Julie Anne Robinson is a longtime TV director who has worked on a variety of different shows. She speaks with AwardsDaily about her career focusing on her latest directorial effort, Netflix’s Bridgerton. She reveals what she learned doing a period piece and the challenges of creating the famous intimate scenes between the leads.
AwardsDaily: Were you a fan of the book series before you directed it?
Julie Anne Robinson: You know, I wasn’t really aware of the book series I’m afraid. They were a longtime obsession of Shonda (Rhimes); that was the beginning of the series. I came on after the scripts were written.
AD: So did you prepare or meet with Julia Quinn?
JAR: I met her on set several times. She is absolutely delightful, and we are email buddies now.
AD: Can you tell us anything about her?
JAR: She is very down to earth. Given her tremendous success and the massive scope of her work, she is very ordinary and very kind. Those were the things I mainly noticed about Julia.
AD: You have directed many different TV shows of different genres, different networks, different styles. From Grey’s Anatomy to Scandal to Parks and Recreation. What is the experience like doing so many diverse shows?
JAR: One of the best things about being a director. I looked yesterday. I have been a director for over 20 years now and I love to learn. So, one of my favorite experiences was going from directing an AP Bio, which is a lovely show on Peacock, then going over to direct Castle Rock the next week. Which was horror, so that was a new genre to me. And I am learning all the time, immersing myself in different shooting styles. Learning new things that I can then pick up and apply to whatever I do next.
AD: In all the scenes in Bridgerton, one thing that always jumped out at me is that everything appears to be lit by either natural light or candle light. What was the challenge in creating that?
JAR: You know I am so happy to hear you say that. That was a conversation that Jeff Jur and I had early on. We said to each other we are not going to be afraid of moody lighting. So we looked at some examples of natural lighting in films. There is a movie called The Libertine, which is lit a lot by candlelight and then, obviously, Barry Lyndon, which was also lit a lot by candlelight. We wanted it to feel very natural. We didn’t want it to feel too heightened or too pushed. We wanted the viewing experience to be not something that alienated the audience but that drew them in. Therefore we wanted to feel like a very organic, grounded, natural piece of work as much as it could be. So that’s a great question, thank you!
AD: How is it decided among the group of directors for the show who directs what episode?
JAR: Well, I came on board to kick it off. I can’t speak to those decisions. I’m afraid I wasn’t part of that decision making process. But I will say when I came on board to direct the first episode I was also due to direct the second episode. But when we were developing the project one of the most complicated pieces was the costumes. Because they all had to be built from the ground up and we never really wanted to repeat a costume. So all of the balls were themed. We didn’t want the Lady Danbury ball to be the same as another ball. If you can imagine the enormous amount of work, we sourced materials from all over the world for this show. Then it became very clear that episode 2 was going to be very ballroom heavy, and then episode 6, the other one I ended up directing, was more limited in its scope, very emotional but more of a condensed feel. So that’s why I hopped off and hopped on to episode 6, and I’m very happy that I did.
AD: Speaking of episode 6, there are a lot of intimate moments between Daphne and Simon. What was that like for you and what did you advise the actors to make those scenes work?
JAR: That script I thought, Gosh, this is going to be quite a challenge. Because the script is about things we cannot speak about, that we never speak about, and something that we will never see. So it was definitely a challenge. Each of those intimate scenes was very much telling the story of Daphne uncovering the truth about her sexuality. None of them were gratuitous; they all had a very clear story we were trying to tell. I think that’s what the actors really responded to. We would rehearse those scenes much in a way that you would rehearse any scene with dialogue. We would say what is the story we’re trying to tell and then work from that basis, and I think once you’re working from that basis people get on board very quickly and it becomes an organically unfolding part of the story.
AD: It comes across as Daphne discovering her sexuality and enjoying it. These are just two people who really like and maybe love each other at that point, and love what they’re experiencing together.
JAR: That was certainly what the intention was, for the early part of the journey anyways.
AD: Circling back to something you mentioned about learning different things as a director. What did you learn from directing Bridgerton?
JAR I learned so much! I had never done a period drama before, well, one that deep a period before. I had done 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, but I had never done a deep period before. I left the UK and started working over here whereas a lot of my colleagues in the UK are very experienced in period dramas. So there are many things that you learn. I guess the thing that really sticks out to me was the use of the carriages. We would go to a carriage warehouse, and there are about three people who provide carriages for all of the films and TV show productions in the UK. We had to cast the carriages to the characters so I would say, okay, I think Lady Danbury would have that carriage, and I think the Bridgertons would have that carriage, I think the Feathertons would have that carriage.
Then, as a result of that choice, that had an effect on the costume department because when we chose the Bridgerton carriage we were also able to paint it. We had to choose the color of paint but then the color of paint had to match closely with the footman’s costumes, which then had an impact into the house because the color of the footman’s costumes–and there’s often six footmen on a carriage–would that have an impact on the house uniform, which you would see all the time when you were shooting the interior scenes. So it is incredibly complicated when you are stepping into it for the first time. Of course now going back I wouldn’t be caught out, but I think the complexity of it was something that it took a minute to understand.
AD: Is there anything you want to leave our readers with?
JAR: I am happy to have helmed a show that has reached out and spoken to so many people across such a wide section of society. I think that the most important thing to me is that somehow Bridgerton has been able to create this sense of community at such a complicated time, and that’s something I’m super proud of.