Paul Mescal on How He Built Chemistry With Daisy Edgar-Jones for ‘Normal People’

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Photo Source: Element Pictures

Paul Mescal stands tall as Hollywood’s latest case study in overnight success. As one-half of the breakout star duo leading “Normal People” (the other being his onscreen love interest played by Daisy Edgar-Jones), the 24-year-old Irish actor is now getting major awards buzz—and this is just his first screen performance! He sat this with Backstage for an Instagram Live interview as part of our ongoing digital programming, The Slate, where he walked us through his acting training at the Lir Academy at Trinity College Dublin, how his first professional stage experiences (including a standout performance in “The Great Gatsby” at the Gate Theatre) prepared him to act for television, what the audition process to play Connell on “Normal People” was like, and how he built such crackling chemistry with Edgar-Jones before the first day of shooting. Catch our highlights (and watch the full interview) below! 

He (begrudgingly) credits his father for giving him the acting bug.
“I did a school musical when I was 16, and it was something that I very much enjoyed doing. But it was only when I got to applying for colleges that I was like, ‘OK, what do I actually want to do with my life?’ And acting, or the idea or the concept of being onstage, was the thing that was most attractive to me at the time. But I didn’t have experience other than doing musicals before I had applied to drama school…. I saw my dad act when I was growing up, and I saw him do things, and I very much enjoyed watching him, but it was never something that I was like, ‘Oh, that’s the thing! I’m going to go do that.’ But I think he’d shout at me if I said that I didn’t get the acting bug from him.” 

He’s been taking his overnight international fame in stride.
“The obvious answer is that that is something that just takes adapting to. It’s not something that you learn in drama school. I have amazing friends both in the acting community and outside of it, and a family that keeps me, I think, grounded.” 

He doesn’t see much difference between acting for stage or screen.
“I’ve always kind of felt that acting onstage and screen, the principles are still the same. It’s about understanding the character that you’re playing, doing your homework, and trying to use the tools that you’ve learned or that you naturally have to try and convey that character with as much honesty as you can. And yes, there are modulations, but I think the fundamental principles are the same. So I tried to hold onto that. I feel like if I had gone into “Normal People” feeling like I had to totally change how I acted onstage, I would’ve blown it because I had no experience working in front of the camera.” 

“Normal People” director and executive producer Lenny Abrahamson makes his audition room comfortable for actors.
“The process of walking to that audition was actually more nerve wracking than the audition itself, which I think is a testament to Lenny’s capacity to just make you feel totally comfortable and feel like you’re your best self in an audition setting. And then there was a horrendous Christmas break where you feel like the momentum is starting to gather behind you, and then everybody quite rightly goes to see their family and enjoys Christmas. And then there was chemistry reads after Christmas, two sets of chemistry reads, and I was the only boy called back for the first one. But they hadn’t offered me the part. That was obviously an amazing phone call to get, but also a really odd position to be in because you feel like it’s so close, but it’s totally not yours. But then they offered me the part between the first and second chemistry read.” 

Chemistry came naturally between he and Edgar-Jones.
“[Daisy and I] didn’t spend a huge amount of time together. We spent the guts of two weeks, but it wasn’t actually really discussed, the production wasn’t like, ‘Now you guys go off and spend time together and get to know each other.’ I think there was an understanding, and I don’t know where it came from, that me and Daisy would just fundamentally get on. And I think sometimes it can be detrimental to kind of force chemistry onto two people when sometimes if you let things breathe and sit and just trust that these two people understand the characters in a team perspective, in the sense that my version of Connell totally slots into Daisy’s, and vice versa. And then ultimately just trusting that we’re good people who respect each other and who ultimately, when given the right [circumstances], over time, we’ll be friends and pals and all of those things.”

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