It’s Luke Newton’s turn to lead now

The star of 'Bridgerton' season three on researching rom-coms, his palpable chemistry with Nicola Coughlan, and yes, that highly anticipated mirror scene.

Harper's Bazaar India

Luke Newton knows a lot is riding on the love story between Colin Bridgerton and Penelope Featherington.

More than two years after breaking its own viewership records on Netflix with the slow-burn romance between Viscount Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) and Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), Bridgerton has finally returned with a brand-new tale of attraction set against the backdrop of a lush, racially diverse reimagining of the British Regency era. And instead of following the order of Julia Quinn’s best-selling romance novels and using this third season to tell the story of Benedict (Luke Thompson) falling in love, new showrunner Jess Brownell felt it was time to bring the relationship between Newton’s Colin and Nicola Coughlan’s Penelope to a head.

The new eight-episode instalment picks up a few months after the events of the second-season finale. After overhearing Colin declare he “would not dream of courting” her, Penelope has given up on her long-held crush on the third-eldest Bridgerton sibling. She has, however, decided that it is time to take a husband—preferably one who will give her the means and independence to continue living her double life as Lady Whistledown, the ton’s infamous gossip columnist.

In an attempt to win back her favour, Colin, having recently returned from his summer travels with a newfound swagger, offers to assist Penelope in her quest to conquer the anxiety-inducing marriage mart. But when she catches the eye of Lord Debling (Sam Phillips)—a dashing suitor whose earthly interests and unassuming demeanour charm self-described wallflower Penelope—Colin is forced to grapple with the true nature of his feelings for his best friend.

“I think it’s so beautifully written that we’ve watched Penelope pining after Colin, staring at him from corners of the ballroom, season after season. And now, finally, the tables have turned. She’s getting all this attention, and he’s the one watching her from afar,” Newton tells Harper’s Bazaar on a recent Monday morning in New York City.

While Penelope may have fallen for Colin first, Newton “absolutely” thinks Colin has fallen harder. “As much as I adore Colin, I feel like he needed to go through that. Bro, you’ve got to get your head straight and struggle for a little bit,” he adds with a laugh. “It feels like we’ve been playing the long game for this love story, and now it’s finally time for it to come to the surface.”

Below, Newton breaks down his approach to playing Bridgerton’s latest leading man and shooting the pivotal moments from Colin and Penelope’s long-awaited romance. (Dearest gentle reader, you have been forewarned—spoilers ahead!)

Stills from Bridgerton season 3
Image Credits: Netflix

After returning home in the season-three premiere, Colin speaks about his travels only in passing, but he has clearly undergone an important transformation since we last saw him. What kind of backstory did you create for yourself to better understand what happened to Colin abroad?

I love that question. Colin had already been travelling (in past seasons), so I’d done a bulk of the work on what a young man would experience on his grand tour. But what really helped with Bridgerton is the fantasy element, so I felt like I could slightly break the rules and steer away (from) what is historically known as the “young man’s grand tour” of that time. Normally, a young man would have a tutor. Yes, there were times for gambling, drinking, and partying slightly, but there was always someone to keep you in check. (But) I created the story in the lead-up to season three that, however, he did it, he got away from his tutor, or maybe he just didn’t have one, because he was slightly older and had the experience completely on his own.

I played with the idea that no one knew who he was in all of these cities, so he lived a normal life, and that’s implemented in his wardrobe as well. The materials and fabrics are slightly worn down. They’re darker colours—having influences from all the cities that he’s explored—and they’re not as prim and proper. (The hair and makeup artists) wanted me to have this windswept hair like he’d been on a boat and he just got a bit of salt water and ran it through (his hair) with his fingers. I did a lot of prep work on my own, but every department just fueled me with knowledge of his journey.

Nicola has spoken about how each season of Bridgerton has a different kind of energy: The first season was “passion,” the second is “longing,” and the third is “romance.” What romantic tropes were you most excited to lean into and play up this season? Did you take inspiration from the leading men of any rom-coms?

