Sam Phillips Manifested His Role as Lord Debling in 'Bridgerton'

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Sam Phillips Manifested Playing Lord Deblingnetflix

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In 2021, Sam Phillips was having what he describes as a really hard year. So, he made a vision board, manifesting a "really nice part in a TV show." He jokes, "I kept it very loose, very vague."

"We were right in the throes of pandemic," Phillips tells Town & Country. "I just hit a switch in my head and I was like, 'I'm going to start thinking about all the things I want.' That was the start of the manifestation journey. [In 2022,] I got Bridgerton, before that, I'd done a number of nice jobs and it just builds. Work begets work, and it just felt it was definitely manifesting."

When he first crafted that vision board, Phillips had no clue he'd be playing the foil to Penelope and Colin's romance. For starters, when he got the audition, he wasn't even positive what show he was reading for. The request was under a code name—one he wouldn't reveal—but he had a feeling it was Bridgerton. Two months later, he found out he booked the part: he would be playing Lord Debling, one of the key stumbling blocks in Penelope and Colin's romance.

Phillips hopes the audience doesn't see Debling, "the other part of the love triangle," as a villain. "He is a good person who's three dimensional!" he says with a smile. "He has feelings and thoughts and hopes and dreams."

sam phillips bridgerton
Phillips attends the Bridgerton season 3 premiere in New York City.Dimitrios Kambouris - Getty Images

In the first half of Bridgerton season three, Phillips's Lord Debling is romantically interested in Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) until he realizes that Penelope's feelings lie elsewhere. Debling "is there to remind everybody that Penelope gets overlooked—or has been, and he's there to show the wallflowers that it's their time to shine," he says. "He serves that role very well in this; he sees her in a way that a lot of people haven't. As she's growing [in confidence], he's starting to see that journey for her, and that's what attracts him to her: That she is owning herself."

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The character doesn't appear in Romancing Mister Bridgerton, Julia Quinn's novel that serves as the basis for the season; rather, the vegetarian aristocrat is an invention of the show. "That was quite exciting for me," he says, "because there wasn't a preconception of how I needed to play it. I could completely originate the part."

Phillips created his own backstory for Debling, something he does with all roles he plays. "There is a perception of Debling that he is incredibly practical," he explains. "He says 'in time, love can grow,' but there's something behind that. I had to have that for me to know: Why does he find it so hard? For me, there were reasons that he did—I think he put himself out there and he got hurt, and he doesn't have a very good relationship with his family. So when he shows that vulnerability, it's not been met. That's why his walls are up, slightly."

The actor is unsure what's next for his character after he decides not to propose to Penelope. "I hope he can find someone in the future," he says. "He's a conservationist, that's his biggest passion, but he's older now and he's starting to realize that he wants a love match, not just because it's convenience—I don't think he works like that. He's someone who wants it because he is starting to feel lonely, starting to feel like that it is the right time. I think he wants to come back [to London] and maybe he'll find himself that authentic person who's true themselves."

sam phillips bessie carter
Phillips looks at Bessie Carter, right, as they speak with Lorraine Ashbourne at the afterparty at the Bridgerton season 3 premiere.Kristina Bumphrey - Getty Images

Off screen, Phillips's own love life is something of a Bridgerton romance, as he has been linked to Bessie Carter, who plays Penelope's sister Prudence Featherington. He declines to comment on their relationship, citing their desire for privacy, but does say, "She's a wonderful person."

In fact, he has nothing but warm words to say for the entire cast in welcoming him onto set. "The first day of filming, it was a really boiling hot day, and we were just absolutely sweating with these suits with dresses and suits on. I remember coming in [to the green room], and Luke [Newton] was just like, 'mate, why don't you pull up a chair and come and sit next to us?'"

helena bonham carter, erin doherty, josh o'connor and sam phillips
The Crown’s Helena Bonham Carter, Erin Doherty, Josh O’Connor, and Sam Phillips pose with trophies at the 2020 Screen Actors Guild Awards.John Sciulli - Getty Images

Bridgerton is the biggest role yet for Phillips, 39, who previously appeared in The Crown as Queen Elizabeth's equerry Stephen Chambers in seasons three and four of the hit royal drama. Working on the two major Netflix shows, he says, were similar in their epic scale. "With The Crown, you were often working at the actual [locations]—the sets were going to a country house or an estate somewhere; more of Bridgerton were these big sets in Oxbridge. But many of the locations that I was at for the Crown I was also at for Bridgerton,"he says. "We would go up to this estate somewhere in the country, and I'd be like, 'I know this. I was here three years ago!'"

Phillips wrapped his role on The Crown just before the pandemic in March 2020, "literally like a week before Covid hit," he says, "so two years later, to come back to the same places felt like a full circle moment, which was really exciting."

From The Crown to Bridgerton, Phillips has found steady work in period pieces. "I get cast a lot in them because maybe I look a certain way," he says, "but I also love stepping into present stuff, or stuff set in the future. So I think it's not something that I've gone, 'oh, I solely want to focus on [period pieces], but I'm very glad glad that I get to, because you get to study the history more, and I love that part."

What's next for him? Phillips's dream would be a dark comedy like Succession. "I'd love to do that, which mixes the drama and the comedy together. I'd love to have a regular role on a show as good as that," he says. Don't worry: He's already manifesting it.

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