‘Normal People’ Stars Were Frustrated With Their Characters Too: ‘You Just Want to Shake Them!’ (Video)

TheWrap Emmy magazine: “You want to go, ‘Your incapacity to speak is going to result in you having a very unhappy year in your life!'” says Paul Mescal, who stars with Daisy Edgar-Jones in the limited series

Last Updated: June 26, 2020 @ 10:00 AM

This story about Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones of “Normal People” first appeared in the Limited Series & Movies issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan, the young couple at the heart of Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel “Normal People” and the Hulu miniseries based on it, can be a frustrating pair to watch — that, perhaps, is what makes them normal. They’re clearly soulmates from the time they first come together in high school, but Connell is scared to acknowledge the connection publicly, then unable again and again to tell her how he really feels. Marianne, on the other hand, has grown up so convinced that she’s not worthy of love that she continually puts herself in situations where she is abused rather than cherished.

“Normal People” is a lovely, intimate limited series that lets the on-again, off-again relationship between Connell and Marianne play out over 12 half-hour episodes, and Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones are wonderful as the couple. Still, you have to wonder if they, too, were occasionally frustrated at their characters’ failures to communicate.

“Yeah, absolutely,” 24-year-old Irish theater actor Mescal agreed. “But ultimately, I don’t think that’s terribly useful. It’s about trying to play the character as truthfully as possible. But from my perspective as a fan of the book, you just want to shake them and go, ‘The thing that you’re going to say here is critical, because your incapacity to speak is going to result in you having a very unhappy year in your life!'”

Edgar-Jones, a 22-year-old English actress who nailed the tricky Sligo Irish accent for the role, said she too had trouble grasping Marianne at times. “There’s lots about Marianne that I really do understand and relate to and can slip into,” she said. “But there’s larger parts of her that are quite dark, that I found a little more challenging to understand.

“There’s a moment where she goes to Sweden and she has an interesting exploration of herself and her relationship with sex and things like that. And it was quite tricky, because when you read the book, you get the sense that she’s quite detached and feels a bit dissociated. That’s quite hard to play, that empty feeling.”

Throughout the series, Connell and Marianne seem to communicate most fully and honestly when they’re making love — those are the times we can see their profound connection, which put the onus on the cast and on directors Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald to deliver more than just fairly graphic sex scenes. Mescal praised Abrahamson’s “refreshing” approach to filming those scenes.

“He talked a lot about when it comes to love-making scenes or car chases or fight scenes, there seems to be a different set of rules — the camera changes and there’s music and we’re observing the action happen, but we’re not really with the actors,” Mescal said. “But he was very keen to try and film it the same way you’d film a dialogue scene.

“Those scenes are one of the few times they really are able to communicate in a very honest way, and I think his choice of allowing the camera to be close to our faces, but also giving as much time and tenderness and care in directing the emotional beats to those scenes, meant that they transcended the physical act.”

The scenes drew a bit of criticism in Ireland and the U.K. from viewers who thought they were too explicit for teenagers (though to be honest, neither Mescal nor Edgar-Jones ever really look like they’re teens). But others, definitely including the actors, applauded the intimacy — particularly in the scene where Marianne and Connell make love for the first time.

“I think that’s a really healthy and accurate depiction of a physical relationship between two young people,” Edgar-Jones said. “And I am very proud that a lot of people do feel that it’s an important one for young people to watch, so that they know a kind of healthy way that intimate relationships can happen.”

To read more of the Limited Series & Movies issue, click here.

EmmyWrap Kaitlyn Dever

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