Now that all of Bridgerton season three is available to stream on Netflix, diehard fans of the Shonda Rhimes-produced series have taken to social media to discuss the many twists and turns in the final episodes. Rumor has it that it could be up to two more years until season four arrives, leaving plenty of time for curiosity to build about a new character who was introduced in the final seconds of the hit show.

After facing backlash for its lack of queer representation throughout, Bridgerton makers made a point to make LGBTQ viewers feel seen more clearly than ever before. Besides Benedict confirming his bisexuality, there was also a major twist in the story of Francesca, who marries the Earl of Kilmartin, John Stirling, at the end of season three. Before the characters head off to Scotland to start their new life together, he introduces his bride to a stunning female relative who’s set to join them at their family castle. The mere seconds of screen time she got in this installment weren’t enough for us to genuinely get to know the new character, so read on to find out everything you need to know about Michaela Stirling!

Who Is Michaela Stirling?

Those who have kept up with Julia Quinn’s books that inspire the Netflix Original haven’t been surprised by much so far, however, the introduction of Michaela Stirling is shaking things up in the fictional world. On paper, Francesca still meets John’s cousin after they exchange vows, though he’s written as a male, Michael. To help connect with queer audiences better, Bridgerton season three gender-bends the character into a woman who manages to charm viewers (and her cousin’s new wife) with just a few words. “Every sordid detail John has spoken about me is a lie. The truth is far worse,” she tells Francesca. Considering she traveled from Scotland to London for the Stirling wedding and will be accompanying them back, it’s safe to say she and John are close, and based on Fran’s reaction to the gorgeous young woman, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t hit it off in future episodes.

A Rising South African Superstar Plays New ‘Bridgerton’ Character

Who Is Michaela Stirling? pictured: Masali Baduza
(Photo by Isaiah Trickey/FilmMagic)

The actress who landed the surprising role is 28-year-old Masali Baduza, best known from the TV series Noughts + Crosses and the 2022 film, The Woman King. After seeing her audition tape, casting directors were eager to bring the South African starlet in for a chemistry read. Instantly, Hannah Dodd (who plays Francesca) knew Baduza was the one for the role. “She’s absolutely fantastic… We flew her out the moment we saw her tape to do a chemistry read with Hannah. I remember the moment Hannah met Masali. After Masali left, she said, ‘Well, that’s her.’ Hannah could feel it,” showrunner Jess Brownell told Glamour.

She was raised outside of Cape Town, in East London, born “shortly after Apartheid ended,” according to The Independent. In an interview with the outlet Baduza said, “We had a rule book of things we could and couldn’t do to our hair—including one that said Black girls couldn’t wear their natural afros because it was unprofessional and it looked unkempt. Having that as your mindset as a young Black girl is just…traumatizing. It’s kind of like who you are naturally is not good enough.”

In 2016, the actress graduated from the New York Film Academy Los Angeles, securing her debut role three years later in a Bollywood project called Bhai’s Cafe. Now that she’s won over many Black Bridgerton fans, there’s no telling where we’ll see her face next outside of the Shondaland show.

What’s Next for Michaela and Francesca?

In Quinn’s book, When He Was Wicked, Francesca is tragically left a widow just two years into her marriage after John suffers an aneurysm. The original story sees his cousin, Michael, step up as Lord Kilmartin while comforting Fran leading them to ultimately find love and start a family together. Since showrunners got the author’s permission to gender-bend the character, it seems as though an LGBTQ+ love story could be front and center in the next season of Bridgerton.

In the books, Fran and Michael get married, but there’s been no confirmation if the same will be true for Michaela. “It only feels right to show all the ways in which people love, including queer love. So we are exploring queer love stories across the next couple of seasons. I don’t want to say exactly how that plays out, but it was important to me to foreground queer love and to tell queer stories and tell stories about queer joy as well,” Brownell told Refinery 29.