Elle – Australia (2020)
December 21, 2020
ELLE sat down with star Regé-Jean Page and showrunner Chris Van Dusen to talk representation, bringing the books to life and what to watch next.
When we heard that, come Christmas day, we would be gifted with a TV show likened to the lovechild of Gossip Girl and Pride & Prejudice, suffice to say—we were excited.
When we heard the show in question was being produced by Shonda Rimes’ Shondaland, boasted Julie Andrews as a narrator and starred several people of colour in lead roles? We were sold. The show in question is none other than Bridgerton, a Regency era series based on author Julia Quinn’s best-selling novels of the same name, and it’s already (rightfully) making waves online for its incredibly inclusive casting, costumes and truly escapist storytelling.
Ahead of the show’s December 25 premiere on Netflix, ELLE caught up with star Regé-Jean Page, who plays the Duke of Hastings and showrunner Chris Van Dusen to talk representation, bringing the books to life and what to watch once you’re done binging Bridgerton.
ELLE: First of all, huge congratulations on the show. It’s very exciting to see a sexy, escapist period drama with people of colour, for a change! Regé, what was it like to be a part of the Bridgerton cast and work with Shondaland for a second time?
Regé-Jean Page: Yep, this is my second show on the trot—clearly, I’m hooked. I’m a company man, what can I say? [Laughs]. They’re great folks to work with. There’s a sense of fun in this company. There’s a sense of risk and play, and a real urge to bring in contemporary conversations to the work as well as making sure that everyone has such a great time, and that’s something that’s always fun to be a part of. So, it felt like coming home.
ELLE: Speaking of contemporary conversations, Chris, the books have such a huge dedicated following and fandom, was there a sense of pressure bringing them to the screen?
Chris Van Dusen: Absolutely. I think that the fact that these books have this rabid international fan base provided a healthy sense of pressure and I knew I wanted to get things right for the fans. I think with any adaptation, there’s always differences from the source material, but with the series I think fans are going to see all the elements they love onscreen too.
They are going to see the Bridgerton siblings banter, feel the love of the Bridgerton family, and they’re going to get new characters, too! There’s Queen Charlotte, who opens up the world of Bridgerton, and we’re in St. James’ Palace and Buckingham Home a lot. For me, it was really about this show not just being about the Bridgertons, but about a world and a society.
ELLE: On the topic of characters: Regé, in what way would you say you are most like your character, the roguish outsider that is Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, and how would you say you are most different?
RJP: I mean, I’ll take the pleasurable descriptors you just threw at me! I love being a bit of a roguish outsider. I’m something of a travelling wanderer. And how I’m most different to Simon… I do like to think I maintain a sense of humour. The most difficult thing about playing Simon was not cracking a smile for about six months [laughs]. He does tend to carry the weight of the world on his back quite a lot, and so I was glad that I was able to kind of ‘carry’ him through that journey to the point where he maybe finds levity in life a little bit easier.
ELLE: It’s not often we see people of colour in period dramas where it’s not an ‘accurate’ portrayal of history. You’ve touched on the importance of Black and people of colour’s stories being told in previous interviews and on Twitter. Can you recall the first moment you realised that people of colour’s stories have not been represented in Hollywood in the same way as their white counterparts’?
RJP: The short answer to that question is no, because there’s never been a time when I wasn’t aware of that. I remember growing up looking for icons on my TV screen, the same way that anyone else does, and the closest I got was Prince and Michael Jackson, that’s kind of what I had, those were my ‘two people’. So, the absence was always palpable and inclusion is as simple as that. It’s including folks in your stories, it’s including folks onscreen. They are included in the world, people have always lived, loved and laughed—god bless me for using that phrase then— but we have! Everyone has. So representing everyone’s stories is really a bit of a no-brainer!
ELLE: Was there a moment on the flip side that made you think, “Oh, okay, things are changing. This is good!” and that made you feel things weren’t being done in a tokenistic way?
RJP: Kind of! Except, instead of it happening with an element of surprise, thinking “I’ve noticed things are changing”, it was more an active decision that was made, where I said, “I think things are changing”, and then we went out and we did that.
ELLE: Time for some quick-fire questions! Bridgerton is set in the Regency era (1811 to 1820). If you could go back to any period in history, which one would it be and why?
CVD: Oh, that’s a good question! I mean, I am obsessed with the Regency time period, it was really the draw to me for this series of books. It’s such a fascinating time of excess and beauty and over the top. That’s why I fell in love with it and why I think audiences love it so much. I provided this beautiful escapist world for us to be transported to. Escapism is exactly I was looking for.
ELLE: I think we all need that in 2020! [laughs].
RJP: [Laughs]. Absolutely! I think if we’re talking about escapism, I’m actually quite a fan of the 21st century. I think that there are freedoms and conversations afforded to me that are more difficult to achieve in other time periods, so I’m quite happy with the progress we’ve made and I’m going to sit right where I’m at.
ELLE: Besides Bridgerton , what is your favourite Netflix show at the moment?
CVD: That’s a good question. You know, for me, I find it very difficult to be watching television right now and to be doing this job [laughs].
ELLE: I can imagine!
CVD: I just watched The Undoing. That was quite a ride which I really enjoyed. My tastes are very across the board. I watch a lot of reality TV too, part of that ‘escapist’ thing that I’m all about right now.
RJP: On Netflix, I tend to go to my comfort TV. I go back and watch Fargo a lot. I don’t know why I find that ‘comfort TV’, but there’s something great about this thoroughly domestic world with a dark underbelly but with very human characters and this gorgeous compassion at the centre. Depending on whether I’m in the U.K. or the U.S. I watch the TV show or the movie because they have different region restrictions, but that’s kind of my go-to.
Bridgerton premieres on Netflix on December 25.