‘Bridgerton’ Star Jonathan Bailey Was Told Not to Come Out as Gay

On Christmas Day 2020, Shonda Rhimes and Netflix gave viewers a gift that keeps on giving. Bridgerton is Rhimes’ newest show (and her first as part of a multi-year deal with the streaming giant), and it combines many elements that people love. Think if Gossip Girl and Downton Abbey had a baby.

The cast of the Bridgerton family on Netflix's 'Bridgerton'
The Bridgerton family on Netflix’s ‘Bridgerton’ | Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2020

‘Bridgerton’ is Netflix’s hottest new show

Bridgerton has been a smash hit right off the bat, bringing in over 63 million pairs of eyes so far. It also led to Netflix’s biggest streaming week ever in the days between Christmas and New Years.

The show follows the hoity-toity Bridgerton family and the activities of their adolescent children. It’s also about high society as a whole during the UK’s regency era in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. And while a period piece such as Downton Abbey usually strikes a more serious tone, comedy is a key element of Bridgerton.

Some of Bridgerton‘s best lines are delivered by a legendary actor who doesn’t actually appear on screen at all: Dame Julie Andrews. Andrews plays Lady Whistledown, Bridgerton‘s quick-witted narrator who has the tea on all the characters in the story.

In an interview with Parade, Andrews described her character as “a mysterious and rather sharp-tongued gossip writer of the day,” and added that she was “a tartar, and a bit of a naughty woman.” 

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey | Samir Hussein/WireImage

Jonathan Bailey stars as the oldest Bridgerton child

Bridgerton features an ensemble cast of actors from all over the UK. One of the show’s pivotal characters is Anthony Bridgerton, the eldest of the Bridgerton children, played by Broadchurch actor Jonathan Bailey.

In addition to Bridgerton, Bailey has appeared in a few other recognizable shows, such as Doctor Who and Michaela Coel’s breakout show Chewing Gum.

In the past two years, Bailey has also spoken about his sexuality and what finding roles is like as an out gay actor. On Bridgerton, Bailey plays a straight character, and he recently weighed in on the debate about straight actors playing gay roles, and vice versa.

“Openly gay men aren’t playing straight in leading roles,” Bailey told Digital Spy. Gay roles for gay actors are few and far between, and he noted that straight men have been lauded for playing gay roles in the past, such as Heath Ledger and Jake Gylenhaal in Brokeback Mountain. “Wouldn’t it be brilliant to see gay men play their own experience?

Jonathan Bailey attends the UK Premiere of "Testament of Youth" at Empire Leicester Square on January 5, 2015 in London, England | Eamonn McCormack/WireImage
Jonathan Bailey attends the UK Premiere of “Testament of Youth” at Empire Leicester Square on January 5, 2015 in London, England | Eamonn McCormack/WireImage

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Jonathan Bailey was warned not to come out as gay

Bailey recently sat down with iconic actor Sir Ian McKellen for Attitude magazine about Bridgerton and the situations that gay actors often find themselves in. He also spoke about his surprising experience coming out as a gay actor, even as the industry and society as a whole has become more accepting of LGBTQ people.

“The most conservative conversations I’ve had about me being honest about my sexuality in this day and age have come from gay men in the industry,” Bailey said, recalling being told, “‘Oh, no, you can’t come out. You shouldn’t really do that.'”

“They’re either people who work in publicity, or there’s also been casting directors who have put the call into my agent to say: ‘Just so that you know, the way that this is going to be sold is that it’s a gay story written by gay writers for gay actors,'” Bailey continued. “This was at a stage where perhaps I was coming to terms with my own sexuality, I hadn’t necessarily hidden it… But I’ve never been not honest about it.” He added that gay men in the industry can sometimes feel a “sense of shame” for not fitting Hollywood’s heteronormative, masculine norms.

Jonathan Bailey doesn’t regret coming out

Bailey lamented that sexuality is starting to become a commodity when it comes to writing and casting roles, rather than a real human trait. Ultimately, Bailey doesn’t regret coming out when he did, as he believed there’s no better time than now to live authentically.

“I remember was the first time I spoke about my sexuality in a rehearsal room, which felt to me [like] a huge step,” Bailey remembered. “But slowly and surely, over the past few years, I’ve managed to find that, although I’m still struggling with it. It takes work, but to be able to identify emotion seems to me completely parallel to being honest and authentic.”