Julia Quinn reflects on seeing her books come to life in Bridgerton
As an author, seeing your words brought to life on screen is a rare and wondrous thing. It's even rarer if you're a romance author, a genre oft dismissed and devalued.
That's why when author Julia Quinn, the force behind the bestselling eight-book series The Bridgertons, first heard creative force Shonda Rhimes was interested in her work, she was shocked. "Truly, I never thought this would happen to me. And I never thought it would happen to anyone because nobody was adapting romance novels, historical, or really even contemporary for screen other than Hallmark movies," she tells EW. "If somebody was going to do a period piece, they wanted to do another adaptation of Jane Austen or one of the Bronte sisters. Those are all wonderful, but the historical romance novels that are being written today are a little bit different. And there's a huge market for them. I don't think it's at all surprising that the person who would realize that would be Shonda Rhimes."
On Dec. 25, what Quinn once assumed was impossible comes true as Bridgerton, a Regency-set romance based on her novels about the Bridgerton siblings, hits Netflix. The adaptation has the full power of both Shondaland and Netflix behind it, and it's evident in the show's lush costumes and astonishing backdrops.
Quinn was a consultant on the series, but she wasn't a part of the writers' room overseen by showrunner Chris Van Dusen. Still, she was able to read every script and visit the set on two separate occasions.
We called up Quinn to get her thoughts on the adaptation, what it's like seeing your words come to the screen, and what she did when she first heard the Julie Andrews casting news.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you just tell me a bit more about what your experience through the process has been like from first getting the offer to seeing scripts to going to set, all of it?
JULIA QUINN: It has been a very long process. From the very first phone call, when my agent called me and said, "Have you heard of Shonda Rhimes?" And I said, "Yes!" I can't believe he would assume I hadn't. But from that time to when the show will air will be just under four years. Just waiting and keeping my mouth shut was really hard. Because it's so exciting. You want to tell everybody, but you can't. But after getting production going, it has just been uniformly positive and fabulous. The scripts have been amazing. As a writer, it's so fascinating to me to see how they are adapting it.
It's also interesting because as I look at it, I'll read something and be like, "This is exactly the best way to do this." And I personally would not have thought of it. It's really shown me that there's this whole type of writing that I know very little about, but I'm learning. They've brilliantly adapted The Duke and I, but also they brought these other side characters to life to make it more than just the one book, and to lay down little pieces to hopefully lay the framework for future seasons. There's nothing definite on that but of course, I'm hopeful. They send [scripts] to me for comments because I am a consultant, and I've sent a few things back. But it's mostly very small things like, "This person, she called 'Sir' this, not 'Lord' this," very technical details. In terms of the stories and the emotions of the characters, everything has been spot on.
As you mentioned, they have shifted some storylines. There are some new characters or characters who were in the background in later books and have been brought forward and given a dominant storyline this season. What was your reaction to all of that?
Very positive. It's all fabulous. I feel the need to assure all my readers and just say, look, this isn't a word for word adaptation, but it shouldn't be, and I don't want it to be. A word for word adaptation of my books would not make a great TV series. But an adaptation where you've got my characters and my stories, but give it new life is amazing. It's again, I mean, I have no words and I write words for a living, and it's just — I'm so excited by it.
Can you tell me more about your set visits and what you saw being filmed?
I've visited the set twice. The first time was in September, and when I visited then, they were doing all location work. It was the set for much of Bridgerton house's interior. I got to see an argument between Daphne and Anthony. I'm pretty sure it was right after Anthony had caught her kissing Simon, and they were arguing about the possibility of a duel. So very high drama. It was really fun to watch because I saw them rehearsing it first. And in the real scene, she has his coat on over her dress, but when they were rehearsing it, she was wearing this long Canada goose down jacket. So, instead of taking off his coat and throwing it back at him, she was taking off this massive down jacket and thrusting it at him. And it was just, it was really kind of fun to watch. Then, I went out to Bath and saw most of this really fun one with Penelope and Eloise talking as they were walking around a marketplace. In January, that was a bit different because I went out and by then the set had been built. That is unbelievable. [Netflix] took a video of me. They made me cover my eyes when I walked in and took a video of me seeing it for the first time.
