Shonda Rhimes was 'really shocked' by the reaction to Regé-Jean Page exiting Bridgerton
No one knows scandal better than Lady Whistledown. And she — or at least, the response to her writings — apparently has the power to shock even Shonda Rhimes herself.
In an exclusive interview with Vanity Fair, she opened up about the vociferous fan backlash (and hunger for information) sparked by the news of the breakout star's departure.
"I was really shocked because usually, that happens when I've killed off somebody that's been around for a while," she quipped, referencing Shondaland's tendency to kill off high-profile love interests on series like Grey's Anatomy. "Like, we didn't kill him, he's still alive! [Regé-Jean] is a powerful, amazing actor and that meant we did our job — every season, our job is finding the right people and putting together this incredible, world-shifting romance."
But, as romance readers have known all along, Page's departure was largely just a result of the way the show is built. Romance novels are serialized by nature, featuring one couple at its center per book, and showrunner Chris Van Dusen cited his desire to follow the blueprint of Julia Quinn's novels since before the show even premiered. With or without Page, the plan was always for Simon and Daphne to take a backseat to new love stories featuring the other siblings.
So, Rhimes assumed many would take the exit in stride as part and parcel of the storytelling format. "I don't know that I expected this much of an explosion, given that every book [in the Bridgerton series] is a different romance," she said. "What would be the ever-after of this combo? I mean, really: What would Regé-Jean do, you know what I mean? We gave them their happily ever after! And now we have this next couple coming. And so yeah, I was like, whoa!"
She also stressed the commitment to telling one Bridgerton sibling romance per season, following the model of the books. "The concept is that every season, there's a couple and that couple is the hot couple that you're falling in love with, right?" she mused. "And there are eight Bridgertons. So by the time you get to [prepubescent] Hyacinth — oh, dear God, she'll be grown up by then. Obviously, we're not going to match up a child! We'll grow Hyacinth up and you'll see her story too."
Rhimes affirmed Page's own words, referring back to the one-season deal that had freed him up to exit the show now that the bulk of Simon's story was told. "We made a one-season deal with him at the beginning of season 1," she noted. "That was the plan: come and do one season as the duke. Anything else that was extra and wasn't really the plan when we started, wasn't the plan when we finished."
Many stories have circulated since news of his exit broke, including reports that Page was offered $50,000 per episode to return. Rhimes did not confirm such reports, but she did affirm that Page was invited back for season 2 cameos, which he reportedly declined.
She summed up the swirling media firestorm by saying, "There's a lot of fantastically interesting talk that's been going on, mainly cause I think people are having a hard time letting go."
As Rhimes' remarks reflect, some Bridgerton viewers might not be accustomed to the structure of romance novels and their storytelling. For those more familiar with the genre format (and its deviations from the structure of network television), the news was perhaps a disappointment, but not a complete surprise.
Rhimes also stressed her deep appreciation for and understanding of the romance novel structure, and how Netflix opened the doors for this type of storytelling. "What I liked was the ability to explore things from a woman's point of view. I wanted the female gaze happening in the books to happen on television," she noted. "But even more than that, what was cool that we could do on Netflix is tell a closed-ended tale. Here's this season; here's a fully formed romance. [On network] you have to take that romance and stretch it out for as many seasons as you possibly can, and keep coming up with reasons why they're having a new conflict."
Page's exit, ultimately, feels in line with that notion of a "closed-ended tale." Of course, it's disappointing he won't pop up for a family croquet match or waltzing at a ball or two — though we can still all hold out hope for a change of heart there — but it's not as seismic as many seem to think it is. It's merely a natural consequence of how romance works (something millions of readers love). And Rhimes' reaction affirms that.