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Why ‘Bridgerton' Star Nicola Coughlan Almost Gave Up Acting 6 Years Ago: ‘I Was Really Broke and Really Disheartened'

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Before starring in one of Netflix's most watched series, "Bridgerton" actress Nicola Coughlan's life contained fewer ballgowns and a lot more self-doubt.

On Sunday, the Irish actress posted a photo on Instagram from six years ago. At the time, she was waitressing to make ends meet, as she waited for her big break — which she feared would never come. She described being ''really broke and really disheartened."

"I remember taking [the photo] and joking about how bad my hair looked 'cos I hadn't been able to afford to get it done in months," Coughlan, 35, wrote in the post. "During this time I was so desperate to be acting and unsure that I would ever get to."

After graduating with an English and Classical Civilization degree from National University of Ireland, Galway, in the mid-2000s, Coughlan moved to London. Auditioning for the better part of a decade, she experienced a number of failures and an abundance of uncertainty. She worked several odd jobs between Ireland and London, selling beauty cosmetics, frozen yogurt and clerking for an optician's office.

"There is a lot of rejection, an awful lot," she told the Belfast Telegraph last year. "It's tough." 

Finally, in 2017, when Coughlan was 30, she was cast in Channel 4's "Derry Girls," distributed by Netflix. Her breakout role as teenager Clare Devlin quickly led to her part in "Bridgerton" as Penelope and – spoiler alert – Lady Whistledown.

Impostor syndrome soon followed. Earlier this month, Coughlan told the New York Times that even after she was offered the "Bridgerton" role, she was certain she would get fired. "I should have been like, 'This is amazing,'" she said. "Instead, I was like, 'This is fishy. I don't know about this.'"

The show's popularity seems to have soothed Coughlan's fears. In January 2021, a month after "Bridgerton" premiered, Netflix deemed the show its "biggest series ever": 82 million households worldwide watched it within its first 28 days on the streaming service. Its second season, which premiered last Friday, led to 193 million hours of viewing time worldwide in three days – a record for any English-language Netflix series, according to Netflix.

For Coughlan, the takeaway from her journey is simple: "Follow ya dreams kids."

"I'm so deeply grateful of all the things I've been lucky enough to do since this picture was taken," she wrote on Instagram. "I'm in constant disbelief at the good fortune I've had, the people I worked with, and the people I'm about to work with."

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