Oscar winners Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth are joined by Patrick Dempsey for the next chapter of the world’s favourite singleton in BRIDGET JONES’S BABY.
Directed by Sharon Maguire (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Incendiary), the new film in the beloved comedy series based on creator Helen Fielding’s heroine finds Bridget unexpectedly expecting.
After breaking up with Mark Darcy (Firth), Bridget Jones’s (Zellweger) “happily ever after” hasn’t quite gone according to plan. Fortysomething and single again, she decides to focus on her job as top news producer and surround herself with old friends and new. Bridget has everything completely under control. What could possibly go wrong?
Then Bridget’s fortune takes a turn and she meets a dashing American named Jack Qwant (Dempsey), the suitor who is everything Mr Darcy is not. In an unlikely twist she finds herself pregnant, but with one hitch: Bridget’s uncertain if the baby’s father is her longtime love… or the newfound one from just across the pond.
The much-anticipated third installment of the Bridget Jones franchise welcomes fellow Academy Award® winner Emma Thompson (Saving Mr Banks, Nanny McPhee series) to the cast that also stars the returning Oscar® winner Jim Broadbent (Iris, Harry Potter series) and Gemma Jones (BBC’s Marvelous, Sense and Sensibility) as Bridget’s Mum and Dad.
Jones Comes of Age:
Assembling the Production
On 28 February 1995, a small, unassuming column by then-unknown author Helen Fielding appeared in the British newspaper The Independent. It was written from the point of view of a single young woman by the name of Bridget Jones (age: 32, weight: nine stone, three pounds) who lived and worked in London. The columns quickly gained popularity, and as Bridget became a household name, in rolled offers for her creator. Within 10 years of Fielding’s first words on her appearing, Bridget Jones had found herself in two international best-selling books and two global box-office hits.
Fielding never set out to create a role model, and yet in our heroine she crafted someone who had been overlooked by popular culture. This was a woman who, in spite of her independence, was not afraid to reveal her flaws and insecurities.
Save the author, no one knows Jones better than the performer who’s embodied her all these years. “Bridget is eternally optimistic, self-effacing and finds humour whenever facing adversity,” reflects Renée Zellweger. “Tenacious and determined, she will not be defeated. She’s perfectly imperfect, and that’s what people relate to in her.”
Producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner of Working Title Films shepherded the team in bringing Bridget back to the screen. Fellner discusses the character’s longtime resonance with audiences: “Bridget is constitutionally optimistic and is able to take anything that is thrown at her life with a positive stride. She has a sense of humour that engages, and people love her because they identify with her travails. Bridget does everything with such great style and humour that it’s a pleasure to spend time with her. Whatever is thrown at her, she comes back stoic, solidly, and usually with a laugh.”
“She’s aspirational, isn’t she?” adds fellow producer Debra Hayward, who also has been with the series since well before the first film began production. “Bridget still has to be this sort of every woman and you’ve got to recognise yourself in her, even if the dilemma is not something you could ever see yourself in.”
At the heart of our protagonist’s quandary is her fear of ending up alone; that translates into independence at a cost. “One of the reasons the first film worked was not just because of the comedy but because people identified with Bridget’s fear of loneliness,” says Sharon Maguire, who bookends the trilogy with her directorial work on this chapter. “It’s a universal fear, and one that’s still a prominent theme in the character’s journey. This is an integral point of access for the audience to empathise with Bridget. The universal undercurrent is that everyone is afraid of being lonely.”
Fellner offers that Maguire was the only choice for a director when they began this journey: “Sharon knows this world and these characters better than most. When the opportunity arose to work with her again, we leapt at the chance. She understands the scenarios that the actors play out, and there is no one better to have made this film.”
When Bridget was imagined, singletons around the globe realised they were not alone with conflicting aspirations and insecurities. Calorie obsessing, the rules of makeup and shaving, conflicts of the heart and mind, nothing was hidden. “I’m having a Bridget moment” became part of the vernacular, along with “F**kwittage” and “wanton sex goddess.” Bridget optimised a new breed of woman.
So why the long wait to bring Bridget back? “After the first and second film, we always hoped that there would be another chapter for Bridget,” Hayward continues. “We started talking about it some years ago with Helen, and it took a few years to evolve the story. It was quite some time in the making, but we wanted to get it right.”
