Actor Claudia Jessie breathes life into Eloise, the witty and outspoken fan-favourite character in the popular Netflix show Bridgerton. Schön spoke with Jessie about Bridgerton season two, her experience portraying Eloise, happiness, life on a houseboat and more.
For those who haven’t watched the second season yet, how do we see your character Eloise’s story develop in season two?
I think what’s special about her in season two is she’s starting to ask more questions. And while everyone around that age is incredibly broad-thinking, almost like a sponge, she’s still very young. Although I don’t know if she’s listening very thoroughly, I think what’s great is that we will slowly but surely see her streamline everything she takes in and hopefully find her true passion, something she can truly fight for that is her own. She can now expand, which will make her even more fierce and hopefully a bit more political.
The costumes, the sparkles, the beautiful animals, the dances, what’s it like being around all of that? Is it as fun as it looks from the audience’s perspective?
I’m pleased to report it is as fun as it looks. When we’re all together, we are our happiest. The smaller scenes are always beautiful, but when there’s a big crew of us, it’s magical because we all get along so well. It’s such a loving cast and crew. It’s worth mentioning I didn’t grow up wanting or knowing I wanted to be an actor. I think it was always a secret thing I wanted to do, but I never really thought about it too much. But if I knew and could draw my ideal job as an actor when I was a child, it would look like this.
Speaking of the choreography, Eloise gets a goofy dance scene this season. How long did it take you to learn that dance?
We probably had around five rehearsals for it with Jackie, our incredible movement coach. It was a beautiful piece, and we learned it perfectly. Obviously, Eloise has to undo the perfection and struggle slightly, which is lovely because there’s no pressure to look beautiful. I do have to mention all of the cast get starstruck around the dancers. Whenever the dancers are in, we all get so excited. It’s like Backstreet Boys in concert back in the day; we’re all properly obsessed with them. Usually, they show us the choreography first, and the cast watches them do the complete setup of the dances. It’s so beautiful, we always cry.
We see Eloise form a love interest this season, her first love story in the show! What was it like developing that?
Beautiful. Calam Lynch, who plays Theo, was gorgeous to work with. I think we both enjoyed how sweet their love was. There’s so much tension, heat and sexiness in the show that it’s refreshing to see something so pure and cute. I also loved that Eloise didn’t change at all. She’s entirely herself around him and doesn’t suddenly swoon when they’re together.
I think the show uses the romance between Eloise and Theo to discuss bigger issues, such as class division in Regency-era London. Did you consider that while you were making the series?
Oh, yeah, 100%. Class division is still very much a thing, and it’s hard to transcend. We get to see Eloise — who, in my opinion, is the perfect person for it, really — walk in different circles in society, explore different backgrounds and exchange ideas with a diverse group. It’s an interesting topic to explore in something like Bridgerton, where it can be done so beautifully and in an engaging way. The thing is, Eloise has the privilege of being able to say, ‘I think all of this is rubbish’, ‘I think this society thing is nonsense’. But loads of people don’t have that choice, and I think it’s really important that Eloise finds that out.
The dramatic fallout in the season finale between Eloise and Penelope is so intense! I was happy to see that because it has been such a quest for her. What was it like filming that scene?
Nicola and I didn’t need to do much except serve the piece as much as possible. But we were really nervous, and we wanted to do a good job. Because of how intense it was, we’d have a little cuddle every time they called ‘cut’ at the end and then go back and start again. But I’m so pleased with how it turned out because it’s not a screaming match. Eloise certainly is very contained and very still in that scene. When I saw it in the script, I was like, ‘Yes, I’m so happy they’re doing this’, because it’s the person the audience wants to find out the most. And the stakes are the highest with Eloise because she’s her best friend.
Do you think that we’ll get a moment of an honest conversation about it between Eloise and Penelope in future seasons?
I think it would be a lovely scene to see Eloise listen to Penelope’s perspective as well, because Penelope knows how much she has hurt Eloise. It is such an act of betrayal. Eloise is so caught up in the betrayal and how furious she is that she’s not quite ready to listen. But I think she will, and there will be a frank conversation.
I heard that Nicola had trouble walking on heels during filming; is that why we see you guys arm in arm so often in many scenes?
A lot of that is me instinctively physically grabbing Nicola during a scene. I always say that I want a fan to do a supercut of every time Eloise drags Penelope out of a room; it’s what I’m constantly doing. But that came from our first day ever on set on season one. Funny story, actually; it was our first day ever on Bridgerton, and she had really high heels on. She fell over three times on her first day, and on the third fall, she was holding a dog and a parasol. When she fell, the little pointy bits at the umbrella’s edge just went straight through my hand. I pulled the umbrella away from my hand, we all made sure Nicola was okay, and then I waited until everyone calmed down. When Nicola was up, I pointed at my hand and went, ‘um, we need to do something about this’. So, yeah, Nicola and I have a blood oath.
