kick it off.
For more on the new season and how far the show will deviate from the books in other ways, read our full Q&A below:
Do you think changing the order will change larger picture elements and move away from the books a bit more?
Well, we already differ a bit from the books because we’re an ensemble show. The books really focus on one romantic pair at a time and maybe the siblings have a little cameo here and there, but they don’t have full backstories. That way, even if we reverse the order of the books, I think everyone you’d expect to see – Benedict, which is the third book, he’ll be a staple in Season 3.
We know Anthony and Kate are coming back. Are they going to be a big part of next season? And Daphne?
We want to continue to see all of our Bridgerton brothers and sisters. We think those times when the whole family is together is what really makes the show and makes us all, I think, want to be a Bridgerton. So yes, you will definitely see Daphne, Anthony and Kate – how many, I don’t want to say yet, but you have to log in.
Have you discussed if you will return to Benedict or if next season will go directly to Eloise?
So, you know, I think Shonda Rhimes has already said publicly that she wants to have eight seasons. We hope to be able to tell the love story of each sibling and they will always be in each season.
The romances – and sex – of seasons 1 and 2 were very different. As the relationship was very intense in Season 1, Season 2 was more of a slow burn. What can you say about how season 3 will compare?
I feel like in Seasons 1 and 2, our male leads had a lot of darkness in their pasts – Simon and his dad and Anthony losing his dad. Obviously Colin lost the same father, but I think Colin and Pen are characters that bring a lot of comedy to the show. So I think we’re going to play a lot of that this season. But I want to balance that with a bit of sexiness and romance. I think that’s so important to the show. We’ll get a chance to go deeper with them and push them to more serious sides and see what that looks like, so you’ll see new levels.
Can you tell us a bit more about the themes you will discuss with Pen and Colin?
I don’t want to say too much about it, but in general, we play around a bit with the fact that this season is about two characters who kind of come out of the shadows. Colin, as the third son who’s been behind the scenes a bit, and Penelope as Lady Whistledown, living that dual identity and in her public face, really living off the wall. So watching these two bask in the sun and reunite will be truly rewarding.
How was your transition to the role of showrunner?
I mean, it’s definitely been a learning curve. It’s the first time I’ve done it, but it’s the best possible environment to do it. I’ve been in Shondaland for 13 or 14 years. Chris Van Dusen and I came together and worked together for over a decade and he’s been so supportive, which has been wonderful. Shonda and Betsy Beers and the whole team at Shondaland really held my hand when I needed it along the way. So I feel very supported. I’ve been on the show since season 1, and it’s been my dream show. It would be the top of my list of shows I would watch if I wasn’t working on it. So I’m thrilled to be able to play that role on this particular show.
What has been the biggest challenge?
I think maybe I was unprepared for the level of fan awareness. I’ve always loved being behind the scenes and when it was announced that I was speaking I became a bit more visible and so people are reaching out but I’m thrilled about that. Honestly, they’re so excited and it’s such a privilege to work on something that people care about so much.
Thus, throughout the books, Pen’s weight and weight loss are referenced several times, partly in interior monologue. Is this something you are going to tackle at all?
We think Penelope is beautiful, and I don’t think that’s really part of her story. The fact that she’s a wallflower on our show, I think, has more to do with her level of confidence than her outward appearance. So I think that’s more what we’re playing with this season.
I’m sure when adapting a book there’s some pressure to keep the endgame the same, especially with romances, but we’ve seen that lead to a lack of LGBTQ+ representation. Is this something you are going to address?
Right now I’m really so focused on Pen and Colin and how we deploy them that I really think about it day to day, but maybe at a later date we can talk about that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.