10 Facts You Should Know About Bridgerton Fan Fave Nicola Coughlan
If you love Bridgerton's town gossip Penelope Featherington as much as we do, then you likely want to learn more about the talented actress who plays her. Ireland native Nicola Coughlan, 34, rose to fame playing Clare Devlin on Derry Girls and Hannah Dalton on Harlots, and we have a feeling we're going to be seeing a whole lot more of her in the coming years. She may be used to playing shy characters on the small screen, but IRL, Nicola is anything but, as she's proven with her social advocacy and epic Twitter clapbacks. Here's everything you should know about the Bridgerton fan favorite.
She Spent Most of Her 20s Broke
Even though Nicola landed her first acting gig in 1997 (an uncredited role in the action thriller My Brother's War), she spent many years struggling financially before finally securing the role of Clare Devlin on Derry Girls. "My 20s were crazy tough," she told Elle during a December 2020 interview. "I was broke all of the time. If I wanted to buy a coffee, I'd be terrified my card would get rejected. It was all that stress."
However, Nicola continued to pursue acting. She trained at both the Oxford School of Drama and Birmingham School of Acting, and she graduated from the National University of Ireland, Galway with degrees in English and classical civilization, all while appearing in theater productions. "Because I come from a background in theater and doing little fringe plays, and wondering if 20 people would come to see it, I think that hunger and fear don't leave you," she told Elle. "I'll always have that motivation and drive to be like, 'Please come and see my play.'"
She Landed a Major Role by Answering an Open Casting Call on Twitter
Due to financial difficulties, Nicola moved home to Galway, Ireland, to work part time at an optician and get back on her feet. During that time, she responded to an open casting call on Twitter for Jess and Joe Forever at The Old Vic in London, and she just so happened to land the role of Jess. "Jess and Joe Forever is so special to me," she told The Stage during an October 2020 interview. "It is such a beautiful play, and it was my first break into the industry."
She Campaigned For Same-Sex Marriage in Ireland
Nicola fights for her beliefs just as hard as she pursues her dreams. Back in 2015, she went from door to door campaigning to legalize same-sex marriage in Ireland. "This was pre anyone knowing who I was, so I didn't have a big platform to do stuff, but I did what I could," she told The Guardian in December 2020.
She also campaigns for the rights of women and LGBTQ+ communities, including with This Is Me in Ireland (which is run by her friend Noah Halpin) and The Rainbow Project in Northern Ireland. As she explained to Bustle during a December 2020 interview, "Playing a gay character in Derry Girls and same-sex marriage being illegal until this year, I wanted to lend my voice. It's not a cozy issue that's easy to talk about, but I've got friends who have suffered because of legislation like this."
She Perfects Different Accents by Watching Instagram Videos
Though born and raised in Galway, Ireland, Nicola has managed to perfect a variety of different accents, including Clare Devlin's Northern Irish accent and Penelope Featherington's aristocratic English accent. According to Nicola, she has Instagram to thank for her mastery of accents. "Sometimes I watch videos on Instagram with the sound off and try and guess the accent because people move their mouths in different ways," she told Bustle.
She's Good Friends With a Queer Eye Cast Member
Nicola is a major Queer Eye fan, but she doesn't just watch the show — she's also good friends with one of the cast members. As she explained to Bustle, she and Jonathan Van Ness became friends through Instagram. "Basically, I printed his face on a jumper and posted a picture of it," she said. "I just figured if I could take a little bit of his energy onto set with me I would get up and be ready for the day and feel happy even if it was 4 a.m. So I had this hoodie made, and he saw it on Instagram and messaged me like, 'Girl, I love you!' and since then we've hung out a lot." And they have — just look at these cute pics.
She also has made it her mission to befriend the rest of the Queer Eye crew. " . . . I met Bobby at the BAFTAS. Then Tan followed me on Twitter, so I'm getting them one by one," she told Glamour UK during a November 2019 interview. "I love them. I aggressively made friends with Bobby, which was my main aim of the BAFTAS. 'If I'm not going to win a BAFTA, I'm going to be friends with Bobby.' And it's worked, because he messaged me the other day and asked when I'm coming to LA."
She Wrote an Op-Ed After Critics Attacked Her Weight
After she appeared in the play The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at London's Donmar Warehouse, a critic for the British Theatre Guide, Philip Fisher, described Nicola as an "overweight little girl" in his review. The same critic previously referred to Nicola as "fat" in his review of Jess and Joe Forever. The actress took to Twitter to call out the publication in June 2018, writing, "Hi @BritTheatreGuid, for the second time your reviewer Philip Fisher has come to see a show I'm in, and as part of reviewing the show he has also reviewed my body. How can you continue to support this?"
She also wrote a poignant op-ed for The Guardian, where she demanded for critics to "judge me for my work in Derry Girls and on the stage, not on my body."
She Auctioned Off a Dress After It Was Trolled by a Tabloid
Her response to the British Theatre Guide wasn't her only epic clapback on Twitter. She also called out the Daily Mirror after they described the pink Alex Perry dress she wore to the 2019 British Academy Film and Television Awards as "not the most flattering." Soon after the tabloid criticized her look, Nicola retweeted the article, writing, "I mean incorrect. I look smokin, sorry bout it." Later, in July 2020, she auctioned off the dress to raise money for LauraLynn, Ireland's only children's hospice.
She's Battled Depression
Before landing her breakout role on Derry Girls, Nicola struggled with her mental health as well as her finances. "I couldn't get out of bed. I felt like I failed at everything. I felt like I had nothing, and I had let my family down," she told Glamour UK. "You think all these terrible things about yourself and that was made worse because I had taken out a loan and I just kept thinking about being in financial debt."
According to Nicola, coming out of her depression was a long and difficult process. "There wasn't one thing that turned it around for me — I got myself out of that stage very slowly," she continued. "It was my family being amazing and my sister literally pulling me out of bed and making me go for a run. Stuff like that gave me a sense of purpose again and that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel."
She's a Great Cook
When she's not performing, Nicola enjoys creating in the kitchen. When asked about her "creative outlets" by Who What Wear in December 2020, Nicola said, "I have been doing a lot of cooking, and it was a thing I couldn't do for months on Bridgerton because we traveled so much making the show and you are eating on set a lot. I love to cook; I find it really therapeutic. I cook for my mom, and she is like Gordon Ramsey telling me whether the food is good or bad."
As you might recall, she also appeared on The Great British Baking Show's holiday special. "Baking is not so much my thing because the stress of that tent never leaves you," she joked, "but cooking I'm good with."
She'd Love to Play an Antagonistic Character
When asked about her dream role by Bustle, Nicola gave a surprising answer: she wants to play someone wicked. "I'd love to play someone irredeemably bad," she admitted. "I love Succession. They're all so desperately selfish and lacking any self-awareness." No matter what Nicola does next, we can't wait to see it!