Bridgerton's Nicola Coughlan on Penelope's tough choice in season 2
Warning: This article contains spoilers for season 2 of Bridgerton.
Being Lady Whistledown isn't always a walk in Hyde Park.
With Eloise (Claudia Jessie) less than enjoying her first season, Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) has her work cut out for her as Lady Whistledown in the second season of Bridgerton. Her bestie is Whistledown-obsessed, and now Penelope must sneak around even more surreptitiously to gather gossip for her column.
But it all comes to a head in the season 2 finale, when Eloise realizes that it was her closest pal who had been writing the ton's most notorious scandal sheet all along. It pushes their friendship to the brink, and we're still unsure how or when Peneloise might recover.
The unmasking also forces Penelope to rethink her role as Whistledown and whether it's time to put down her pen. But in the season's final moments, we watch her for once narrating Whistledown in her own voice — and not via the esteemed tones of Dame Julie Andrews — as she makes the decision to pick up Whistledown's quill and continue in her charade.
"She only gives it up for Eloise," says Coughlan. "That's how much she loves her. That's the only person she'd give it up for. But once she's lost Eloise and she's lost Colin, she's got nothing left and that's the only power she has in the world."
Coughlan also elaborates on hearing herself as Lady Whistledown, confessing that she'd completely forgotten she'd recorded the voiceover until she saw the episode. "I filmed the final episode in like two weeks because I had to go off and shoot another show," she says. "So everything was compacted together and my days were so crazy. When I went to watch episode 8 and my voice came out of the speakers, I went, 'Oh my god, I totally forgot that happened.' It was a real shock. But I loved it because when Pen starts writing and then you hear Julie Andrews, you're like, 'Oh!' It gave me chills."
We talked to Coughlan about Penelope's disastrous season, including overhearing Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) mock and belittle her, losing her best friend, and unknowingly almost having her family fall even further into ruin.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You mentioned that the only person Penelope would give up Whistledown for is Eloise. Do you think Penelope doesn't really know who she is without Whistledown at this point?
NICOLA COUGHLAN: One hundred percent. Because she developed it when she was a kid, essentially, and it's become such a part of her identity. The line between Penelope and Whistledown was much clearer to her. In season 2, she can't help herself from fishing for compliments from Eloise and enjoying hearing the ton talk about how great she is. It's a certain level of arrogance that seeped into her day to day as Penelope can't help but make little comments at balls under her breath and stuff like that. She hasn't really figured out where that balance is and how the lines have become blurred.
How hurtful for her is it to overhear what Colin says? Might that finally dampen her crush on him a little bit?
I hope so. Because that's something taken directly from the books. He says it to Anthony and Benedict in the book. Luke Newton and I both spoke to [creator] Chris Van Dusen about that moment and said, "Is that something you're going to put in the show?" And he said, "We've put it in and taken it out multiple times." But I always felt like it was important because Penelope needs to realize Colin is a fallible human being. He's is not a god; he's not an Adonis. If they're ever going to have any type of relationship, it's not healthy for her to see him in that way. She's got to see him flaws and all, and she currently doesn't. In the long run, it's probably a good thing, but it's not going to be an immediate good thing.
Between losing Colin and Eloise, do you think she's at her lowest point at the end of the season?
She's definitely at her lowest point. The three most important things in her life are Colin, Eloise, and Whistledown. She begins with having lost three out of the three, and then she reclaims one, so her world has come crumbling down. She thought she could keep all the plates spinning and, ultimately, she couldn't.
Lord Featherington [Rupert Young] is exposed by Colin, and her mother makes the choice to protect their family. But how aware do you think she was of any of that?
Not at all. Barely anything. In the beginning of the season, she has all this money under the floorboards and she could save her family. Almost instantly. She could say, "A mysterious benefactor has come, and here's all this money, and we'll send you more money every month." There's a million things she could have done and decided not to. So when Jack Featherington arrives, she's like, "Phew, all the pressure's off me; this dude's got it." She's a teenager; what's going on in her world is the most important thing. What they're up to is not the most interesting to her.
Who would you say has hurt Penelope the most by the end of the season — Eloise, Colin, or her family?
Oh, that's tough. I think it's in that order. It's Eloise, Colin, and then her family. She's used to her family hurting her, so that's just like par for the course. Colin, that's got to cut deep, but for Eloise to say, "I never want to see or speak to you ever again…" God, what could hurt more than that?
Bridgerton season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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