Bridgerton Showrunner Clarifies Benedict's Sexuality & Talks ...

15 Jun 2024
Francesca Bridgerton

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Bridgerton season 3 part 2.

The long awaited part two of Bridgerton season three is now streaming on Netflix, and we finally have the fluid and queer sexual representation we’ve been waiting for.

Benedict Bridgerton, played by Luke Thompson, and Francesca Bridgerton, played by series newcomer Hannah Dodd, have some exciting twists in their storylines in season three that open the door to different kinds of love stories than we’ve seen in the popular romance series so far. The prequel series Queen Charlotte showed an onscreen romance between the Queen’s right hand man, Brimsley, and the King’s valet, Reynolds — still waiting for that possible spinoff announcement, by the way — but the main Bridgerton series had so far only hinted at on screen queerness.

Teen Vogue sat down with showrunner Jess Brownell to discuss the future of Benedict and Francesca’s stories. We learned more details about Benedict's sexuality and that Brownell put some serious thought into the decision to swap genders for a beloved character from the books. This is part one of our interview — part two includes more discussion about Kanthony, Polin, and where else the show might be headed in future seasons. Stay tuned for more to come!

Teen Vogue: So excited about queer Benedict! That is fantastic. I’m certainly one of the fans that has wanted to see an openly queer storyline for a while. When did you make that decision?

Jess Brownell: It's something we had been talking about in the writer's room honestly from season one, which is why I think people picked up on it. We just had never found the exact right way to execute it. I felt like it was this dangling thread that I wanted to make sense of, because I do think it makes sense for Benedict's character.

He's someone who is really about spirit, energy, and a connection of minds and interests, and doesn't play by the rules; it made sense to me that he would be someone who is not as focused on gender so much as he is on connection.

Luke Thompson as Benedict Bridgerton in episode 306 of BridgertonLIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

I think this season for Benedict is really about him learning how to subvert the rules of society, which is something Lady Tilley Arnold is quite good at, and is giving him some lessons on. Those lessons about the ways in which he can remain unconventional while still being a part of his family, that's something we're going to continue to play with in future seasons. (Editor’s note: In a follow-up, Brownell and the Shondaland team clarified that “Benedict's sexual identity is not a fixed belief for him. In modern terms he might be described as pansexual, someone for whom gender doesn't really matter.")

TV: I love that he's also counseling the Mondriches and helping them enter society. I loved those conversations.

JB: That friendship will continue. We love the friendship, especially between him and Will, and I'm excited for where that's going to head.

TV: Then with Francesca, with this surprise reveal, was that also a decision you'd been thinking about for some time? How did that come about?

JB: The reveal of Michaela versus Michael, from the books, is something that I've been pitching from season one of the show. My approach to telling a queer story on Bridgerton has been to look to the books for thematic cues. I didn't want to just insert a queer character for queer character's sake. I want to tell a story that accurately reflects a queer experience, and the first time I read Francesca's book, I really identified with it as a queer woman. Maybe not in the way Julia Quinn intended.

Her book is very much about [Francesca] feeling different, and not really knowing why. In the book, I think it has a lot to do with her just being an introvert, but as a queer woman, a lot of my queer experience, and I think a lot of my friends’ [experiences have] been about that sense of feeling different, and navigating what that means.

Hannah Dodd as Francesca Bridgerton, Victor Alli as John Stirling in episode 303 of BridgertonLIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

My hope is that watching this season, people see how we're telling a piece of that story, even starting in episode one of season three with Francesca, in terms of all of the debutantes having always imagined what they wanted their husbands to be like. Francesca realizes, "I've never thought about that, actually. Why is that?" It was a thread we were playing with.

There's also a lot of research and thought historically about the choice of changing Michael to Michaela. I think it was important for me in planning a queer story to think about how we might be able to tell a happily ever after and show queer joy, which we don't always get to see in period pieces. There are some good examples from history, without giving too much away, of women like Francesca, who are able to carve out happily ever afters. How much do I say at this point? Well, that's all I'll say. I can't say much more without giving away plot.

TV: Okay, fair. One thing that's interesting about the world of Bridgerton is that racism doesn't exist in the same way that it does in real historical and modern-day Britain. How are you thinking of navigating that with authentic queer storylines — are these going to be coming out storylines, are people going to have to grapple with coming out to their families?

