celebrity culture rules to live by

Jessica Madsen Isn’t a Gossip Like Her Bridgerton Character


Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

As a Bridgerton regular, Jessica Madsen is no stranger to ball gowns, extravagant wigs, and the various society rules that play into each character’s journey as they find their place in the “ton.” But the newest season of the Netflix original brought something new to Madsen’s Bridgerton experience — the ability to explore a true friendship for her character.

Season three focuses on Colin and Penelope’s blossoming romance, and it brings quite a few recurring characters into the spotlight — perhaps one of the most unexpected being resident mean girl Cressida Cowper (Madsen). While Cressida navigates her family and a growing number of unsuccessful marriage attempts, she also starts to question the rules around her, fueled in part by her new friendship with Eloise (Claudia Jessie).

Last week, the Bridgerton cast came to New York for the season-three premiere, and Madsen told us everything she’s learned from Cressida Cowper.

Cressida’s story really takes off this season. What excited you most about her journey? 

It was really unexpected. We got each episode as we went, so we had one and two, and then three and four. We’d do them in blocks. I didn’t want to know what was coming because I didn’t want to foresee anything or cloud anything. I was so excited to work with Claudia and to have an opportunity to delve into a real friendship because we haven’t seen Cressida really have any friendship so much as her sort of girl gang that we see her with in the first two seasons. Immediately, the words and the text were so delicious for Claudia and I to play with, and we had such an amazing chemistry and a bond with each other. It was just so much fun to play these two who are really challenging each other and are asking each other questions and are curious. They’re not defensive, they’re really open, and it’s a safe space that they have. They actually really learn from each other and grow because they’re so different.

That really comes through in the show, and I know viewers have picked up on the chemistry between Cressida and Eloise and how they build off of each other. What do you think these two characters can learn most from each other?

Well, we’ve mainly seen Cressida try to snatch a husband, but with Eloise we see who Cressida really is and that where her weakness lies is that she’s not being true to herself or connecting to herself. She’s putting on a mask. She’s putting on a front that her mom has encouraged her to, and she has all of these boxes she needs to tick like, I’ve gotta flirt but not too much. I’ve got to be this, I’ve got to be that. But in this friendship, we really start to see her go, Who am I? And what actually is it that I really want? 

It’s really fun as a viewer to see so much growth from her. What about Cressida do you resonate most with?

Her vulnerability. I think when you’re that age, there’s this unawareness you have to life that is unknown to you. She only knows what she knows because of her parents, and she’s starting to learn new things. Eloise holds a mirror up to her and shows her that it’s not okay to be like this. And she realizes, Wow when you put it like that — with kindness — I really see that. I think when anyone comes to you with any kindness and care, and challenges you, you can be open to that newness and you can work from that. I remember being that age and realizing I don’t know everything and that people can teach you so much.

Cressida’s style journey is getting bigger and bolder along with the character. Do you have a favorite look or style element from the season?

My favorite for me is in the second half of the season. It’s very red and it is extraordinary. She’s never worn red before, so the red was crazy to me. It’s a real fake-it-till-you-make-it moment, and it gave me that feeling of She’s in this. This is doing the job of making her look like she’s got it all together, and she’s a badass, whereas inside she’s crumbling.

Bridgerton is all about high-society rules, and Cressida is such a rule breaker this season. Do you consider yourself a rule breaker or a rule follower?

That’s a good question. I think in the past growing up I was very much a rule follower. And then I started to question certain rules in a gentle way. It wasn’t a Whoo-hoo! I’m gonna break this to mess something up! But I do think it’s important to question rules.

So we’ve talked about Cressida’s style journey. But what’s your No. 1 rule in fashion?

I feel like my fashion has evolved hugely. I’ve gone through many phases with what I wear. They’ve always reflected where I’m at in life, and I don’t feel like there are any rules. It’s what you feel and always to feel like you’re comfortable and you feel like yourself and are fearless in that. I don’t like following fashion as much as following my intuition with it, but I do like to learn what’s new and interesting and to have that pop up so that you have new ideas or otherwise you get stuck. I think I wore only black for six years … and huge chunky rings. Then I loved color. I went through a huge color phase, and now I’m sort of neutral.

Do you gossip?

I really don’t like gossip. It makes me feel like I need to have a mental shower every time. I sort of walk away; my feet take me far away from the gossip. I think it breeds something … and it’s very toxic.

What’s your best rule for engaging with people at parties?

I’m a deep chatter; I really can’t help it. I’m very bad at surface-level conversation, and I’m not great in a party situation, either, but I do love one-on-ones in a party situation. So if I meet someone there, I want to get to know them and have a good one-on-one. And dance! If I’m at a party, I want to be dancing.

What’s your No. 1 rule for canceling plans?

