Stirling Swap
'Bridgerton's cast and showrunner defended the show's decision to replace Michael with Michaela.

The Bridgerton Cast Is So Here For That Big Gender-Flipped Reveal

“You’re never going to please every single side of the fan base.”

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Bridgerton Season 3’s biggest surprise reveal had nothing to do with Lady Whistledown. In its final moments, Francesca was almost too stunned to speak when her new hubby, John, introduced her to his cousin Michaela. And fans of the books were even more shocked than Francesca was, because Michaela doesn’t exist in the novels. Although some loyal readers were upset at the change in Francesca’s love story, the actors and showrunner explained why the gender swap is so special. And even Julia Quinn has made her feelings known.

In the Francesca-centric book When He Was Wicked, Francesca mourns the sudden death of John two years after marrying him. As time passes, she starts to realize her feelings for his cousin Michael, and they end up together. However, the show decided to change Michael to Michaela, teasing a queer spin on the book.

Showrunner Jess Brownell explained she always felt a queer subtext in Francesca’s story. “The first time I read Francesca’s book, I really related to it as a queer woman,” Brownell told The Hollywood Reporter. “Her book is a lot about how she feels different from her family and from people in society. For some of us, that is a part of the queer experience, not for everyone but for a lot of queer people. It was important to me in creating a queer character not to just drop in a queer character to check a box but to actually tell a story about the queer experience and what it feels like to be queer.”

For the part, Brownell cast South African actor Masali Baduza. Hannah Dodd, who plays Francesca, apparently knew she was the perfect choice right from their first chemistry read. “I remember the moment Hannah met Masali. After Masali left, she said, ‘Well, that’s her.’ Hannah could feel it,” Brownell told Glamour.

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Simone Ashley, who plays the viscountess Kate Bridgerton, gave Baduza some encouragement. “Many people are going to be so seen by the story that you’re going to be telling,” she said, via People. “I think this is what the world needs more of, more representation.”

And yes, Julia Quinn is on board, too. Although the author created the character of Michael Stirling in her books, she was supportive of the choice to portray the character as a woman on screen. “I spoke with Julia Quinn, I got her blessing,” Brownell told Teen Vogue. “We talked about the fact that with almost any single book, there would be a side of the fandom that would be disheartened to see their favorite characters changed. I don’t think that there is any book that wouldn’t happen with, so for me, again, it came back to story, and it came back to character. Because Francesca’s book resonated [with me] in the way that it did, it felt like a natural adaptation.”

“The fact of the matter is, the fan base is not a monolith, and you’re never going to please every single side of the fan base,” Brownell admitted.

Book purists can make all the noise they want, but clearly Michaela Stirling is here to stay, and she’s going to make Francesca’s story even more exciting.