‘Normal People’ star Paul Mescal is in ‘ridiculous’ Emmy company. Or so he says

"Normal People's" Paul Mescal received an Emmy nomination for actor in a limited series
Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal star in Hulu’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s “Normal People.”

It probably doesn’t compare to the intensity brought on by a first love. But Paul Mescal, whose soulful and achy portrayal as Connell Waldron in Hulu’s adaptation of Sarah Rooney’s “Normal People” kept viewers company during quarantine, described being a first-time Emmy nominee with a sense of euphoria.

“I’m on Cloud 10,” he said, calling from the U.K., where he was wrapping up rehearsals for a gig with musician Dermot Kennedy taking place at the end of the month at the Natural History Museum.

The 24-year-old actor was nominated for lead actor in a limited series for his performance as the popular high school sports star who gets involved in a tortured love saga with an intelligent loner from a wealthy family (Daisy Edgar-Jones) in the Ireland-set series. Mescal is nominated alongside Jeremy Irons (“Watchmen”), Jeremy Pope (“Succession), Mark Ruffalo (“I Know This Much is True,” and Hugh Jackman (“Bad Education”).

Here’s our conversation with Mescal.

The 2020 Emmy nominations had plenty of unexpected choices in store. And our awards columnist is here to break it all down.

Does it even feel real, given how fraught this year has been? How do you even process it?

It’s not even processing. I’m just really happy. I’m really excited. I feel ... I don’t know, I just have a lot of endorphins running through my body.

This show really came at like the perfect time, in a weird way. People were in the early days of staying at home because of the health crisis and there was a lot of anxiety and yearning for love and connection.

I think this show struck a chord because the writing is just so good — it’s been recognized in the nominations in that capacity. And I think that when “Normal People” came out, people weren’t allowed to see people who weren’t in their household, let alone be in close proximity or in an intimate relationship. It represented everything the world was missing and feeling at that point. It reminded us how important intimacy is in our lives, and when it’s taken away from us, it can be really, really hard.

Aside from hooking “normal” viewers, the series also was a favorite with celebrities —Richard E. Grant, Katy Perry, Kourtney Kardashian, Andrew Lloyd Webber. I mean, Andrew was tweeting at you to invite you to a sing-along!

At the start of it, that’s really daunting because you kind of disassociate the person from what we see publicly. But, of course, they’re in the industry we’re all in and they watch television and they watch movies. It kind of takes a while to adjust to the fact that like these people are watching us. Like, Hugh Jackman sent me the nicest email a couple of weeks back, just in response to watching the show. And now to be a nominee beside him is just [expletive] ridiculous to be honest. I’m sorry for cursing. It’s crazy to me.

Something that I hear a lot of people talk about, especially in terms of watching it as an adult, is you find yourself sort of rethinking

every past relationship and seeing the missed chances or where you screwed things up.

I had two different ways of looking at it. When you’re filming it, you’re kind of thinking of very little else other than the panic of playing a character that people love. The more distance I gained from the show, all that came into my head. “Normal People” isn’t about a perfect relationship. It’s about how difficult relationships are and how important people are in your life. And it’s a celebration and criticism of relationships — that’s equal or as important as the celebration of it.


Director Lenny Abrahamson and stars Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal discuss making the sex scenes in Hulu’s “Normal People,” based on Sally Rooney’s book.

Emmy nominee Paul Mescal in "Normal People."

How has it been getting sort of acclimated to this kind of attention? I mean there is an Instagram account for Connell’s chain.

It’s been an intense acclimation period simply from the fact that it was a show that a lot of people were already very interested in, and very quickly they then became very interested in what Daisy and I buy in the shops, silly things. I’m still figuring it out. It’s kind of what you get for being on a show that’s popular, there’s no kind of fixed route through it. Some parts I find more difficult than others. It’s a kind of trial-and-error thing.

So, how are you going to celebrate the big news?

I’m going to go home and have a lot of drinks and probably be on the phone and talk to people I want and need to talk to and celebrate with them.

Is it bittersweet to not have the full experience these sorts of nights usually entail? Like running into the cast of “Succession” on the red carpet or chatting it up with Hugh?

That is the only disappointment, and I think it’s a small disappointment. I’d love to see those actors and be there and experience the night for what it is. But ultimately it’s the world that we’re living in at the moment, but hopefully maybe I’ll meet them down the line or, even better, work with them. It’s just ... nuts.

Who would you have liked to meet?

How long do you have? Basically everybody that I’m nominated with. Everybody that has been nominated this year — I haven’t seen the full list. The whole “Succession” crew. I’m over the moon that Zendaya got nominated for “Euphoria” because I love, love that show so much. Maybe a slight disappointment that I don’t get to be there and be whispering, “Oh my God, there’s Mark Ruffalo” and then try to play it cool.