JB: When I stepped into the showrunner role and started thinking about telling queer stories, I took stock of what the show had already established, and thought about how I can pick up from that. The clues that I take from seasons one and two is that for better or worse, we've already established with the Henry Granville storyline in season one, that gay men weren't allowed to be open about their sexuality.

Luke Thompson as Benedict Bridgerton in episode 307 of BridgertonLIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

I've also taken a cue from the way our alternate history is set up, in that the real conjecture about Queen Charlotte potentially having been mixed race is where we jump off from to have created a society that is more inclusive. Going forward, what I am trying to do is use examples from history I can jump off [of] and potentially tell a new origin story of how the Bridgerton world might move towards a more inclusive society in terms of sexuality.

Based on what the show has already established, it didn't feel right to automatically be in a space where sexuality is super inclusive, but it's something that I would like to move towards in the story, as we move through time.

TV: That makes sense. Do you have historical consultants on hand? I know [previous showrunner and creator] Chris van Dusen did that with some historians last season.

JB: We do. We have a researcher whose entire job is just poring through history, and every day providing us with new materials to read, to keep us thinking about the show. And then, we also have a number of scholars and academics who read the scripts and give us notes, and are on hand to answer difficult historical questions.

TV: When you're making these big decisions like changing Michael to Michaela, do you think about the fans, and do you worry about fan reactions? It is such a passionate fan base, and a lot of them understand the difference in adaptations from books to TV, but a lot of them maybe don't. How do you work through that?

JB: I do think about it. I think something that has been a real growth point for me, stepping into the showrunner role, is that I've always been a people pleaser, and someone who wants to give everyone what they want — but in this job, you have to make difficult decisions. The fact of the matter is, the fan base is not a monolith, and you're never going to please every single side of the fan base.

Victor Alli as John Stirling, Hannah Dodd as Francesca Bridgerton in episode 306 of BridgertonLIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

In, for example, deciding to tell a queer story with Francesca, I spoke with Julia Quinn, I got her blessing. We talked about the fact that with almost any single book, there would be a side of the fandom that would be disheartened to see their favorite characters changed. I don't think that there is any book that wouldn't happen with, so for me, again, it came back to story, and it came back to character. Because Francesca's book resonated [with me] in the way that it did, it felt like a natural adaptation.

TV: Right. It feels like your emphasis, obviously, is on the characters, and also having future storylines in mind. I'm sure you're already working on season four. Are you also already planning for future seasons beyond four?

JB: I am, yeah. I have a roadmap in my head of where we want to go, and Shonda and I have talked privately about our plans for seasons beyond season four, if we're allowed to continue in the way that we hope we will be able to.

TV: That's amazing. Benedict's story ends on a little bit of an open note, and I know everybody wants to know about Sophie. Is there anything that you can tell us about if we will or won't see her?

JB: Well, there are some clues at the end of this season, in episode eight, about where we're heading with Benedict, and there's a lot more to come from his storyline. We'll continue exploring his fluidity, and we're continuing to explore his relationship to what he wants out of life. I think the most important moment for me with Benedict is the moment when he's talking to Tilley Arnold and he's just told her, "Actually, I don't want anything serious," and Tilley says it felt good for once to want something serious.

Luke Thompson as Benedict Bridgerton, Hannah New as Lady Tilley Arnold in episode 308 of BridgertonLIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

I'm paraphrasing, but there's a look on Benedict's face that I think Luke Thompson delivers brilliantly, where you see just a flash of doubt on his face about his path in life. My take on Benedict, and our take in the writer's room, is that he has real commitment issues. He's a Renaissance man, and he's someone who's able to really be good at anything, and bounce around, and try all that life has to offer.

But at a certain point, I think this season, he's realizing maybe he might be missing out on a bit of depth. He has breadth, but not depth. That's something we're going to be exploring with him in the future.

TV: I wasn't expecting to see Francesca get married this season, either. There's so much set up already also for Eloise. Are you planning to follow the formula of one main romance or couple per season, or will it maybe become two Bridgertons, and their romances are the main story?

JB: I don't have any plans to combine seasons. I want every sibling to have their own season, and I know that Shonda wants that as well.

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