Did you cry?
I got teary. I'm not a big crier, but I definitely got choked up. It's so big that they can actually have two units shooting at the same time apparently. There's just this whole world in there. I did see a scene from episode 1 where you see Violet and all the daughters talking about their new dresses. I saw that one getting filmed and that was really fun just to see the family dynamic. [That's] one of the things that I feel the show is getting so perfectly: People who love each other, but also needle each other.
What is it like seeing characters you created and words you wrote come to life?
It's wild. It's amazing. There are these fully formed characters to me, but then these actors bring them to life and make them even more. It's not that they're just taking my characters and being what I put on the page, they're taking them and they're making them into something bigger. There are little moments — for example, where Daphne is informed that she has a bunch of callers coming, she gives this squeal and it's just this tiny little thing. It's just this little squeal where her arms are straight at her sides. And I was like, "That's just exactly right." It's such a small little thing, but they've made these people so real and so wonderful and imperfect. But one thing that I have been telling people, that's just as incredible as seeing your characters come to life, and in some ways more, is just the sheer scale of it. To realize that something that began in my head and that was just me now belongs to so many other people. There are hundreds and hundreds of people working on this project, and they're all bringing a little bit of themselves to it. It's just made it so rich and wonderful.
Like all Shondaland projects, this show reflects the world as it is. It's much more diverse than we're used to seeing in depictions of this time period, both on-screen and on the page. What did you think about that shift?
The casting is amazing. It's important to remember that Bridgerton isn't a history lesson. The show is for a modern audience. And so, the creator of the show did take some liberties in re-imagining the world, but they're not [coming] out of nowhere. For example, Queen Charlotte, who was a new character in the series, this is a woman who many historians believe was of mixed race. When they were bringing this series to life they really played with the idea of what if she had been universally acknowledged as mixed race? What if she had helped raise other people of color to higher ranks in society? And what would the world look like then? That's what they went with and it's beautiful to see.
How did you react to the news that Julie Andrews was going to voice Lady Whistledown?
I started hyperventilating. I stopped breathing basically. I wasn't breathing for so long I legitimately should have died.
As you said, the romance community feared we might never see this day, and we're definitely hoping this kicks off a wave of interest in adapting historical romance novels. Does that make you nervous or feel like added pressure?
I don't really feel pressure because I just think this is going to be so good. I'm excited. I'm giddy. I get goosebumps, but I'm not nervous because I just know how good it is. In terms of pressure for people to follow, I don't think so. I really hope that it opens the doors and opens some flood gates for Hollywood to realize what an incredible reservoir of source material is out there. There are so many good books out there in romance, both in contemporary romance and historical romance and paranormal romance. I'd be thrilled to have more like this to see. I'm a writer, but I'm also a consumer. It would be great if this opens the door.
You have many friends who are authors and you're such a wonderful champion for their books, but is there a particular series you'd like to see get adapted next?
Oh my goodness. I don't even know where to start. I think Julie Anne Long's Penny Royal Green series is amazing. She's such a smart writer. Eloisa James is amazing. Sarah MacLean writes books that are just so fierce and feminist, and I love them. I'm just going through the historical stuff right now. Probably because there's lots of stuff happening in contemporary romance. Lisa Kleypas is always fabulous. There are tons, and I'll have forgotten 18 of them at least... But the real trick, though, is that if somebody is going to do this, they have to do it well. It's the type of thing where, if the first one is done badly, then that's going to be reflected on me, but I promise you, this is not done badly. They did everything right. And they put so many resources and so much work into it, and it's just going to be absolutely beautiful.