jessica madsen
Photographer: Kyle Galvin; Hair: Paul Jones; Make up: Beth Long; Styling: Jenny Kennedy

Talk of the ton: Bridgerton’s Jessica Madsen on personal style and playing the villain

24 Jun 2024 | |By Anna Solomon

The budding actress sits down with Luxury London to discuss her character and herself – the woman behind Cressida Cowper's gravity-defying hairstyles

Bridgerton’s Cressida Cowper (played by Jessica Madsen) is the perfect villain. Excessively, deliciously conniving, she’s been wreaking havoc on the denizens of the ton for three series of the show. In season three, which dropped in two parts on May 16 and June 13 this year, we finally get an insight into why she is the way she is (it involves an icy mother, a severe father, and a nursery that feels like a ‘mausoleum’).

Madsen is much nicer than her character, trust me. The two do share a love of fashion, though: off-screen Madsen has become something of a style icon, donning a spangly Fendi co-ord to the Bridgerton premiere and routinely rocking a tailored look at promo events. Though her ‘fits are, I think it’s fair to say, a little more understated than Cressida’s sculptural gowns.

London-born Madsen, who is of Danish descent, attended primary school in Surrey before enrolling at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She made her TV debut in the 2013 ITV drama Breathless, before going on to do the right-of-passage appearances practically every British actor boasts, appearing in a spate of shows including Channel 4 comedy-drama Babylon, BBC One’s Holby City, and ITV period drama Mr Selfridge

bridgerton jessica madsen

Madsen made her stage debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and her first film credit came courtesy of Leatherface, a prequel to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Appearances in the films Dark Light and Rambo: Last Blood preceded her casting in Bridgerton in 2020. I probably don’t need to tell you this was her big break. The show has smashed records: the first instalment of season three opened with 45.1 million views, and reached 84 million less than a month after its launch.

We catch up with Madsen at the height of Bridgerton-mania to get the actor’s reflection on her character’s development, as well as the behind-the-scenes gossip from set and a little insight into what makes the woman behind the empire waistline tick. Clue: it doesn’t involve ballrooms.

Your character, Cressida Cowper, is the main antagonist in season three of Bridgerton. Do you enjoy playing the villain?

Absolutely, I do. Villains are fascinating because they are complex, with layers that go beyond what is immediately visible. It was a true gift to explore these layers, to humanise her, and to play the gradual unmasking of Cressida’s villainous façade.

We saw a more human side of Cressida this season. In what ways do you relate to your character, and in what ways do you differ?

I’m nowhere near as cunning, and gossiping [about] and antagonising people is not something I agree with. I don’t throw as many side-eyes as her, either.

One thing we do see in Cressida this season is that she’s open to being challenged. She isn’t defensive; she’s curious and composed when it comes to criticism. She wants to learn and better herself, so we share that. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, and I’m the same way, in safe company. And we both love fashion, although I’m not as strong with the shoulder pad game.

Cressida’s outfits and hair were insane this season. How would you describe your personal style?

It’s evolved hugely over the years. I have been many different people with my style. Not sure how I would describe it – chill chic is how I like to see it! I like to feel feminine as well as androgynous. It depends on what I’m drawn to day by day. But I melt at the sight of a suit.

What are your go-to style or beauty items?

Skincare is so important to me, and I have recently fallen in love with Necense. It a Swiss beauty brand, and it has transformed my skin. Style-wise, I love to play around and mix it up: skirt suits… I love a tailored look. Cowboy boots have a huge place in my heart, and 7 For All Mankind jeans are a staple for me, paired with a crisp shirt or tee.

Filming Bridgerton must have been a lot of fun – the locations, the costumes, the hair and makeup. What was your favourite thing about the experience?

All of those things, yes, yes, yes! But my favourite thing is the people I work with, and Claudia Jessie [who plays Eloise Bridgerton] was the highlight of this season. I adore her in every way. She is the most caring and generous actor I’ve worked with. She’s so dynamic, so present, and so much fun. We laughed until we cried, and I learned so much from her.

In series three, Cressida and Eloise strike up an unlikely friendship. Who would you get on with best in the ton?

Eloise through and through. I’m not a big one for conforming, and at times can feel quite out of place in social settings. That, and I love a good deep chat.

If you could go back and live in a different era of history, when would it be?

I’d love to experience the ‘70s. I love ‘70s music, and the style too. I’d totally be a hippy. Flared jeans and flower power me up.

bridgerton jessica madsen
What is your go-to TV show?

One that I watch over and over is Schitt‘s Creek. Moira Rose – I can never have enough Moira in my life.

Favourite film of all time?

I can’t answer this one – it’s totally and utterly impossible for me. I have a top ten, and they are all equally loved for different reasons. But I can tell you my favourite film from last year, which was To Leslie. Andrea Riseborough is sublime. I was so utterly moved by her performance.

What is your idea of an ideal Saturday?

Ideally, it’s sunny. Brunch out, followed by a long walk with my dog. Maybe paint a little or have a stroll around a market. And then have a chilled evening, cook some dinner, and curl up on the sofa to watch a movie. Have some chocolate.

Favourite country to visit?

I love, love, love Japan!

Favourite area of London?

Hyde Park. So many happy memories there.

Best food or drinks spot in the capital?

I love Kiku in Mayfair, hands down the best Japanese in London in my eyes. And El Pastor in Soho – their tuna tostada is heaven.

What is your greatest ambition?

To reach a place where I am not only free to explore and express my creativity but also engaged in meaningful artistic collaborations that resonate deeply with both myself and others. I aspire to take on roles that challenge and push my boundaries, contributing to projects that inspire change and provoke thought. Ultimately, I hope to venture into producing and directing, shaping narratives that have the power to transform perspectives and leave a lasting impact.

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