Diving into the rom-com element was my favourite part of this season. Obviously, Penelope is hiding how she feels about Colin the whole time, but they’re very open and honest, and that’s what people love about them. There’s a particular scene in episode one (where Colin and Penelope) are under a tree, and it’s the first time that neither of them are really being honest with each other.

On days of shooting, I would come home and watch a lot of rom-coms. It was a nice, therapeutic thing to sit down and watch. I drew from and watched a lot of Paul Rudd movies. I loved the subtleties of his comedy and how it still felt truthful and authentic, but it’s really entertaining and genuine. That’s just the epitome of Colin and Penelope’s friendship—they’re so open and honest. (I also considered) Friends because of the Ross-and-Rachel love story and how they never quite get there at the right time. It’s always like: Someone’s in the way here, and someone’s in the way here, and when one’s available, the other isn’t. It feels like that throughout all of the seasons combined, really, with (Colin and Penelope).

In your eyes, how does Colin go from seeing Penelope as nothing more than his closest childhood friend to the woman of his dreams?

I think a big part of it is about just seeing Penelope in a different light. She’d never put herself out there, and he’d never considered her as a love match. She has all the qualities of someone that he wants, but he’s never really seen her as an option because she basically feels like family. There’s also another suitor who would be a really good match for her. It could have been so easy to have a character come in that’s not really appropriate for her and is maybe a bit of a villain. But I think it’s great that someone very desirable comes in, and there may be fans out there that go, “I want her to be with Debling.” It’s really important that (Colin) has that moment of, “I might lose something that has really been there the whole time.”

Stills from Bridgerton Season 3
Image Credits: Netflix

Colin and Penelope have shared little stolen glances over the years, but the first time viewers see a clear shift in their relationship comes at the end of episode two of this new season. Penelope confesses that she has never been kissed and fears that she never will—so naturally, she asks Colin to kiss her while stressing that it doesn’t have to mean anything. What do you think is going through Colin’s mind in those moments?

That was one of the first moments that there felt like there was a different energy on set. We worked with our intimacy coordinator (Lizzy Talbot), and we did a practice kiss (off-camera). You never really know how you’re going to look on camera kissing someone, because when we kiss people in our day-to-day lives, we don’t do it for the camera; it’s just for love and passion. So it was a daunting moment, because we wanted it to look beautiful, but also still truthful and authentic to the story in that moment.

It’s really beautiful that that’s the moment when he has that “Oh shit!” moment of “Oh, we connected there, and that was more than just me doing you a favour.” Actually, the kiss changes how Colin feels way more than (it does) Penelope. She goes away and is like, Oh, that was terrible that I had to ask that of him, but now I have experienced it. He goes away thinking, Hang on, has there been something there the whole time? I guess he’s kind of humiliated, and I think he is just frustrated. “She’s been literally next to me the entire time. Why did I not see this all along?!”

In episode four, just as Debling prepares to propose to Penelope, Colin gets his act together and confesses his love to her in a carriage. For me, that is another example of the clear shift in the power dynamic between Colin and Penelope: He’s the one declaring his love, and she is the one who has the power to accept or reject his advances. What did you want to convey in Colin’s big speech?

I wanted to convey a moment of complete and utter vulnerability from him, because he’s never been this honest, but also never been so passionate about anything before. We’ve seen the romance with him and Marina (Ruby Barker) in previous seasons, but it is nothing compared to this. I really wanted to portray this version of him feeling like he’s found something that’s his, and no one else can understand this—and he’s trying to convey that. But he’s also feeling quite insecure, in that he doesn’t really know if she feels the same way; he doesn’t know what her response is going to be.

There’s so many twists and turns in those five minutes, which, as an actor, is the biggest gift. It was one of those crazy days of: I know I’m going to be doing intimacy, but this is also one of the most important scenes in the show, so I have to hit every beat. We worked with (director) Andrew (Ahn), who was so brilliant in bringing that out of us. We tried that scene in so many different ways. He would come over (to us individually) and say, “I want you to try it like this,” and then the other actor would respond to that naturally. It felt almost like a theatre rehearsal; it felt like we were just playing. I’m so proud of what the team has come up with as the final edit.

