Cressida Is Bridgerton’s First Tragic Character. But Jessica Madsen Still Has Hope

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
It has been said that Bridgerton is a show with no stakes, and up until seeing the end of Season 3, I would have agreed. For two seasons, we’ve seen Bridgerton dole out happy endings to pretty much everyone, except the two Lord Featheringtons. Even the Mondrichs, the closest thing the show had to a working-class family, has been swept up into Society, enjoying balls and funemployment. The most anybody could lose in the world of Bridgerton was their good name, and even then, the consequences remained hazy, as neither Daphne, who convinced the Duke to marry her after being caught in a compromising position by Anthony and Cressida, nor Eloise, who had the audacity to attend political rallies and express an interest in women’s rights, were ever truly “ruined” by scandal. But thanks to Cressida Cowper’s storyline in Season 3, it’s clear that the stakes for young women in the world of Bridgerton are actually very, very real. A warning to our dearest readers, what follows includes *spoilers* for Season 3 Part 2.
In a Bridgerton first, Cressida doesn’t get a happily ever after. Instead, by the end of Season 3, she is left unmarried with no prospects, no money, no independence, no friends, and banished from Mayfair by her parents. The last we see of Cressida, she is on her way to live with her strict aunt. Cressida’s tragic turn takes on even more importance when you consider how big of a departure it is from the books by Julia Quinn. In Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, the book that inspired this season, Cressida is married and attempts to blackmail Penelope simply because she can. As seen in Part 2 of Season 3, she still does the blackmailing, but it’s out of desperation, not jealousy or spite. But in the end, it doesn’t do her any good. Not since Lady Danbury in Queen Charlotte has a woman in Shondaland’s Regency era been so decidedly trapped by society and circumstance.
Cressida’s hopeless end might just be the biggest plot twist in Bridgerton fandom, but for actor Jessica Madsen, it was an opportunity to show, once and for all, that there was always more to her character than a sharp tongue and elaborate hairstyles.  
Refinery29: In Season 1, Cressida was somewhat of an antagonist, going up against Daphne and threatening to expose her indiscretion with Simon— 
Jessica Madsen: I like you using “antagonist” and not “mean girl.”
When you signed on, did you see her as strictly the antagonist? What did you think were her motivations? 
When I did the audition, I did the scene from Season 1 with Daphne and they’re in the modiste and the language, the way it’s written, is so delicious. I could see she was giving the Regina George vibes of the Regency era, which was amazing to play and so much fun. But I was really hoping to get a chance to dive a bit deeper and see what was underneath, so I did hold space for that during the filming of the first two seasons because no one’s one-dimensional. There’s always a reason why people are the way they are. 
Why don’t you want Cressida described as a mean girl?
She’s not a mean girl. Her meanness is generational, passed down to her from her mum. It’s within the nature of her family, and she doesn’t really know any better, until she starts to learn better. You don’t know any better until you learn something different. And that’s true in all aspects of life. 
One major change to Cressida’s story from the books is that she isn’t married. Going into this season, what does marriage mean for Cressida?
It’s a massive, massive weight on her shoulders. Three seasons out and not getting married is pretty shameful in her family, so the pressure is really laid on. And then it takes a turn and becomes this very desperate situation where she’s really suppressed with what her choices are. And she’s doing her best, bless her. 
I love that bit with Lord Debling when she comes up and asks him, “Are you predator or prey?” You see her switch it on. She has this mask she puts on when she’s with men. And I do think that really blocks her because she has this concept and idea of what she should be doing, but maybe if she just tried to connect more to herself, which she starts to do with Eloise, she’d have a better chance of finding somebody she could be happy with. And we do see that with her relationship with Eloise. There is potential for Cressida to find that. She’s just really struggling being herself, and losing faith and trust. 
Speaking of Eloise, how was it developing that relationship with actor Claudia Jessie
Working with Claudia was the greatest gift of all time. I adore her with all my heart. She is generous. She’s so open and present, and she gives 100% no matter where the camera is, whether iWorking with Claudia was the greatest gift of all time. I adore her with all my heart. She is generous. She’s so open and present, and she gives 100% no matter where the camera is, whether it’s on her or on you. And we have such a wonderful relationship outside of the show. I feel so happy watching it, and feeling like our connection is also their connection — our chemistry is their chemistry. 
t’s on her or on you. And we have such a wonderful relationship outside of the show. I feel so happy watching it, and feeling like our connection is also their connection — our chemistry is their chemistry. 
Fans have been shipping Eloise and Cressida like crazy! How has it been for you to receive that? And how would you like to see their relationship develop in Season 4 or beyond?
I love it. As a queer woman, it fills my heart with so much joy to see that there is such a hunger for queer romance on the show. And fans will not be disappointed by the end of this season. We do get to see the beginning of queer romance. But for Creloise, it is just a friendship, one we see by the end is in tatters. I do so hope they can find a way back to each other, but a big apology from Cressida is in order after some processing and digesting.
This season, we see Cressida trying to forge a path for herself. Even with Lord Debling, she tells Eloise that she likes him because he’s “good-natured and, most importantly, my choice.” Is this the first time Cressida has really thought of taking the reins over her own life?
Eloise definitely starts to create this intrigue for [Cressida] to actually, really look at her options and life in a different way. But I love that line, too, because she thinks she can just pick him, and it will happen, which shows her innocence and her ignorance — or optimism. And we do actually see her open up to him and see that this is a man who isn’t as fond of his family, like her, and she’s like, “This could be someone I could spend my life with.” I love those little moments between them when we start to see her actually open up a bit.