Bridget is now an award-winning producer of a major news show. She’s given up cigarettes, cut down on chardonnay, doesn’t obsess about her weight, and her self-help books have been replaced with political literature. “We’ve given Bridget a much better job,” says Hayward. “It’s a quite relevant show that she is determined to keep important and serious, yet increasingly she’s under pressure to make it more populist.”
When audiences first met Bridget she was 32 years old, and in Edge of Reason, she was 34. In Bridget Jones’s Baby, she celebrates her 43rd birthday. When the producers brought Maguire onto the project, one of the things that was important for the director was that the story reflect what happens to adults in these key transitional years, both emotionally and professionally.
Despite her success, in the new story, Bridget maintains that wonderful awkwardness that has made her so appealing. “Everybody’s hoped for something and been disappointed. The way that Bridget manages to persevere—despite circumstances that might bring her down—inspires people,” says Zellweger. “She’s suffering the same things we all do and, especially in her private moments, you’re able to connect to her.”
“Bridget can be ditsy and clumsy, but she is very clever; she’s erudite, smart and well educated, yet she fluffs things,” Hayward adds. “Bridget’s characterization is always delicate, because if you go too far one way she can become stupid. It’s getting that balance right, and that balance is the trickiest thing in the film, actually. She’s human and certainly makes mistakes in love; still, she is unique and idiosyncratic.”
Despite her independence, Bridget remains fiercely single. “We wanted to isolate her,” explains Hayward. “Every single one of her friends has moved on, even Tom [James Callis], her gay best friend, has settled down and adopted a baby. She is the last one standing.”
“Bridget is still dealing with some of the same issues,” says Maguire. “She still has a fear of loneliness and is floundering around looking for meaning in her life. She’s so imperfect and so flawed. Things are never all neatly sewed up with a bow on top.”
As her close friend Miranda [Sarah Solemani], points out, Bridget “made us award-winning, and as a result she has no life, because everyone mercilessly abused the fact she is a lonely, single, childless SPILF [Spinster I’d Like to F**k] who works all hours.”
“That said, she’s still the same Bridget we know and love,” insists Hayward. “She’d love to down a bottle of Chardonnay, but she’s a bit more sensible now.”
Despite Bridget’s denials, dreams of romance and children are ever present. “We discussed why that is and it’s partly because she never quite got over Mark Darcy, even though that is not where you find her at the beginning of the film,” explains Hayward. “From the beginning we thought it was going be the story of Bridget finding herself pregnant and not knowing who the father was,” confirms Hayward.
Whilst Fielding was very involved with the development, owing to her increasing commitments, she agreed to have another writer join the project. “Originally this was developed with Helen, and then writer Dan Mazer,” explains Hayward. “With Helen’s approval, we brought Emma Thompson on board.”
Fellner discusses how the multihyphenate was folded into the production: “Emma Thompson is an actress and writer who we have been incredibly fortunate to work with quite a lot over the years – memorably in Love Actually and in two Nanny McPhee movies. We were looking for a writer to come on board and help us with the screenplay, and she seemed a natural choice. She did an incredible job, and in the process she built up a character called Dr Rawlings. We then turned it around and told her she’d made that character, she now needed to play her. She did so brilliantly.”
Whilst humour was imperative, so too was truth. “I wanted the story to be plausible, but funny,” Says Maguire. “I know people who have been faced with this predicament, so I was intrigued how Bridget would handle it.” Having had no successive men in her life, now they are turning up like buses, both wanting to be the father. “When I came on board we took that part of the story and ran with it, putting her in more awkward situations, like going to two scans and drawing her doctor into the subterfuge.”
“I like to think of it as a coming-of-age film that’s set at a later point in the character’s life,” muses Zellweger. “As you go through life, you realize that there isn’t a point that you reach where you have it all figured out. This chapter in Bridget’s story explores the differences between what you imagine your life is going to be versus the reality of where you find yourself.”
An American in England:
Zellweger Is Jones
Once upon a time, before Bridget Jones the movie became such a global success, fans of the book were aghast when the role was given to an American actress with an incumbent southern drawl. Today, it is unthinkable to imagine anyone else playing Bridget. Quite simply, no Zellweger, no Bridget. “Renée, more than anybody, knows what Bridget would say or do,” lauds Hayward. “She has an innate understanding of this character, how she would behave, what she would say, what she wouldn’t say.”
“You simply can’t make Bridget without Renée!” exclaims Maguire.
