"They've created a very, very vibrant world," the author says of the Netflix adaptation of her beloved romance series set in Regency England

By Sam Gillette
December 25, 2020 09:00 AM
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Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon Basset (Regu00e9-Jean Page)
| Credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

Producers may have just started to adapt romance novels for the screen, but book lovers have been waiting for this moment for decades.

Case in point: the millions of readers who are counting down the days until Netflix releases its adaptation of Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series on Dec. 25.

"Honestly, it never even occurred to us to shop [the Bridgerton series] around because nobody was adapting historical romance novels. It would have been crazy to even try," the bestselling author tells PEOPLE about her eight-book romance series that follows the elite, rule-bending Bridgerton family in Regency England. (Bridgerton, the eponymous show, is one of Shonda Rhimes' long-awaited projects that was part of the eight-show deal she made with the streaming service in 2017.)

"People weren't doing that and had never shown interest. It just wasn't a thing," Quinn continues. "So, it really was like this incredible fairytale for me. It's just like a Cinderella story. My one option didn't just get made, it got made by Shondaland."

The author
| Credit: Roberto Filho

In an interview with PEOPLE, Quinn discusses the adored — and complicated — characters in her books, the "vibrant world" showrunner Chris Van Dusen has created, and the importance of the Netflix adaptation featuring a diverse cast. While Quinn didn't incorporate characters of color in her books, she's excited to see the show creators commit to "color-conscious casting."

"I'm Jewish and when I would read a book and one of the characters would be Jewish, I'd be like, 'Oh, that's me.' And it was very powerful," she explains. "And so now I feel like I'm able to start to extrapolate that and be like, 'You know what, everybody needs that.'"

Everyone also needs love and Quinn explores that very human desire in her Bridgerton novels.

Each book in the series focuses on the love story of one of the eight Bridgerton siblings, who either fight for or attempt to escape marriage in high-society England. The first season of Netflix's Bridgerton follows the burgeoning connection between Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page), whose inheritance of a dukedom can't protect him from his dark past. Add in a narrator, Lady Whistledown (Julie Andrews), who is an expert in sleuthing out scandal, and meddlesome mothers and you've got a period drama unlike any other.

"What do we want in life? We want to fall in love, most of us," says Quinn about the massive appeal of stories with "happily ever after" endings. "Why do we love to fall in love? There's that emotion, that heady feeling... It's only natural that we would want to feel that again."

Keep reading for more from PEOPLE's interview with Julia Quinn about her acclaimed novels and the much-anticipated Shondaland show.

PEOPLE: What makes the Bridgerton family so special?

Julia Quinn: I think that they're very real, in all the ways that are good and bad. It's rare to have a really happy [family] — and a happy one despite the fact that they had a terrible tragedy happen. [Lord Bridgerton, the family patriarch, died tragically long before the book series begins.] They've managed to come back and still love each other, but they're not sickly sweet about it. I mean, they still get on each other's nerves and everything. I think people see this family that is happy and realistic enough that they want to be a part of it.

Credit: Avon

How would you describe Daphne and Simon?

Daphne, in her heart, she's a fairly conventional person. She wants to marry and have children... For her time, it's also in many ways the only choice offered for her. So, she's very fortunate that what she wants out of life actually coincides with what society is offering her.

Simon, he's a much more complicated character. He had a ghastly childhood. He had a very severe speech impediment and worked extremely hard to overcome it. This is somebody with great determination to excel, but never got his father's approval or blessing.

In some ways, they present this incredible dichotomy of what a good and bad parent can do... Daphne knows what she wants, Simon doesn't. The irony is that he doesn't know what he wants, but he has all the power. She does know what she wants, but within society she's fairly powerless.

Can you talk to us about the importance of casting people of color in what has generally been a very white genre?

It's incredibly important... Even before I saw the casting, I knew it was going to be inclusive in some manner... [Chris Van Dusen] ended up doing color-conscious casting, which I think is fabulous. And I love that they added the character of Queen Charlotte, who I love for 1,000 reasons. [Actress Golda Rosheuvel] is so good and she adds so much to the story.

But she also helped with turning it into a more inclusive piece by sort of playing into what if... Many historians feel that Queen Charlotte, who was a very real historical figure (she was the wife of King George III), had significant African ancestry. People have been arguing this for ages. The idea was, "What if this was actually recognized and accepted at the time? What if she had used her position to elevate people of color to positions of power? What would society look like then?" So, Bridgerton is a re-imagining of that world and it's a wonderful world in that way... You watch it and you're like, "This is the way society should be."

Golda Rosheuvel as Queen Charlotte
| Credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

How closely does the show stick to the books' storyline?

My books are very tightly wound around the main characters... With the television series, especially when there's such a big cast, you need to spread the focus a little bit, which they've done beautifully... It's not that they're jumping ahead. But you can see little things like they're getting things ready, hopefully for more.

What will surprise fans of the book series the most when they see the Netflix show?

I don't know if surprise is the right word, but I think they're going to be really amazed at how you can take something and not adapt it word for word — because it's absolutely not — and yet still stay so incredibly true to the characters and story.

Nobody is going to be surprised at how amazing Julie Andrews is, but in the books Lady Whistledown opens every chapter and now she's a voiceover narration. So I think people will be delighted at what a wonderful mechanism that is.

What makes Regency England so magical? How does the show capture that through the fashion and photography?

The reason I think it's so magical is that it is far enough in the past that we can give it kind of a fairytale quality. Enough was different that there are certain things we could accept as plot points, et cetera, that just wouldn't work today... I think the fashions of the Regency were not as bold and colorful and sparkly as we're getting in Bridgerton. [The show creators] are making everything just a little bit more exciting and lush and colorful and vibrant. They've created a very, very vibrant world.

Bridgerton, featuring eight hour-long episodes, debuts on Netflix on Dec. 25.

This interview has been edited and condensed.