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Harriet Cains

Ahead of the third season premiere of Bridgerton, 1883 sits down with Harriet Cains to discuss what she listens to while preparing to step into Philippa’s shoes on set, what it takes to be a Featherington, and more.

Nottingham-born actress Harriet Cains had no idea what she was getting into when she booked the role of Philipppa Featherington in Netflix’s viral period drama series Bridgerton. She had a few gigs under her belt at the time she read for the mysterious unnamed show 2019, including the supernatural BBC Three series In The Flesh and British crime drama Safe House. But it would be the Shondaland adaptation of the historical romance book series by Julia Quinn that would land Cains the role of a lifetime. 

Philippa is the middle child of the three Featherington sisters, and the older sister of Penelope, the star of the season. While season 3 focuses on the love story of Penelope and longtime friend Colin Bridgerton, it could be argued that Philippa Featherington and Albion Finch are one of the most underrated couples of the series. While quite opposite at the root, their characters have an undeniable chemistry on screen, which has continued to grow throughout the series from courting to marriage, to deciding to start a family. Philippa is fiercely spirited and independent compared to her sisters, and she adds a layer of depth and charm to the series, mixed in with a lot of humour and wit, which are all a testament to Cains’ delivery. 

This season of Bridgerton, we see Philippa come into her own as a wife and a sister. Ahead of the season premiere, 1883 sat down with Harriet Cains to discuss her inspirations, what she listens to while preparing to step into Philippa’s shoes on set, and what it takes to be a Featherington. 

Before getting into the details of this season, I wanted to go back to the beginning of your career. When did you know that acting is something you wanted to pursue as a career?

I really started taking it seriously around 15 years old. I auditioned to get into Television Workshop, which is where I’m from in Nottingham, and I got in! So that’s really when I decided I wanted to make a career out of it. And then at 18 years old, I started working professionally.

You’ve worked on a wide range of projects over the last 10 or so years. Was there a specific type of film or TV show you enjoyed watching growing up that contributed to you leaning into acting?

Oh, yeah! Loads – even from just like when I was really little and the Soaps would be on and I would think “I could do that!” I think there was a part of me that always wanted to be a performer, always. Once I got a bit older I really refined my choices. I remember when I got a bit older and Skins came out I really wanted to be in Skins. And also, quite a few people that went to the workshop I was in were in that as well, and that’s when I realized that was possible. Skins was a good one – I really wanted to be in that when I was a teenager. 

What was it that eventually led you to audition for the role of Philippa Featherington in Bridgerton?

I needed a job [laughs]! But it was top secret, really. At the time it was still untitled, I just got the pages but not the whole script. Kelly [Valentine Hendry] was casting, and I would always go in for Kelly. So, yeah! It was more just like “I need a job!” And thankfully, I got it [laughs]! 

Had you read the books prior to auditioning?

No! Well definitely not prior to auditioning, because we weren’t told it was Bridgerton. We didn’t know! And even after, I knew my character wasn’t in the books that much. I think for the sake of Philippa, it’s better for her to be oblivious to the world around her. Ignorance is bliss with her. 

Once you realized it was Bridgerton, did you fully understand the scope of what this show would end up becoming? 

No – I knew it would be big in Brazil because I think they were the most excited about it. My grandma has read the books, so she was really excited [laughs] but I had really no idea the extent of the fanbase. 

I honestly think that Philippa and Mr. Finch are one of the most underrated couples of the series. Their love is so innocent and pure. Has it been fun to see their relationship grow throughout the 3 seasons from courting to marriage?

It really has been. It’s been something I’m quite proud of. I feel like myself and Lorn have nurtured that relationship and have made it into what it is as well. We have great chemistry and we really are like an old married couple. We were just in a sexless relationship, that’s all [laughs]. It’s been really wonderful to get them to that point. It’s been lovely to do. 

We find out in the first episode of season 3 that Philippa or one of her sisters must produce an heir to receive the family estate, and this season both Philippa and Prudence find themselves trying to get pregnant. What kind of mother do you think Philippa will be?

I think she’s a really loving mother. She’s probably one of those mothers that’s like “my baby is the best.” I think she’s going to be really loving and also quite childlike herself because there’s a childlike streak to her. 