When it comes to fans, Zellweger has as many fans behind the scenes as she does in front of it. Lauds Fellner: “Renée is the greatest comedienne of her generation. On top of that she’s also a brilliant actress; we’ve seen that through her dramatic work. Although we admired her enormously from afar when we were casting Bridget Jones 15 years ago, we never considered Renée Zellweger should play Bridget Jones because she’s American. When we met with her, she blew us away. Now she owns this character, and it’s impossible to envisage anyone else playing her.”
It was with Maguire that Zellweger first embarked on Bridget’s cinematic journey 15 years ago, and their coming together for the third installment felt like a fait accompli. “Renée has always loved the role and she, like us, was keen to revisit Bridget,” explains Hayward. “It’s a brilliant evocation of a literary character. Together, Renée and Sharon have created that character on screen. It’s a complete collaboration.”
“Renée has the ability to totally inhabit Bridget and also bring a softer side and emotion to that character,” continues Maguire. “She doesn’t just do comedy. It’s everything about her; the way she acts brings an extra layer of emotion and heart. She’s not afraid to project and unvarnished version of herself and has no vanity whatsoever. Combine that with a kind of Lucille Ball physical comedy that she has and loves. If there’s anything physical, she will wholly get behind it.”
“I can’t imagine a more exciting collaboration than the one that Sharon and I have shared,” agrees Zellweger. In the time that the performer has been playing Bridget, she has developed a deep fondness for the character. “I love her humanity” she says. “I love how authentic she is, how awkward her experiences can be. People relate to her because she is so imperfect, and somehow still manages to triumph in challenging situations. She refuses to give up. She’s self-effacing and faces her dilemmas with humour.”
For Zellweger much of the joy of returning to the world of Bridget was in revisiting not only Bridget herself, but the characters around her. “I wanted to know what happened to all of her friends and what Mum and Dad are doing, as well as where Bridget would be at this time in her life.”
Zellweger simply embodies Bridget, down to her impeccably genuine Home Counties accent. It is only when you see the performers at work that you appreciate how much work goes into becoming the character. The art of being Bridget lies in the subtle physical comedy, of which Zellweger is a master.
What first gave the performer the method to inhabit Bridget was the idea that her character’s thighs rub together and made a swishing noise when she wore tights. For Zellweger, that was a big cue for getting in character and getting her Bridget’s walk – slightly splay footed – down. It came with all sorts of clues as to how she would react.
“Clumsiness comes naturally to me for some reason,” laughs Zellweger. “The intentional clumsiness that is scripted is a lot of fun to play, especially when Sharon is around the corner laughing and shouting out how I might make it clumsier.”
She rightfully earned that respect from her co-stars. “Renée is possibly, more than any other actor I’ve ever known, a trouper,” says Firth. “She’s perpetually buoyant, indefatigable. She’s got long monologues, difficult bits of physical comedy and yet her preparedness is astounding. You’re not supposed to review what your fellow actor has just done; there’s a danger it can throw them off their game. But sometimes I was itching to tell her that what I just saw was genius.”
Becoming Bridget, however, is not an overnight transformation. Aside from weeks of rehearsals, Zellweger had intense vocal practice with her voice coach, Barbara Berkery. “She talks like Bridget, while she’s on set all the time,” shares Firth. “It’s very confusing at times to talk to Renée about anything from her own life back home. When she starts talking about life in Texas, with an accent as if she comes from Surrey it’s very hard to process…”
“A lot of work went into developing my accent with Barbara,” says Zellweger, ”and I had to gain a little weight, but not as much as before. Sharon and the producers felt that it would be good to see Bridget having achieved one of her goals in life and also having evolved. She might not have it together in other areas of her life, but she’s making healthy lifestyle choices.”
Darcy and Jack:
Completing the Love Triangle
In essence, our heroine is the perfect contradiction. On the one hand a self-possessed, independent career woman, and on the other a hopeless romantic in search of the perfect man. Bridget has often thought that the man of her dreams is one Mark Darcy, whom Fielding based on a literary character who is more than 200 years old. “He is an archetypal gorgeous Englishman who’s funny, clever and repressed,” says Hayward. “It’s hard to think of anybody else that could be a better Darcy than Colin Firth.”
“I love Mark Darcy, and I love Colin Firth,” praises Maguire. “It’s easy for me to direct this character and to direct Colin because he’s such a heartthrob. It’s just everything about Mr Darcy – his haughtiness, the fact he’s prickly, brainy, obviously a tiger in the sack and he looks like Colin Firth…”
As with Zellweger, for Firth to come back, timing had to be right. “After we did the second film, I remember saying that the only way I could contemplate a third was after I’ve deteriorated a bit and can actually tell a story about people at a completely different time of their life,” laughs Firth. “I wanted to visit the same people, but to have moved to the next generation to see what life has dealt them.” Still, trickier than he expected. “I know that sounds strange, because I’ve played this guy a hundred times now. Perhaps I was afraid he might feel a parody.”