There’s always a reason why people are the way they are. 

Jessica Madsen
It’s so funny to see that in contrast to her cruelty to Penelope, who seems to be her biggest pressure point.
Old patterns are hard to break. They’ve got friction, those two. Nicola and I like to think that it goes way back because we see Lady Featherington and Lady Cowper have a friendship. So, we imagine that they would’ve been around each other when they were younger a fair bit, and tension started to build. Because they’re so different, and sometimes we have a disdain for people who are very different. They threaten us with their differences, I think. So, Nic and I talked a little bit about that, but we never set anything. You never know what’s going to come out, and then suddenly you’re like, “Oh, gosh, that’s the real story.”
What did you think when you found out that Cressida would claim to be Lady Whistledown?
I loved it because I love to see her active and taking matters into her own hands. She’s like, “This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to be independent. I’m going to do this and this.” She takes a bit of Eloise’s confidence with her. Though I don’t think she’s thinking it through.
I wish that Cressida and Penelope had a chance to hash it out. I still feel they would understand each other, as Colin mentioned, and the loneliness they have both experienced. 
They are more similar than they realise, it’s so true. I think they would understand each other and actually get along really well. I think all these young women could be friends, if they didn’t feel as though they were pitted against each other in the search for a husband. 
I kept hoping that Eloise would step in and maybe tell Penelope about Cressida’s situation, and they could all band together.
Maybe they could! Maybe that’s to come. I have no idea. But that would be so cool. Wouldn’t it be amazing if they all had a printing press together, and all of the women got involved in it? I love thinking about that. 
Oh, that would be too powerful.
Yeah, but why not? 
For all her faults, Cressida does manage to see Colin’s jealousy of Lady Whistledown quite clearly, and I loved seeing those two characters together. How was filming that confrontation? 
I love that scene.  It was one of my favourites to shoot. It is the only time [Cressida] is alone with a man, and because of that, it had an interesting atmosphere of power to play with. She’s feeling some form of control after a long time of feeling out of control, and she’s leaning into that. It’s sad that that’s her way of finding power. If there were another way, I believe she would take it, but she’s desperate and sees this as her last chance at freedom. Her future rests on her getting this money. She has to fake it to make it. 

I do still have hope for [Cressida's] happy ending. I like to think the phoenix in her will rise. 

Jessica Madsen
It’s interesting that Cressida’s entire arc this season has been about her desperate attempts at gaining control over her own life, but at the end, she seems to accept and surrender to her circumstances. Do you see that as growth or evidence of how trapped she is in her family and society?
I personally see it as the latter. She tried all she could. She essentially tried to steal from the Queen and blackmail Pen — these are big, pretty outrageous ways to free herself. At the end, she isn’t left with another option but to surrender, to step off the battlefield. It shows just how much of a victim of her circumstances she really is. 
So many characters got a happy ending this season, but not Cressida! She is the closest Bridgerton has really come to a tragic character. Do you think there's hope she could get her happy ending?
She is very much a reflection of the time; the Bridgertons are the exception, and the Cowpers are the rule. We really see just how difficult it was for women back then and how powerless they were, which is also true still today. In far too many places, women still remain powerless. But yes, I do still have hope for her happy ending. I like to think the phoenix in her will rise. 
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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