‘Normal People’ stars can’t wait until they can go out for a beer and dance together
Two days before the United Kingdom went into lockdown, Paul Mescal moved from his native Ireland to England. He’d been wanting to live in London for a while and knew he’d have at least one good friend nearby: Daisy Edgar-Jones, the costar he spent five months bonding with last year while filming “Normal People.”
But due to COVID-19, the two young actors have been unable to see each other. Instead, from flats just a few miles apart, they’ve spent their days conducting virtual interviews together about the romantic drama, which debuted first on the BBC and then Hulu this spring. It’s given them a lot of time to fantasize about what they’ll do when they’re finally allowed to hang out.
“We’ll definitely be partying once this finishes,” says Mescal, 24.
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“Do you know what I’d really fancy?” Edgar-Jones, 22, asks him. “Going to a pub and using the beer garden. Sitting in the sun with a group of mates with a nice pint of something.”
Mescal shakes his head in disapproval. Sure, some day drinking would be fine. But then he’d like to head to a disco club — “Fabric, or some mad place” — to dance.
“What? Heavy beats?” Edgar-Jones says, surprised. “I’m feeling more like Top 50 or a bit of ABBA. I’m going to take you to Soul Train. Have you heard of it? They have a brass band and play jazz music.”
“We’d have to make a weekend of it,” Mescal concludes.
Trailer for Hulu’s “Normal People.”
The playful rapport began shortly after Edgar-Jones was cast, the actors say. Producers conducted an extensive search for the performers who could bring Sally Rooney’s bestselling novel to life. The author’s love story is focused almost entirely on two characters: Connell, a shy but popular high school jock, and Marianne, a bookish social outcast who comes into her own when she heads off to university. At college, a love affair they kept hidden as teenagers is able to fully blossom as the two discover themselves both intellectually and sexually.
Mescal, who had done a bit of stage work in Ireland but was better known as a Gaelic football player, was the first to be hired. With Connell in place, the team had a harder time finding the perfect actress to match with Mescal. But during his screen test with Edgar-Jones, says executive producer and director Lenny Abrahamson, the two radiated a “creative chemistry, this pleasure of playing off each other and also a tremendous liking. We felt this longing for the two characters to be together.”
“I fundamentally knew straight away that I was going to like Daisy,” insists Mescal. “If she walked in and I knew she was going to get the job but I know we’re not going to click, I would have been conscious to negotiate that.”
“It just kind of happened, didn’t it, Paul?” Edgar-Jones says of their friendship. “For both of us, it was such a life-changing thing to happen to us. We were just so lucky that we had a friendship. It was never forced, and I’m very grateful for it because I think it would have been a nightmare to do the whole series if we didn’t get on.”
Edgar-Jones had more acting experience than her counterpart. During her years at a tiny all-female high school — her class only had 22 girls — she spent her free time working with the National Youth Theatre. Through the company, she landed an agent and got her first professional gig at 17 on the British dramedy “Cold Feet.”
So on the set of “Normal People,” Mescal quickly came to rely on his costar for guidance.
“I was doing a lot of fake-it-til-you-make-it conversations in my head,” he admits. “I learned from Daisy that it’s a marathon, but it feels like a sprint. I’d watch her navigate the day, and from her energy I could tell how close we were to going for a take.”
“I’m in such admiration for Paul, because if I was starting my first job doing a really big part, I think I’d be crippled and not be able to do it,” she adds. “And I wouldn’t have been able to do half of the stuff if I didn’t have such an amazing performance being fed to me by Paul off-camera. I think that’s what sport teaches you, is to be as helpful as you can to your team players.”
Since “Normal People” has received such overwhelmingly positive reviews — and Mescal has become a bona fide internet crush — their lives have changed, even mid-quarantine. They’ve both been paparazzi-ed on short walks through the city. They’re both the subject of Emmy buzz, and Mescal admits the idea of being nominated does “creep into your head when you see the response from critics.”
“There’s so much going on in the world that’s really big, so it’s sort of strange to even think about something like that,” Edgar-Jones counters.
“Yeah, but I think people will be creative and try to form some sort of event that celebrates the world of TV and film in some way,” he adds, “with reduced attendees or something. I don’t know, but I’d be hopeful there’d be some way of working it out.”
Meanwhile, they’re both looking forward to new opportunities: Mescal says he’s “gained access to scripts” that never would have come through his inbox a month ago; Edgar-Jones acknowledges she’s gained confidence about her talent that she “maybe didn’t have before in being able to do these sort of jobs.” She dreams of shaping a career like Michelle Williams’, and both she and Mescal are obsessed with the young cast of Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women.”
“What I find so impressive about the likes of Timothée [Chalamet] and Saoirse [Ronan] and Florence [Pugh] is the consistency of their work,” he says. “They’re all roughly our age and they’re hitting it time after time after time.”
As for the thirsty memes arguing that Mescal is, in fact, coming for Chalamet’s throne?
“There’s a little bit of objectification, and of course it’s kind of funny,” Mescal says with a grin. “The show does feature a lot of sex and it is going to open those conversations. But it does make me feel a little bit odd. I just hope potential partners don’t expect me to be remotely like Connell, because if they do, it’s not going to be the case.”
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