Julia Quinn was at a Starbucks when she found out that her novels made it into the hands of Shonda Rhimes.
Nearly four years ago, the author of a bestselling Regency-era romance series, now adapted into Netflix's Bridgerton, was working and sipping coffee in her local shop when she got a call from her agent. He said that Rhimes was a newly appointed member of the Bridgerton fan club and wanted to create a TV show based on Quinn's novels. It was a shock for Quinn, who wasn't even shopping around the rights to the series at the time, let alone imagining it on the small screen.
"It was really out of nowhere," Quinn tells OprahMag.com. "I would talk to people later and they'd ask, 'How did you sell your books to Hollywood?' I would say, 'I didn't.' They just came to me. Nobody in Hollywood was adapting books like this. So it didn't even occur to me to try to sell them."
Quinn, who published the first Bridgerton novel, The Duke and I, in 2000, is now the show's self-proclaimed "godmother." While speaking to her weeks before the drama's Christmas premiere, Quinn bubbled with contagious excitement as she described visiting the U.K. sets in 2019, getting a close look at the 7,500 original costumes, scoring a photo with lead Regé-Jean Page, having coffee with heroine Phoebe Dynevor, and asking Luke Newton (Colin Bridgerton) for a baby picture to serve as inspiration for a Bridgerton prequel. Oh, and she also confessed that she wrote a "fan letter" to Golda Rosheuvel (Queen Charlotte) after seeing her performance.
"They just made something absolutely incredible that's both the original and isn't the original—it's more. I can't believe how fortunate I am," she says.
Quinn acted as a consultant on the show, but insists she wasn't a fussy, overprotective overseer. She willingly granted Rhimes and showrunner Chris Van Dusen complete creative control from the beginning of the project, trusting their instincts. "I was not going to tell Shonda Rhimes how to make television."
Over a Zoom chat, Quinn gave us her thoughts on all things Bridgerton, including her feelings about the "insanely handsome" Page, the series's multiracial casting, and which sibling is closest to her heart.
On how involved she was with the script.
As a consultant they did send me the scripts, and I think if there had been something big that worried me, I would have spoken up. But there wasn't. I feel like I just had this wide-eyed Pollyanna thing. I'm sure there are people who have their books adapted and do not have this wonderful experience, but I sure did.
There is a scene in the book that didn't end up in the show where Simon brings flowers to Daphne, but he also brings them to Violet. That's actually inspired by something that happened in real life. My husband sent me flowers for Valentine's Day when I was out of town, but he also sent them to my mom, my sister, and my grandmother. And it was just so sweet.
On showrunner Chris Van Dusen making changes from the book.
It's not a word for word adaptation, and it shouldn't be. I never expected that. I didn't want that. It's not what television should be about.
There are things you can do in a book that you can't do on film, and there are a lot of things you can achieve on film that you can't achieve in a book. If somebody is walking down the street, I'm not going to describe to you the six other people who happen to be walking around them. When you watch film, you've got those six other people and they add something to it, even if they don't say a word. There's so many new things you can do with a different medium, and it's just really exciting to see what those things are and how they are achieved.
On meeting the real Duke of Hastings, Regé-Jean Page.
Regé is so insanely handsome. When I met him, he was holding a cup of coffee, and he handed his coffee to the person next to him, turned, and all of a sudden smiled. And I was like, how do you go through life looking like that? Oh my God, here we go. He's the Duke.
There are some people, when they look at you, you feel like you're the only person in the world. And he's one of these people.
On visiting the Bridgerton set.
When I was on set, I got asked "Is this crazy to see your characters come to life?" And it is. But what I realized was even more incredible was the number of people working on it: the actors, crew, makeup people, and the guy who's making the lattes. You realize this thing that began in your head as one person now has hundreds and hundreds of people involved in it. That blew my mind.
The next layer is that they've created this own community, and family, and world that I'm not really a part of. They're all in the U.K., and I'm in Seattle desperately looking on social media for bits and pieces of information, just like everyone else. That was a little bit weird to realize that it has become this big, new thing that a lot of other people are much more closely involved in than I am.
But what's so wonderful about that is that with a novel at its core, it comes from me and my imagination and my lived experiences. I can go out and research, and I can imagine, but in the end, it all comes from me. Now, you've got something that can draw from so many other people, and that can make it so much bigger and greater.
On the period drama's multiracial cast.
Production called it color conscious casting. I don't like the term "color blind casting" because it implies that no thought was given, which is not true at all. They were very thoughtful about how they did it.
I will be honest: I wrote the books 20 years ago. I wasn't necessarily thinking about [being inclusive] in my own work. I don't know that I could have done a good job or sensitive job with it. I'd rather not do it than do it badly. I think if you do it badly, it could be very harmful to people and hurtful. So I feel so fortunate that there's this big collective of people who have helped make it this much more diverse and inclusive world. I wasn't able to do it on my own, but with help and partnership we have.
Some readers were very surprised at first. A lot of them were like, "But Simon has blue eyes." And I think, for some of them, it truly was that Simon had blue eyes. And for others—whether they realized it or not—it was something with racist undertones. The truth is, I didn't even remember that Simon had blue eyes. I wrote the books. Obviously this is not the most important thing.
On what Quinn would like to see in future seasons.
I'll be honest. I really haven't let myself think much beyond The Viscount Who Loved Me, which is the second book. But the one thing they captured so well were the family dynamics: the teasing, the love, and the bickering. So I definitely want to keep feeling that, and I love that with the TV series, you get to know the secondary characters a little more than you could in the books. I hope they'll continue to get to know the other characters as we go along. That is how romance works. You have these two main characters and they have a happy ever after. If you then went on to have another book with these two characters still in the lead positions, it would mean that something happened to the happy ever after, which is a no-no. So romance series are not sequels, but more of a collection of spin-offs.
I did make Chris Van Dusen promise that if we get a second season, there has to be pall-mall [a croquet game from the second novel]. I told people my consulting has been very minimal, but if there's no pall-mall, I'm going to consult the hell out of that.
On potentially writing more Bridgerton books.
I hadn't done a whole lot of work writing fresh stuff this past year in part because of my husband. He's an infectious disease specialist. It's a crazy time for my family. He has done over 130 interviews since the pandemic started. He's been so busy, exhausted, and overwhelmed that this past year I've been taking a little time back from work and supporting with family stuff. I think that's the same for a lot of people. Priorities are shifting 'cause it's 2020.
On her favorite Bridgerton sibling.
There are different things I love about each of them. With every book that I write, there's something about it that is really special to me, both in terms of the finished product, but also in terms of the experience of writing it. I have memories wrapped up in each book that wouldn't necessarily be apparent to the readers. So no, I can't say I have a favorite.
But I adore Lady Danbury. Who wouldn't? She actually first appeared before the Bridgertons in How to Marry a Marquis. Since then, if I can work her into a book I do, because I want to be her.
For more ways to live your best life plus all things Oprah, sign up for our newsletter!
You Might Also Like