Watching you on screen, you can tell how much you enjoy playing this character. What’s your favourite part about the character’s evolution from season one to season two?
Eloise is the best character I’ve ever played in my life. I could never get bored of playing her, and I feel so fortunate that I get to do it. With a character like Eloise, what’s exciting is that there’s so much room to do more because she’s so funny… But also, I’m excited to see her learn to listen a bit more, because Eloise has her ideals of what a perfect strong young woman could be and look like, and she’s correct. But also, there are young women in her environment who have ideas for their future, which are perfectly beautiful. She’s going to have to learn those things as well.
You mentioned earlier that you’d like Eloise to get more political. What stance do you think she’d develop within the context of that era? What would she fight for?
Around that time, we’re getting closer to the suffragette movement. So, I think that will be a big thing for her. Also, I quite like the idea that Eloise would maybe just have a partner and not have it mean marriage right away. Everyone’s betrothed to be married; there are engagements, a wedding in a week or a month. I like the idea that Eloise would want to work and have a partner, not necessarily a husband. Additionally, I would love to see Eloise explore more intersectional inclusion so that everyone has a platform.
I know you’re off social media, as you’ve been very open about it hindering your life. At what point did you go: ‘Okay, that’s it. I’m done’?
I think it was at 19. It was early on that I knew it. It wasn’t when I became an actress or developed a name for myself. I just knew that this wouldn’t be a place where I’d thrive. I think it is a good question because I believe it is unusual. Some people in the world think they need to have it, and maybe hearing me say, ‘It’s okay, actually’ — perhaps it would give them a bit of freedom. Because when I got rid of everything, I immediately thought: ‘Look at all this time I have, look at all of these thoughts I can explore’.
You live on a houseboat! What is a benefit of living on a boat that people wouldn’t expect?
My boyfriend Cole, our dog, and I, essentially live in a floating corridor. So, I think you learn the beauty of intimacy very quickly, and you learn how to share small spaces, which I think is beautiful. Me and my partner do it incredibly well. I was so nervous when he moved in because I’d had it for four years, I was worried that this would be a disaster, but immediately we learned how to sort of dance through the boat and not bash into each other. And also, I’ve always been quite minimalist anyway; I don’t own a lot of stuff. I don’t shop a lot. I don’t cook. I’m not a consumerist unless it’s food and coffee. So, it’s another way of learning how to strip down the things you have in your life, which I really enjoy. I only have the things I really need because I don’t have the space for anything, literally. My third favourite thing about living on a boat is that it moves. I can move my home wherever I’d like it to go within the canal network. I love that about it very much.
I know that Buddhism plays an important role in your life. What have you learned about happiness through Buddhism?
That’s such a beautiful question. I think what I’ve learned about happiness is that there aren’t three ways things could go. There are 3000 ways things could go, because that’s life. Life is much bigger than we think it is. Social media makes life seem a lot smaller because we are instantly captured and together in this tiny world. But it’s so huge. Happiness doesn’t always look how you thought it would look. Happiness starts from the foundation. Sometimes, we’ve got ideas of our happiness or desires for happiness, especially in today’s society, where we’re all expected to be multitasking entrepreneurs, writers, actors, singers, dancers, influencers, all of these things. That causes this thinking that we can start by building the attic first. That’s obviously not how you build a house; you start from the ground up, which comes from a lot of humility.
Sometimes, when you’re not happy, there will be value to your inertia. Even in my darkest moments, which I sometimes didn’t feel like I was ever going to get out of, I did. And I am now able to look back and have gratitude for the hell of it all. There’s a lovely note I remember my friend saying to me when he went through a tough time a few years ago. I have a leadership responsibility within the Buddhist organisation that I’m a member of. I look after all of the young women who practice Buddhism in the Midlands in the UK, and my friend looks after all the young men who practice Buddhism, so we’re close. During his rough period, I asked him how he was doing, and he said, ‘I’m grateful, because I’m going to be able to support these young men even better now that I know what hell feels like’. I remember being so moved by his strength and how he used something horrible to develop such empathy. I’ll never forget him saying that to me.
What other projects do you have in the works right now?
At the moment, I’m in Sydney, Australia, filming a project called Bali 2002. It’s a retelling of the horrific terrorist attacks in Bali 20 years ago. I play one of the Brits who came over to Bali and was unfortunately caught up in the horrific events. It’s a story of the people, the heroes who sadly didn’t make it, the heroes who survived through this awful thing and the power of human beings, their strength and their resilience. I find it very beautiful. Other than that, my next project is going home, stroking my dog and kissing my boyfriend on the head.
Bridgerton is currently streaming on Netflix.
photography. Diego Lorenzo F. Jose
creative direction + fashion. Catherine V.
talent. Claudia Jessie
make up. Nisha Vanberkel
fashion assistant. Angelica Cueva
photography assistants. Mattia Panunzio + Glen Edwards
words. Leonida Mullabazi