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Jessica Madsen

1883 sits down with Bridgerton's Jessica Madsen to chat about what kind of partner Cressida deserves, her on and offscreen chemistry with the lovely Claudia Jessie, and what she learned from playing the complex, sometimes misunderstood mean girl. 

Actress Jessica Madsen is determined to prove to Bridgerton fans that there is more to Cressida Cowper than being the 19th-century Regina George.

In season three of the viral regency-era drama series, Cressida finds herself competing with this season’s wallflower for not only a potential husband in Lord Debling, but also a friendship in Eloise, which is one of the more surprising relationships in the series. Madsen’s approach to playing Cressida isn’t just delivering the lines that she’s given, but to make the audience fully understand the way that she is. She is living with the pressure of her parents to conform to societal pressure and marry well, which puts strain on their relationship. Although she is written to be a villain, it’s difficult to not feel a little sympathy for her with the cards she’s been dealt, and that is a testament to Madsen’s delivery of the character. 

Born in London with Danish descent, Madsen began her education at a primary school in Surrey before continuing her studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She began her television career with a notable debut in the 2013 ITV drama Breathless, followed by a series of appearances in various productions including Babylon, BBC One’s Holby City, and the ITV period drama Mr Selfridge. Before landing the role of Cressida in Bridgerton in 2020, Madsen appeared in Leatherface, Dark Light and Rambo: Last Blood

Fresh off the release of the new season, 1883 had the chance to sit down with Jessica Madsen to chat about what kind of partner Cressida deserves, her on and offscreen chemistry with the lovely Claudia Jessie, and what she learned from playing the complex, sometimes misunderstood mean girl. 

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Congratulations on the release of Bridgerton season 3! How does it feel to have the project that you’ve worked so hard for finally out into the world?

So exciting – it feels great! We finished a year ago, and we’ve all been very excited for it to come out. And now that it’s finally here, it’s like “here we go everybody!” Now it’s everyone else’s. 

Cressida definitely has a bigger role this season than previous. How does it feel to be able to show fans a different side of her?

It’s been cool! I was a little nervous that people would maybe not see what I intended to happen for the character, and seeing that she was being a little vindictive and manipulative, especially with the friendship with Eloise. That was definitely not what I wanted to happen. I really wanted to showcase that it was a very real and authentic friendship, and I felt really proud and happy that translated! I think it’s what the showrunner Jess and I really wanted to happen, that the “mean girls” in the show– there’s more to them. There’s a reason why they are the way that they are. It’s not as simple and black and white as we often see depicted in television shows and on screen. 

I know Cressida is kind of known to be the ‘mean girl,’ but I almost feel like she’s misunderstood in many ways. She just wants to be loved. What kind of partner do you think she would be?

I feel like she would be fairly high maintenance– bless her [laughs]. She has grown up in an environment that is very well off, that is one thing I think she would still hold no matter where she was in life. But I do think what we get to see with her friendship with Eloise is someone who is really receptive and wants to listen. She isn’t as defensive as we think she is. They have a really amazing friendship in respect to the way they communicate. I was really impressed when I read the script, like these girls are having a really honest and safe conversation where they are not judging each other and not shaming each other, but calling each other out and challenging each other. I actually think that she would be a really great partner to somebody when she is being her true authentic self and not masking that. But, she will have to find someone who will allow her to feel safe and comfortable. 

What qualities do you think Cressida’s perfect partner would have?

I think they would have to be intelligent. They would have to be patient, and forgiving [laughs] because I think there would still be some curveballs that she would throw. I think they would have to be a pretty deep thinker to keep her curious and excited. She does love a little bit of a tennis match when it comes to talking to somebody. She is very smart with her words – her intelligence I think is something people question, especially when it comes to writing Whistledown and her terrible attempt to do so, but that’s just not her strong suit. She is still very intelligent and has a lot to offer. And she’s a good listener!

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In what ways do you think her relationship with her parents have affected her ability to find a husband?

Hugely. I think she was almost given the ‘how to find a husband’ book by her mother, and has sort of learned how to do that. She turns on the flirt very quickly, and goes by the book. She almost is courting them in a way [laughs] throwing out all possible flirt techniques. I think her mom has really set her up, like “this is where you need to be, you need to find a husband.” And it’s not by choice or who you want. It’s more, “he’s a wealthy guy, he has a title, and that’s who you go for.” So she hasn’t really thought about who she would like or how to interact with somebody. She really does want to impress her parents, which I think is something that we all get when they are our caregivers and we have to depend on them as children. So we do get very wrapped up in pleasing parents. And if she doesn’t, she has a lot to deal with. She is completely controlled by her parents in that way. 

She obviously has a very tricky relationship with her family, which I almost feel like would make her a great mother. I would love to see Cressida end up in a loving relationship and with a family. Do you see that in her near future?

Yes, I hope so! I would love that to happen for her. I think she still has to discover what love is. She has seen a very unloving relationship between her parents, so she doesn’t really understand what love is. I think when she gets outside of that house she will be more open and see a bit more of what love really means, and what’s available to her. She’s a fighter and she doesn’t give up easily. She wants a better life and she’s determined to get that for herself, and I think that’s very relatable too. She does go about it in some questionable ways [laughs] but she doesn’t have a lot of options. I like to think that she will find love, and that she’ll also be able to repair the damage that she has done when it comes to blackmailing Penelope and her friendship with Eloise falling apart. I actually think the three of them could be really good friends!

