'Big Mood': Nicola Coughlan moves on from 'shy' roles, playing a confident and 'wild' woman in must-watch show

The "Bridgerton" star plays a woman in her 30s navigating female friendship, work and bipolar disorder in Camilla Whitehill's new comedy-drama series

Nicola Coughlan won our hearts as Clare Devlin in Derry Girls and Penelope Featherington in Bridgerton, but starring in Camilla Whitehill's new series Big Mood (on Tubi April 19) really proves that Coughlan is absolutely electrifying as an actor. She will make you laugh until your stomach hurts and then bring you to tears within a short 30-minute episode.

Coughlan plays Maggie who's navigating life in East London as a single woman in her 30s, with her best friend Eddie (Lydia West). Maggie is a playwright, facing pressure from her agent to submit her next project, while Eddie manages a bar she inherited, with her brother, from their late father.

But Maggie isn't just facing writer's block: She has bipolar disorder. Throughout the series we see her navigating her medication, the uncertainty around that process, and dive into how that impacts her friendship with Eddie.

Lydia West and Nicola Coughlan in Big Mood on Tubi April 19 (Chris Baker)
Lydia West and Nicola Coughlan in Big Mood on Tubi April 19 (Chris Baker)

For Coughlan, Big Mood was an opportunity to work with her personal friend, Whitehill, who she met at drama school.

"I was basically told, 'I'm writing a show, you're going to be in it,' I was like, 'OK,'" Coughlan told Yahoo Canada. "When the script came through, it was just everything I wished for it to be, and more, and it's a total gift as an actor to be handed something as good as this is."

For Lydia West, she also was quickly taken by Whitehill's writing.

"I just really relate to [Eddie] in the sense that she's from a part of East London, which I lived in, and it just felt really current, really contemporary, and ... the London I know," West added.

"You receive a few scripts as an actor and it really takes something to get your attention, and from the first scene it just caught my attention. I was like, I just want to be involved in this in any way, I'll play a dog walker."

Nicola Coughlan in Big Mood on Tubi April 19 (Chris Baker)
Nicola Coughlan in Big Mood on Tubi April 19 (Chris Baker)

Nicola Coughlan moves beyond playing 'shy' characters

It's understandable that both Coughlan and West were quickly hooked on Big Mood, because the first scene alone is simply brilliant, with a unique vibrancy that's not easily achieved, and absolutely sets the tone for the whole show. It was actually the first scene of the series from Whitehill's very first draft.

Big Mood begins with Maggie riding a scooter to Eddie's bar, wearing a pink Juicy Couture tracksuit, a colourful scarf around her hair and massive sunglasses, with the song "iPhone" by Rico Nasty blasting.

As the first episode progresses, we find out Maggie talked her way into speaking to students at her old high school, as inspiration for aspiring playwrights, but what she really has in mind is hooking up with her former teacher. And she's confident it will happen, bringing Eddie along for the adventure.

"I've not really gotten to play a character like that, I normally play the bookish ones or the shy ones," Coughlan said. "To be someone that was so out and wild, and walks back into her school thinking she's going to give this amazing speech and wanting to hook up with her teacher, all of that was very fun to play."

The actor also stressed that director Rebecca Asher allowed Coughlan the space to take chances with crafting Maggie, including the character's physicality.

"With comedy, because you're taking chances, you have to be willing to try stuff and have the freedom to let that grow and let the character become who they are," Coughlan said. "I certainly spoke to [Rebecca Asher] before we started shooting and I said, ... I feel like this is how she moves and I felt like she had to have this sort of frenetic energy."

"I really wanted to make her physically quite chaotic, but I'm cognizant of the fact that can be very difficult to edit, but she said, 'You do what you want to do and I'll make it work.' [Things] like that made me so free [to perform]."

In a separate interview with Yahoo Canada, Asher shared that she actually received a message from Coughlan directly, about having that freedom filming Big Mood.

"She left me such a delightful voice message ... talking about feeling like Maggie has a way about her where she didn't want to worry about being consistent necessarily, like she has to be on Bridgerton, where everything is just perfect and you have to match everything," Asher revealed. "I was like, just feel free. Just do whatever you need to do and I will always tell you if it's a particular editing moment or anything that is important to match. I will not say a word until that's true."

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 04: (L-R) Lydia West, Camilla Whitehill, Rebecca Asher and Nicola Coughlan attend the
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 04: (L-R) Lydia West, Camilla Whitehill, Rebecca Asher and Nicola Coughlan attend the "Big Mood" New York Premiere at The Whitby Hotel on April 04, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Dominik Bindl/Getty Images)

'Maggie has bipolar disorder, but that's not her whole personality'

The events of this journey Maggie goes on with Eddie in that first episode is how we discover that Maggie has bipolar disorder. What Whitehill does so well in that episode, and throughout the course of the whole series, is explore Maggie as a fully formed woman, not having her mental health be her only real character trait.

"A lot of the times when you see mental illness represented, it's slightly caricature-ish and it is that person's defining trait," Coughlan said. "That's not how the world works."

"Yes, Maggie has bipolar disorder, but that's not her whole personality. It was definitely within the writing, but in the performance I had to remember to make her funny, because it's not like when a person becomes very depressed that they just lose their entire personality. ... She's still sharp and funny. She's witty, she's quick, she still has all that stuff, she's just going through things."

Whitehill stressed that the core story she wanted to tell was really about female friendship, particularly for women in their 30s.

"The show is about [Eddie and Maggie's] relationship, it's not about bipolar disorder, that's just part of the sort of texture of the show," Whitehill said. "It's part of the conflict that they hit, but the show is about them, that duo. It was about what happens to a friendship when things start to change and there are periods of transition."

"For me, at the root of Eddie is a grief that she hasn't dealt with, and that comes out in this sort of martyr syndrome or this feeling that she has to be in charge and responsible for everybody else. That is as important to me as Maggie's bipolar disorder."

Whitehill really services the character of Eddie so well in Big Mood. Even though there is so much going on with Maggie, you do feel invested in Eddie's story, which goes through a really appealing shift near the end of the season.

"Like everyone, [Eddie] also needs people," West said. "She has been a strength to Maggie throughout, and then we see her needing support and her asking for it, that was the hardest thing for her."

"Eddie just dropping those walls and asking for help, and not always having to be the strong friend, ... was really fun to play. It was a great shift."

Lydia West and Nicola Coughlan in Big Mood on Tubi April 19 (Chris Baker)
Lydia West and Nicola Coughlan in Big Mood on Tubi April 19 (Chris Baker)

We need Camilla Whitehill's 'Big Mood' Season 2

While we don't know for sure if we're getting Season 2 of Big Mood, Whitehill has the future of the story planned out.

"The whole show is mapped out in my mind, so if I don't get a second season I guess I'll just stage it as a fringe play, because I would be so sad not to finish their stories," Whitehill said.

"There are lots of things I want to do with the ensemble cast. There are moments that I wanted to put in the first season, but there wasn't space for, ... stuff like Maggie's dad. ... There's a whole thing for Eddie in Season 2, if I get one, ... that I am really excited to write. Yeah, I'd be devo if I don't get a second season. What will I do? I guess, go work at a bar again."

We're certainly keeping our fingers crossed for a Season 2 of Big Mood. We're not ready to say goodbye to these characters.