If I’m gonna cancel plans, it’s all the way. Explain why. Don’t make anything up, and just try to be open and honest about it — I think that is always best because people can tell if you make something up. And really try to do it in advance.

What rules do you have in your home?

I love to make sure that things are clean and tidy before I go to bed. I do a little wrap-up at the end of the day so that I wake up to a nice, clean house. I love cleaning. I’m obsessed with it. I find it therapeutic and kind of meditative. So I’ll always put music on and have a good clean. Shoes off at the front door. I want people to feel relaxed, so help yourself to what you want. Go to the fridge. Feel like my place is your place. If I let you in, I trust you and I’m comfortable with you, so go for it. But loo seat down. That’s a big one.

What do you sign your emails with?

Kisses! Even if it’s work stuff, I always put “kisses.” Sometimes I put “Much love always …” — maybe not with work stuff. Otherwise, I’m like, Much love always, Jess. Kisses!

What’s your No. 1 rule for posting on social media?

I kind of have a bit of OCD with my page. I like it to look creative and to make it seem as much as possible like I’m showing a bit of my personality. But I do like to be private, so I kind of make it about work. I like it to focus on the work and not the personal part of my life.

What’s the last app you downloaded on your phone?

It was 1998 Cam. It’s a camera app for photos to look like you’ve taken them with a film camera. Netflix and Shondaland took Hannah Dodd and I around New York for the day, and I used that to make it look cool.

Speaking of New York, what’s your No. 1 rule while walking on the street in New York City?

I’m bad with rules when it comes to that. I always have headphones on so I’m sort of a target. I should probably think about finding some rules! Especially in New York, because you guys have the crossings with the white lines — for us, that’s a zebra crossing, which means we’re free to walk — so every time I got to a crossing I had to go, This isn’t a zebra crossing, you have to wait! And look for the man. But yes, I’m bad. I’ll eat while walking. I’m a ruleless walker.

What rules do you have around your phone, for yourself and for others?

I really am never on my phone if I’m with somebody. I wouldn’t mention it if they were. But I don’t really have that often. My friends are kind of phoneless too. I don’t love texting because tone gets lost and it’s also quite a lot to respond, so I’m a big phone caller. I only have my team come up as notifications on my phone, so if anyone else emails me I’ll respond a month later, it’s bad.

What’s your No. 1 rule for advice giving?

The longer I’ve been in therapy, the less advice I give. I’ll ask if they want my opinion, but I’m quite careful with giving advice. I’ll hold you and give you a hug — and if you want my opinion, I can share it. I’m almost a little scared to give advice these days. We’ve got professionals for that.

What is your No. 1 rule on set? How about rules for when you’re on tour or at a movie premiere?

To really take time to still tap into myself and have a good “take a deep breath” moment. I like to meditate. Sometimes I’ll just lay down and have a little break. Play some music and collect myself. I’ll make sure I’m hydrated and that I’ve eaten so my sugar levels are stable.

I know you said you’re not a big texter. Are you a “K.” kind of texter? Do you send long messages?  Write each thought on a new line? 

I love an emoji. I’m pretty short over text. I’ve done the chapter of long messages; been there, done that. Now I keep it short. Call me.

What’s your No. 1 rule for dating? Is it okay to ghost after one date?

No ghosting. It’s okay to ghost if someone is quite threatening and you need to protect yourself. But even then, I’d be like, I’m going to protect myself now. Just be transparent and communicate properly. Datingwise, I think it’s really important to try to meet before you communicate too much virtually. I’m big on setting a time and meeting in person before projection starts to kick in, or expectations, or an idea of who you think that person is. I just want to be met with you who are.

Have you used dating apps? And if so, do you have a No. 1 rule for how to engage with new people online?

I have been on the apps before. I’m no longer on them. But I did try to keep them as authentically me as possible. But I was pretty bad with the apps. I can’t do the flicking, and I just struggle to be on my phone for anything, really.

Since Bridgerton is based on a book series, I have to ask — what’s your No. 1 rule for reading? Do you skip ahead? 

I love an audiobook. I love being read to because I’m super dyslexic. One thing I love about audiobooks is you really practice your listening skills because you really have to focus. I also love that, like, Viola Davis is reading to me. But no, I never skip ahead.

You have a very soothing voice. Is recording an audiobook something you’d consider?

I would love to do voiceover stuff, but the ultimate scary thing for me would be to do an audiobook because I’m so bad at reading. The pressure would be too much. I’d need half a year to prepare for the reading, but if I could do it and I nailed it, that would be a hugely proud moment for me. I’d be patting myself on the back every day.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


  • Nicola Coughlan Wanted to Be ‘Very Naked’ on Bridgerton
  • Queen Camilla Is Apparently a Big Bridgerton Fan
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  • Put Your Phone Away for Allison Janney


Zoe Papelis , 2024-05-21 20:42:37

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