Actually, that was precisely how Firth tackled the first film. “Bridget Jones was obviously a deliberate and self-conscious parody of Pride and Prejudice, and I approached it in that spirit. I thought I’m going to do a sort of pastiche of somebody that I was known to have played on the BBC. It’s like a hall of mirrors. I existed in Helen’s books as myself, and Mr Darcy existed in the books as Mr Darcy. Then there’s the Mr Darcy of Bridget Jones’s own fantasy. You could get lost in it all. Yet I had to inhabit the role, so I thought, well I’m just going to send up Mr Darcy a little bit. But once we were on set, you find that it becomes more specific and much more human than that.”
“Colin was extremely conscientious about the role,” lauds Maguire. “Even though he’s played Mr Darcy from so many angles and this is of course the third time he’s playing Mr Darcy in this movie, he’s still conscientious. Comedy is not integral to the character and that in itself makes it a challenge to play, but someone who is socially inept is in itself funny. He plays Mark very seriously and it works.”
When we meet Mark Darcy he is still a respected human rights lawyer at the top of his game, but a bit jaded, prickly and most certainly romantically disappointed. “We find him at the end of a marriage which clearly has not worked,” says Firth. “Still, he clearly hasn’t forgotten Bridget.”
“He doesn’t do polite conversations; he behaves like he’s got a poker up his arse and always makes Bridget feel verbally incontinent, even when they were together,” says Maguire. “He’s taken emotional withdrawal to the next level, but she still loves him.”
“The advantage of leaving a genuine time gap since we last saw these characters, is that it tells a story,” continues Firth. “If someone’s still thinking about the same girl after 15 years, then that feels like love. Despite the time that’s past, despite the knowledge of each other’s shortcomings and foibles and all the disappointments that they’ve experienced, they’re still longing for each other. The premise is: Can they resolve their differences and find each other again after all this time?”
Whether they can or not is of course hindered by a new love interest in Bridget’s life, the ludicrously rich author and internet-savant named Jack Qwant. The pattern of the last two films followed the premise that in love there is a choice between a good guy and bad guy disguised as a good guy, with Bridget invariably making the wrong choice. “We invented Jack as an American in a very English setting. He’s charming, funny and very American,” says Maguire. “He’s found the algorithm for love, and thinks he knows what works when it comes to love. He and Bridget match up 97 percent, so they should be together, whereas Bridget and Mark match up only 8 percent.”
Very much so, Jack is the antithesis of Daniel Cleaver. “Whatever we think about either of these guys, Jack’s actually a lovely guy,” offers Firth. “We may not like algorithms for love and the way he goes about what he does, but he’s charming, adores Bridget and he seems to like Mark. This is quite infuriating: to have as an adversary someone that you can’t bust on having terrible ulterior motives.”
Dempsey’s name had always been in the mix for Jack, having first come to the producer’s attention as Dr Derek Shepherd on Grey’s Anatomy. “Patrick was the choice very early on, because he’s a credible alternative,” says Hayward. “He’s the right age, devastatingly handsome and he’s American, all of which rings the changes from Daniel. We wanted it to be someone different but somebody equally gorgeous, and he’s a great actor. He’s an American equivalent to Colin.”
In much the same way that Jack is the new character on an established scene, similarly Dempsey was coming into a dynamic that was long established. “I’m the new kid on the block. I was very nervous because they’ve had all this experience together and have a dialogue and a relationship that works well. That’s what Jack brings into this dynamic; he’s stirring it all up in many ways.”
“Patrick is lovely as Jack,” enthuses Zellweger. “He is dashing and handsome and charming and he’s funny and naughty and fun, like the Daniel Cleaver character. Still, he is the polar opposite of Daniel in so many other respects.”
“Darcy’s the quintessential English one, and Jack is the quintessential American,” says Dempsey. “It’s been fun trying to find that. How we make these characters sympathetic, vulnerable, but yet strong at the same time, and what their wants and aspirations are for Bridget and for the baby. While the other characters are much more established, for Jack it’s been a case of finding that out as we go along.”
BRIDGET JONES’S BABY is available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday, 30th January, 2017