‘Aftersun’ Star Paul Mescal Is Proud of Being Nominated for His Not ‘Classically Oscar-y’ Performance

TheWrap magazine: “There was never a firm expectation that this would happen,” Mescal says. “We were wonderfully outside of the bubble”

Paul Mescal (Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap)

A version of this story about Oscar nominee Paul Mescal and “Aftersun” first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.  

Irish actor Paul Mescal turned 27 the week after his first Oscar nomination for playing a wounded, doing-his-best young father on holiday in Turkey with his wise-beyond-her-years daughter (Frankie Corio) in writer-director Charlotte Wells’ semi-autobiographical Aftersun.” That makes him the youngest acting nominee this year. The film also catapulted his already-soaring reputation as a talent to watch, following his Emmy-nominated breakout role in Hulu’s “Normal People” in 2020. He’ll soon be shooting a sequel to “Gladiator” with Ridley Scott. Could there also be a Tony nomination coming down the pike at some point?

He discussed that and more with TheWrap.

One of the exciting things about your nomination is that “Aftersun” is kind of an anti-Oscary movie. It doesn’t have big emotional showdowns and such. Even in your big scene, we don’t see your face.
I would love to take some credit for that but I think that’s innately what Charlotte wanted from the film and in the screenplay that Charlotte wrote. I don’t think that the film was manipulative or pushy in terms of asking an audience to feel things. I think as a result, mine and Frankie’s job was to come in and understand the task at hand. And that was to just step into a quiet film. The running joke with me and my friends on my team is, like, I have no idea what clip they’re going to use for this. [Laughs.]

I do take great pride in the fact that I don’t think it’s a classically Oscar-y performance, but also, it’s a testament, I think, to the actors branch of the Academy who went out and voted for it anyway. Had I not been in it, it’s the kind of film that I would want to see as an actor.

Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio in “Aftersun” (A24)

What’s it like to be in this category of nominees? It’s wonderfully age diverse category, and it’s people doing very internal work. Have you gotten to know the guys ?
I have. The pre-nomination campaign, I was doing the play so I didn’t bump into people, but at the nominees lunch, I bumped into Bill [Nighy] a couple of times, met Brendan [Fraser] and Colin [Farrell] properly, and bumped into Austin [Butler]. So I’m hoping that over the next few weeks, we’ll be seeing much more of each other. But yeah, in terms of the standard of the work, to be in and amongst them — it’s just a massive honor that isn’t lost on me at all. 

You’ve had an incredible year with great projects like “Aftersun,” “God’s Creatures” and an Olivier-nominated turn in “A Streetcar Named Desire” in the West End. There are many more projects coming up. You’ve become a very unclassifiable actor in the most wonderful way. Is that something you’re conscious of?
I don’t think I’m a particularly patient person, right? It can feel rapid and all-encompassing, but I think at the moment I would struggle with, say, doing a recurring series or something — and not for any reason other than my own disposition, which is just that I like changing it up. Things that feel innately different are more interesting to me. But it’s not a roadmap of, like, “We’ve done something small and intimate. So now we need big studio moments.” The choices I’m making are related to predominantly the screenplays that I’m reading.

Speaking of changing it up, we have to ask about the progress of Richard Linklater’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” which will be shot over 20 years as the characters age. What’s it like to work on something nobody will see for a long time?
We’ve shot the first segment, and we’ll shoot the second segment this year at some point. I imagine that there will be a curiosity at the halfway point to be, like, ‘How does it all look?’ It’s such an interesting process, because we know that we’re going to be filming for 20 years. I imagine it will be very humbling.

Do you imagine going back to the stage now, during the height of all of this attention, as a palate cleanser?
I think it makes me a better actor. I love the structure of my day when I’m working on stage. I mean, there’s nothing really palate cleanser-like about Stanley Kowalski. It’s one of the most exhausting characters that I’ve played. I feel like the palate cleanser will be whatever the fuck I do after. [Laughs.] Just like I don’t feel like [Ridley Scott’s sequel to] “Gladiator” is going to be a palate cleanser. But it’s the only way I know how to work. I think this gap was the longest that I was ever off stage. And it felt like too long for me.

What was it like to do the play amid all the attention you received for “Aftersun”? Because I have worked on stage productions and I know what that eight-show-a-week schedule is like. It’s hard to absorb other things within that. Was that challenging?
I didn’t really have to absorb much because had there been a real expectation that we were going to be firmly in the mix for a nomination, it would have made the play probably more difficult, or it would have been a more difficult conversation because there was no world in which I was ever not going to do the play.

There was never a firm expectation that this [nomination] was ever going to happen for my performance. It wasn’t particularly forecasted. I think it was, like, champions in the media and in the news, who were like, “We really enjoyed the performance.” And that was enough. I think we were wonderfully outside of the bubble and just let it be what it was going to be, and it ended up being this. I’m blown away by the fact that has happened. 

Any chance you might bring your Stanley Kowalski to the Broadway stage?
I imagine there would be conversations happening somewhere, but to be honest, I don’t know. We’re just focusing on getting it up in London. I mean, if I do a play on Broadway, I can call it quits and be a happy actor.

Read more from the Down to the Wire issue here.

Austin Butler photographed by Corina Marie
Photo by Corina Marie for TheWrap