Chris Van Dusen already knows how to put on a Shondaland show to life. The Bridgerton creator and showrunner has previously worked with his executive producer on Scandal. But now it's his turn to take the reins as he brings to life the iconic series by author Julia Quinn. The show's first season, which premiered on Christmas Day on Netflix and serves as the first series in the streaming giant's new deal with Shona Rhimes and Shondaland productions, quickly became one of the most critically acclaimed shows of the year and it's all thanks to the show's sexy and futuristic nature mixed with it's setting of London high society.
Seventeen talked with Chris Von Dusen on bringing the past and present together in the series, how the show stays ahead of its game, and what fans can expect from the series.
17: This not your first time working with Shondaland, but it is the first time where you're running the whole show from start to finish. How was it taking that step?
Chris Von Dusen: It has been it's been incredible. It's been so exciting. When Bridgerton premieres, it'll be about three years since I first started working on the project. I just can't believe it's finally here. Scandal, my previous show I was on, was coming to an end, and I was looking for something to do that was completely different than modern day political intrigue in Washington, D.C. With these books, after Shonda told me about them, I took them home, devoured them, and fell in love with them. It was escapism, pure and simple and that was something I was really looking for at the time. It was also a chance to reimagine such a thrilling time of excess and beauty known as Regency into something into something new and fresh. While I love a good period show, I feel like they are often considered a little traditional and conservative. So with Bridgerton, I wanted to make the period show I'd always wanted to see and what I hadn't necessarily seen before.
17: You have a lot more freedom with Bridgerton thanks to it being on a streaming service. Did that change things?
CVD: Netflix has been amazing. They've been nothing but supportive and encouraging of me. There is a real sense of creative freedom here, which is just unparalleled. I think one of the most exciting things for me is really thinking about when the show premieres, it instantaneously goes across the world to 190 countries, I think it is. That is so amazing to me, it's just incredible that the world gets to see it at the same time.
17: You mentioned that you wanted to create a period piece that you had always wanted to see. What did you add or change to make that happen?
CVD: Everything on the show has a contemporary sensibility to it. Even though we're in the 19th century, you sometimes forget about that and that's intentional. We wanted modern audiences to relate to the show and see themselves on screen. One of the first things you notice is our cast. We have the most amazing, sprawling and diverse casts, not just in terms of ethnicities, but in terms of levels of recognition. We have everyone from Phoebe Dynevor,
who's amazing, to Regé-Jean Page, that Shondalnad audiences already know him from from For the People. And of course, Julie Andrews [as the voice of Lady Whistledown]. It's just incredible to have her and I'm so excited for audiences to hear the words coming out of her mouth.
I think that the tone of the show is also something you don't get with your more traidtional period pieces. It's very spirited, daring, funny and sexy. The look of the show is vibrant and there's a youthfulness there. A little sparkle and effervescence to everything. That's true with with everything from our set design to our costumes. Everything is is rooted in the Regency time period, but just slightly updated. And then, of course, the themes that we explore on the show. We are exploring some really modern, relatable issues like race and gender, and class and sexuality. All of those things were really a part of this really interesting idea of the show marrying history and fantasy in a really fascinating way.
17: Was there a moment while making this series that made you feel like you were making something special?
CVD: I think there is a moment in the pilot episode, and I don't want to spoil too much, but it's a pivotal moment between Daphne and Simon and their love story for the season. It was four in the morning, I believe. And we were in the middle of the English countryside, on this massive set with with all of these supporting artists, our actors were doing this amazingly choreographed dance under this sea of fireworks in the sky. A lot of those fireworks were practical and done on set. I was just sitting in video village and that was, that was a moment for me, not just as the showrunner, but [as a fan] of the show. Watching Daphne and Simon — Phoebe and Regé — together with the chemistry they had, it was electric and palpable. At that point, I think we all knew that this was something that was that was going to be really special.
17: Fans are always hesitant when watching a book to screen adaptation. What do you want fans of the book series to know before they dive in?
CVD: I think with any adaptation, there's always going to be differences from the source material. But, fans of the books are going to see all the elements they love on screen. From the way the Bridgerton siblings banter to their love. I really wanted to capture the spirit of the Bridgerton family just like the books. And of course, the story of Daphne and Simon, really is the bedrock of the first season. It's moving, sweeping, and filled with twists and turns. They're going to see all those elements. But there's also new elements as well. We have new characters like Queen Charlotte, who really opened up the world quite a bit. We also get to explore love stories for other characters that weren't necessarily in the books. For me, it was always about opening up the world because the show it's not just about the Bridgertons, it's about a society.
17: What is the biggest lesson you've learned from bringing this series to life?
CVD: To be honest with you, there was really nothing easy about the show. But that has made it all the more rewarding and challenging. Seeing it all come together, it completely surpassed any expectation I had. You hire this amazing crew and you cast these incredible actors, but you never you never really know how it's going to turn out. Watching the season, I'm incredibly proud of it and I cannot wait for the world to see it too.
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