Bridgerton is subversive in how the intimate scenes are often shot from the female gaze. How did you and Nicola approach the conversation of consent between your characters in that scene? How did you approach the depiction of Penelope’s sexual awakening in general?

I think the subject of consent with Colin and Pen is just so appropriate to their relationship because of how they’ve grown up. We know that he is experienced in intimacy, and he’s very aware that she isn’t, that this is her first intimate encounter. But ultimately, I think the biggest thing about (the use of consent) is that it’s still really sexy. If anything, it’s more sexy. The consent makes it really hot. It’s also a representation of a modern man. I like to think that Colin’s got this sensitivity, but it doesn’t make him less attractive. It doesn’t make the act (of being intimate) less passionate or romantic or sexy. If anything, it heightens it.

Nic and I talked through that scene with Lizzy and Jess (Brownell) in the lead-up to it, and we didn’t have to make any changes to the script. It was just so beautifully written. As we get later on in the show, there’s one intimacy scene in particular (in episode five) that I didn’t even realize how genuine, honest, authentic, and also modern it felt until I watched it back. I don’t know why (that didn’t occur to me during production), but I had a moment of watching it back and thinking, Wow, this really does represent the ultimate, caring act of love.

You’re referring to a very famous mirror scene, which was adapted from the novel Romancing Mister Bridgerton. What were the most important considerations for you when shooting that sex scene in particular?

I wanted to really portray a distinct difference between the intimate scenes that he had with sex workers and that he had with Penelope. There is a moment earlier on when he’s in a brothel and kisses two girls, but he’s quite primal about it—it’s just (about) the act of sex. It’s not gentle; it’s not passionate. But I really wanted to play with the fact that he’s cared about (Penelope) for such a long time, and he doesn’t know how this is going to change their relationship. He wants to treat her with the most respect; he also sees a future with this person.

It’s one of those scenes that I feel like is essential (to the plot). I feel like you can’t always say that in television about a sex scene, but it feels like this is a moment of being completely exposed in front of each other. There’s such a beautiful moment when they’re having a shared experience and they just laugh. In that moment, it feels so real and modern. It feels authentic to them. They’re the gigglers in the corner of the ball, and it’s not performative or overly sexual.

You and Nicola have already confirmed you will be returning for the next season of Bridgerton. What are you hoping to explore in the next chapter of Colin and Penelope’s love story?

I’m excited to play a moment of contentment when (the relationship) settles. When I look back, I’m like, “(Colin) was tortured for so much of this show.” (Laughs). There was a real sweet spot within the show when he’s quite happy, but problems start to arise really quickly. So I’m excited to play the newlywed bliss, which is what we see in Anthony and Kate this season, which is so beautiful to watch. I think it’s a really important part of the show to have those two comparisons.

Nic and I have already talked with Jess about what we’d love to explore next season, and we said how much we love the rom-com element of this season. Obviously, we won’t have these quirky scenes of not being able to disclose how we feel to each other, but there’ll be another version of how we can explore (the rom-com element). Also, not to mention, (I’m excited to be) supporting the next Bridgerton sibling (and their love story). What’s really special was seeing Jonny and Simone come back this season and support us as actors, but also within the story, Anthony and Kate are really behind Colin this season. So it’ll be nice to come back and feel that sense of family.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

The first four episodes of Bridgerton season three are now streaming on Netflix. The remaining four episodes will be available to stream starting June 13.

Feature Image Credit: Design By Perri Tomkiewicz // Netflix

This article originally appeared on in May 2024. 

Also Read: Nicholas Galitzine is a rom-com leading man for a new generation

Also Read: 'Bridgerton' shows that gossip can be destructive – but believe it or not, it’s good for you too