I feel like you’ve done such a great job showing the vulnerable side of her, which I feel is so important when you play a character that can sometimes be polarizing. What is one thing about her this season that you are most proud of?

Definitely the vulnerable side of her and opening herself up and actually being a loyal friend. You see her loyalty towards Eloise. She doesn’t tell anyone what she finds out about Penelope and Colin, and that’s something we haven’t seen from her, is that loyalty. I really respect that. And we do see a kindness to her as well. 

I love the blossoming friendship with Eloise this season. I feel like while they are unlikely friends, they really needed each other. What was it like working so closely with Claudia Jessie this season?

The best! [laughs] it was honestly the best gift of all time. I adore her as a human being and an actor. She really is spectacular in every way. We had so much fun. We are like five year olds together [laughs] but when it comes to action we are super on it. But yeah, when it comes to Claudia, I’ve never felt safer. I’ve never felt more courageous in my work, and it’s the dream an actor has to really be able to let go and trust the process of the work, and you can really only do that when you have someone that’s so present with you and gives you so much. It felt like the most creative magical atmosphere that we had together. That is so special, and I learned so much about how to do my job better that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. 

What would you say is the number one thing she taught you that you will carry with you forever?

She said to me, “You can’t do your best work everyday.” She has been on this show for a long time and she has a lot to do, and she’s very used to the fluidity of that and rolling from one day to the next. For me, I wanted to hit the scenes, and she would say “you can’t do your best work everyday.” And it really released something where I was like “Oh yeah, I can’t always expect to always do the best,” and taking that away, I actually did the best work I had ever done! I didn’t put that pressure on myself. And yeah, just playing with it, each time it was different. What she throws at me, you take it and throw the ball back, so it really becomes like this amazing tennis match that you have. Sometimes when you act on television, when the camera isn’t on you, you kind of reserve yourself so you have that energy, but with us, we never really thought about where the camera was. We were just totally and utterly fully present with each other. I will always take that with me. 

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What is your favorite part about their friendship?

I definitely love how they challenge each other. Especially when Eloise calls Cressida out and says “that wasn’t a nice thing to do.” But she doesn’t shame her– she’s almost like a mother figure in that way, like how a mother should approach talking to a child that behaved in a way that isn’t appropriate. I love that they do that, and then equally when Cressida says “maybe you should hold the mirror up to yourself” because she is saying to Eloise “I’m trying to change, but you aren’t really allowing me to by bringing up the past of what I was before.” So they learn to kind of open their mind more, to sort of be less opinionated in a way [laughs] and less judgemental. They learn from their mistakes. 

I also wanted to bring up Cressida’s style. She has some very elaborate yet beautiful looks this season! Did you have a favorite look from her?

Yes! I mean, those costumes– every time I put one on I’m like “oh this one’s my favorite.” But my absolute favorite is the red one that she wears in episode six. I am obsessed with that dress. I think I cried when I put that on [laughs] not balled my eyes out, but it was emotional. It was a beautiful piece of art that I got to wear to bring this character to life, and it adds so much to the scene. She’s in a place where she’s super desperate, but sort of trying to fake it til she makes it. And that dress, you just put it on and you’re like, well yeah, here’s my confidence [laughs] I don’t need to say or do anything. But yeah, John and George are amazing, and what they’ve done this season is fantastic. 

What does a day getting ready to be Cressida look like for you?

I went to drama school so I do still whip out the vocal warm up [laughs] I always put my fingers in my mouth to articulate around and release the jaw, that really helps me warm up my muscles and my vocals, so I do that in the shower. And then I get into the car and listen to music the whole way there, then it’s hair and makeup for the next two and a half hours! I love getting ready, it’s so chilled. We just put music on in the trailer. Then I put the costume on, and we’re off!

Is there any specific type of music that you put on that helps you embrace her?

You know, I don’t actually! I used to actually make character playlists to get into the zone and the right headspace, and this season I just had hype music for myself for the day. Like feel good tunes. And when I walked through the doors of the studio, that’s when I started to feel like it was time for her. I think it was better to not think about it too much. If I spend too much time thinking in the chair, I sort of get stuck. This season especially was heavy for Cressida, I couldn’t just carry the heaviness all the time because scenes would take like four hours to shoot, so I kind of just took that part of the day for myself, and I kept everything else quite light and chill. 

Lastly, I love that Cressida is not only fiercely independent, but she is fearlessly herself. What is one thing that she has taught you over the past few years of playing her?

Wow. To be bold, no matter what. She’s bold, sometimes she’s too bold without knowing what the repercussions might be. But she’s not scared to throw herself into something, she just goes for it, and I really admire that about her. And she speaks her mind! It’s been very freeing to play  her because she has such confidence. Sometimes when I’m playing her and delivering those lines, I think “wow this feels good. I need to make sure I have more of this in myself.”

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Bridgerton season 3 is streaming now on Netflix.

Interview Rachel Martin
Photography Connor Harris
Styling Delaney Williams
Talent Jessica Madsen
Makeup Eli Wakamatsu @ Stella Creative Artists
Hair Sandra Hahnel
Fashion Editor Laura Spriet

Header Image Credits: dress Sally Phipps jacket Sandro socks Falke shoes Christian Louboutin

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