In episode 2 there’s a hilarious scene with Philippa, Prudence and their mother in the dining room, when Lady Featherington asks the sisters if they had been intimate with their husbands and Philippa delivers a hilarious line, not fully understanding what her mother is asking. She’s quite funny – did you have a part in bringing any of the humour into your character?

Well, I’d like to say the delivery [laughs] and the characterization! We don’t get to write our own lines or anything – there are very few opportunities where we get to improvise or do anything like that. But I really do hope that my characterization and delivery make it funny. 

Yes, I would say so!

[laughs] Thanks! 

The Featherington girls seem to have gotten a bit of a wardrobe upgrade this season! Some of your looks were stunning. Did you have a favourite look from this season? 

Yeah! I had a couple actually. There’s one in episode 8, which I won’t talk about. And there’s one at the moon ball that happens in the first part – it has a big square neck, and I just loved that cut, the neckline on it. That was probably my favourite of the first four episodes. 

Did you have a least favourite look? 

No – well, I had a look that was my least favourite to wear, but it looked amazing! It’s only because they can be quite heavy or quite scratchy. For the most part, though, costuming makes them not like that, but sometimes it’s quite unavoidable. It can be very hot at times, or very cold at times. 

There are so many beautiful props and wardrobe pieces in this show. Have you kept anything from the set? Maybe a little piece of jewelry or something that reminds you of Philippa?

Yes! I’ve got a flower from my wedding dress in season 2. There were plastic-like flowers all over it – they weren’t plastic I’m sure, but they had that feel to it. I kept one of those. We’re not really allowed to keep anything, so you have to be quite sneaky about it. I was gifted that though, so that was nice. And then I have a few socks and underwear that I’ve nicked from work, but that doesn’t really count, does it? [laughs]

Yes – wear the socks whenever you need to embrace Philippa!

Exactly! [laughs]

We obviously still have the rest of the season dropping later this summer. Without revealing spoilers, what can you tell us about your character’s storyline for the rest of this season?

She.. she becomes a woman. I think she goes through a lot of growth and the family as a whole seems to come together a lot more, and that’s nice to see. 

Another thing I believe that Bridgerton does beautifully is the music! The way it incorporates current popular music and tastefully reimagines the songs in a way that fits into the show is stunning. Do you have a favourite song from the show? 

I remember when “Thank You, Next” was in it, and that kind of blew my mind a little bit. I don’t think it’ll ever get better than that because realizing that was what they were doing with the music in the show for the first time was amazing. And I love Ariana Grande. 

Are there any songs that are popular now that you could see being in the next season?

Oh, I’d love some 80s music in it. I think we could go a bit more period with the pop songs. 

That would be cool – maybe some Madonna. 

Madonna was in it actually! I think “Material Girl” was in season 2, and I loved that as well! I think we should do more of that, like a version of Depeche Mode or something. 

I know a lot of actors will create a playlist for their character, or a playlist of songs that helps them get into character before a day on set. Do you have one for Philippa?

I didn’t make one, but I do know what would be on it. It’s like sugary pop and pop girls. And definitely usually 90s. Like Britney Spears. It was funny, I would get into hair and makeup and if I was on the music that day, the music would start out as what I would normally listen to, and then as I would get transformed into Philippa it would become more like Britney, and girl bands like Sugarbabes and All Saints, or any of those pop girls from the 90s. That’s who Philippa is. 

We already know that Bridgerton was renewed for another season, what do you wish for Philippa in future seasons? 

Just no drama! Just a break. Her and Albi and her little family, including the Featheringtons, I just hope they’re all chilling, stress free. 

Now that you have a very successful period series on your resume, is there any particular type of show or film you’d like to be a part of? Or any particular type of character you’d like to take on?

I would love to do something set in the 70s, especially wanting something 70s with costuming and hair and makeup at the minute. I think it would be really fun to do a ’70s cop Charlie’s Angels situation. That would be my jam next, but we’ll see what happens!

Lastly, now that Season 3 is out, what are your plans for the rest of the summer? 

Oh, I’ve got loads of plans! Loads of festivals, travelling around, and doing bits of work here and there. I am really excited for the premiere in New York, and I get to stay out there for a few days. I am also going to a festival called “We Out Here” at the end of summer so that one will be a good one. 

Bridgerton Season 3 will be split into two 4-episode parts, with Part 1 out now followed by Part 2 on June 13, 2024.

Interview Rachel Martin
Photography Emilia Staugaard

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