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Polly Walker knows a thing or two about period pieces.
The British actress, 54, has starred in a slew of them on both the big and small screen throughout her 30-year career. These days, she's best known as Lady Portia Featherington on Netflix's Bridgerton, a delightful series centered on the high society marriage market in Regency-era England.
While the show has officially been renewed for a second season, the fate of Walker's character remains to be seen. Season 1 ended with the mother of three unexpectedly widowed, presumably penniless and on the verge of losing her estate.
"There's so many places it could go," Walker tells PEOPLE of season 2, which she says she's "ecstatic" about. "I have no idea of what will happen, but I would imagine [...] it's going to explore the new guy that comes in to take over the estate," she muses, adding that viewers' guesses are as good as hers.
Despite the terrible lot that's befallen her, Lady Featherington can be difficult to muster sympathy for at times. A spin on the 'evil stepmother' trope, she can come off as greedy and gaudy in her manic efforts towards securing husbands for her three daughters, as well as for her husband's distant cousin, Marina Thompson, whom the family takes in ahead of the social season.
However, a different side of her comes to light within the proper context. "She's existing and operating in a society that's totally patriarchal," Walker points out, adding that "it was difficult for women to get where they needed to get without the help of a good marriage or a man. And without that they have no status."
The actress, who also starred in 1996's Emma, sees Lady Featherington rather as someone who knows what it takes to make it in society and is willing to achieve it at all costs.
Walker explains that in that era, it made sense to "approach [finding a husband] like a career," and Lady Featherington's behavior is all in service of that. While her focus in season 1 was on finding suitors for her daughters, season 2 leaves open the possibility of her seeking a new arrangement to provide for herself as well.
"She is controversial and colorful and wears her heart on her sleeve, and has a lot of fun, and all that," Walker tells PEOPLE, adding, "I admire that."
She continues, "I think she's a survivor and she is doing what she can for her daughters — and for herself, of course. I mean, she's not Mother Teresa."
There are moments where you catch a glimpse of Lady Featherington's humanity: When she's bewilderedly consoling Lord Featherington over his gambling addiction, or bidding farewell to Miss Thompson.
"She's doing her best to survive," Walker says of her character. "A lot of rubbish is thrown at her and she picks herself up. She's indomitable, which I think is a very good characteristic. She's not down for too long, and I think that's admirable."
Inhabiting Lady Featherington required more than just sympathy for her — it also meant elaborate costume fittings, an aspect of filming which Walker was particularly awed by.
"Every attention to detail was laid on," she says of the show's behind-the-scenes production. "It was incredibly generous and lavish, and it felt sort of old Hollywood-esque. In that, I mean four-hour costume fittings and things like that. That's unheard of nowadays."
LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX Bridgerton
She continues, "It was fun and very exciting to be a part of that process. But that doesn't happen [often] in one's career. So, one should really savor it and enjoy it, which I did."
One memory that stands out in particular is a scene when the Featherington family heads off to present their young debutantes to the Queen, Walker says.
"There were massive, massive costumes, and headdresses and everything like that. And we only had so much time to get in [the carriage] for the shot," she explains. "I can't remember who went in first, but they got their dress caught and they fell flat inside the carriage. And then it was one by one, and we were basically all on top of each other," she says of the domino-effect.
"Then the carriage went off, and we were all just sort of lying on top of each other on the floor. So you would never have known it, but it was a complete disaster inside that carriage," she says, with a laugh.
Here's looking forward to more behind-the-scenes details from season 2!
Bridgerton season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.