LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in Bridgerton
Bridgerton actress Nicola Coughlan, who stars in the popular Netflix period drama and Derry Girls, is hoping to see more complex female roles in television and movies.
In an op-ed for The Guardian, Coughlan reflected on some of her favorite shows growing up and asked, “Where were the messy women? The loud women, the ones who were complete eejits (idiots)?”
Recalling the time she received the script for Derry Girls, the Irish star said she “felt like being handed the holy grail. Erin, Orla, Michelle and Clare (my role) were the female characters I had been waiting for: properly funny, obnoxious, unlikeable at times.”
Coughlan also revealed that several people wanted to make one of the characters “a little softer, less in your face, more palatable,” but the show’s creator, Lisa McGee, wasn’t having it. “Her response: why?” Coughlan shared.
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“So much television allows for, even centres on, deeply flawed male characters, far less so women,” the actress wrote. “It made me wonder how many complex women have been toned down, or removed from our screens, on the basis that women have to be likable above anything else.”
Coughlan became particularly anxious about the reviews for Derry Girls after the Ghostbusters remake with Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy had such a bad reception. “Seeing my comic heroes Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy get trashed online made me fear how the ‘women aren’t funny’ brigade would react to our show,” she admitted. “But I shouldn’t have.”
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“When Derry Girls went out in 2018, it quickly became Channel 4’s most successful comedy in 13 years, proving what I’d long suspected: that there was a hunger for stories about women and girls,” Coughlin continued. “Women were able to see themselves in these characters.”
In Bridgerton, much of the plot is centered around romance, but Coughlin’s character Penelope Featherington’s friendship with Claudia Jessie’s character Eloise Bridgerton was equally important.
“During filming, we met Julia Quinn, author of the books Bridgerton is based on. She explained that, yes, her books were love stories – but that the biggest romance, in a sense, was the friendship between Penelope and Eloise,” Coughlin shared. “We have been written as real human beings, not facsimiles of what we think a Regency woman was.”
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Coughlan added, “The best moments on the sets of Derry Girls and Bridgerton came when the young women were allowed to be unapologetically themselves, never worrying that they might not be appealing.”
“I, for one, am excited by all the difficult, brilliant, complex women to come, who have yet to grace our screens. Long may the sisterhood reign over us,” she wrote.
Coughlin concluded by giving a shout-out to the many on-screen friendships that have provided her joy including Fleabag and Claire in Fleabag, Arabella and Terry in I May Destroy You, Abbi and Ilana in Broad City, Leslie and Anne in Parks And Recreation, for Rue and Jules in Euphoria, and Candy and Lulu in Pose.