"I'm confident we've done it justice." Actor Paul Mescal on playing Connell in the new TV version of Sally Rooney's Normal People
"It was just really nice to play them when they're tentative and full of love."
Actor Paul Mescal is reflecting on his role as Connell in the eagerly-anticipated BBC/Hulu adaptation of Normal People.
Sally Rooney's celebrated novel of the same name was released in 2018, and was long-listed for the Man Booker prize. The story follows mismatched teenage couple Connell and Marianne from the end of their school days in Mayo through their time at college in Dublin.
Rooney co-produced and was a scriptwriter on the new TV adaptation, which was co-directed by Oscar nominee Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald. It's produced by Element Pictures, the Irish company behind the likes of Room and The Favourite.
The new series begins on RTÉ on April 28, and ahead of its debut Paul Mescal spoke to Her about living up to fans' expectations of what is a much loved book.
The novel, told from Connell and Marianne's points of view, provides the reader with plenty of descriptions as to what is going on in the central characters' heads at the time – something which Paul found daunting when filming began.
"I found that slightly scary at the start, because you obviously have all [of their insights] in the book; for all those big scenes, you can kind of jump between their perspectives," he told Her.
"[But] in the filming of it, you kind of just have got to hope that all that internal monologue is banked somewhere inside you. And I think that Lenny and Hettie were really supportive in terms of not trying to show that, or over explain to an audience what is going on in Connell and Marianne's heads.
"That's why [the characters] are so infuriating and accessible, from an audience perspective. You see their miscommunications, but they're not aware of it, because if they were showing those things to each other, they would pick up on it. I think it was about dialling it back and dialling it down, and making it as accessible as possible."
Paul said that the source novel was a "constant companion" for him for nearly 10 months.
"I'd heard about the book, and everyone was raving about it. I got the side sent through for the audition, and then I read the book very quickly. And then through the whole audition process, it was a constant process of rereading it from, say, January to once we finished in October."
He thinks the relatability of both Connell and Marianne is – at least, in part – why so many people love the book.
"Definitely that whole kind of being sporty and academic at school, that kind of stuff would have been close to the bone for me. And that transition into college where your safety net of your friends and your social position is suddenly null and void, and you have to start again from scratch – that whole section of the book was really accessible to me."
As for his favourite scene from the series, it's the same as one of his favourites from the book.
"I have loads of them, but the scene where they meet again for the first time in Trinity, upstairs in the apartment – that's one of my favourite scenes in the book, and I just think it was handled so well by Lenny," he said. "And the music choices, having seen it all, it all adds to it. It was just really nice to play them when they're tentative and full of love."
Normal People is one of the most highly-anticipated series' of the year – and Paul admitted that while he's confident they have done the book and the characters justice, he's slightly feeling the nerves.
"We've been given the best kind of tools in which to do that with the script, with the directors that we've got to work with, and Element. But I think the closer that we're getting, the more nervous you get. There's just this weird kind of energy among fans of the book; they have very clear understandings of the book and who they are, because it's so well written.
"And I am confident that we've done it justice, but I'm also kind of nervous and hope that people like it, especially the fans of the book."
- Normal People debuts on RTÉ One on April 28.