Daisy Edgar-Jones on ‘Normal People’, Her Journey With Paul Mescal, and That ‘Fleabag’ Crossover

     July 12, 2020

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With the upcoming award season shining a spotlight on exceptional programming and performances, even though there are a lot of TV shows and various networks and streaming services with countless shows to choose from, there are still some real stand-outs. One such performance is that of Daisy Edgar-Jones in Normal People as Marianne, one half of the complicated relationship the Hulu series (adapted from the acclaimed 2018 Sally Rooney novel) tracks from the end of their school days in a small town in the west of Ireland to their undergraduate years at Trinity College.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Edgar-Jones speaks about how deeply the romance between Marianne and fellow protagonist Connell (Paul Mescal) has connected with viewers, when she fell in love with this character, taking this intense journey with Mescal, creating a safe space on set for the more intimate moments, shooting the final scenes between their characters, and whether she might like to revisit these characters at another point in their lives. She also talked about the recent Comic Relief sketches and that unexpected Fleabag crossover, what she’d like to do next in her career, and so much more.

COLLIDER: Technically, this is a show about teenagers who fall in love, and there have been many stories told about that. Why do you think this story, in particular, is connecting with and deeply affecting so many people?

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Image via Hulu

DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I think what it is, really, is that often when you have shows about young love and growing up, it’s looked back on as light-hearted and not trivial, but it doesn’t really handle young love and growing up with the depth and darkness that is truthful for most people. This show is about two young people, but their love is very mature, as are they. And the things that they battle with, when it comes to growing up, such as mental health and finding out who they are, are handled with incredible depth and truth. Sally [Rooney], the writer, doesn’t shy away from exploring the dark side of that. I think that’s what it is, really. It’s not a glossy or a glowy look at young love. It’s quite a raw and realistic version of it.

When and how did you realize the reaction that people were having to this series, and what’s it been like to hear the impression that this story and these characters have made on people?

EDGAR-JONES: So, my whole experience of people’s reactions to it has really been from my phone, and it weirdly felt quite immediate, when the show came out on BBC Three because, suddenly, I had lots of friends start to message me and people who I had known tell me that they were watching it. I’ve done the odd job before and have had the odd friend that says, “Oh, I saw you in this one.” But it really felt like, suddenly, there were a lot of people who I’d known that really wanted to talk about more than just the small stuff. They wanted to really dive into the story and it seems like they were fans of it, which was really cool and a very new feeling. That was pretty immediate, when texts started to come in. And then, the rest of it has been completely online. It was hard to see articles and register it as me that they were speaking about. It’s been a very, very odd few weeks, to be honest.

Everybody watching the show is falling in love with your characters, but at what point did you fall in love with your character?

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Image via Hulu

EDGAR-JONES: Unfortunately, I fell deeply in love with Marianne, way before I was cast. It was probably the worst thing because the pressure was so ridiculously high, when I went to that chemistry read. I really did feel that, if I didn’t get the chance to play her, I’d find it very hard to get over it, to be honest. Every now and then, you get those auditions that come your way, that you really fall in love with and you imagine your life with that person. And then, when you inevitably don’t get it, which is more often than not, it’s very hard to get over it. So, I fell in love with her when I read the book, which was in between my first audition and my chemistry read. I read it in a day and I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I thought she was really funny and deep and complex, and I was desperate to get the change to play her. And it was awhile before I got cast.

Is there a romance in film, TV, or even in a novel that you’ve connected to, as deeply as people are connecting with these characters?

EDGAR-JONES: I’m a big fan of romance novels. I always have. It’s the kind of story that I love. The first time I remember really loving a story like that was watching Romeo + Juliet by Baz Luhrmann. I don’t know if I connected so much to their experience, obviously, but I did really love the story. And then, I watched Blue Valentine, which is a really wonderful film that’s similar to Normal People, in that it doesn’t just show the glowy honeymoon period. It shows all the parts that come after that, and I really remember being so moved by it. So, I’ve loved romance, throughout my life. It’s the kind of story that I’ve always been interested in.

Because Paul Mescal was cast in this before you, and you read with him knowing that he’d be in the role, what was that first meeting with you guys? Was it something where you immediately felt the chemistry? What was that like, the first time you read with him?

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Image via Hulu

EDGAR-JONES: It was quite a strange experience because I had read the book so recently, and I’d fallen so much in love with those characters. Sally writes in such a way that you really feel very connected to them when you read it, and you feel like they’re really very much alive in your head and that they’re yours. I remember when I flew to my audition, I accidentally walked into one of the audition rooms when somebody else was in there and was like, “Oh, my god, sorry!” And I saw Paul sitting there and was like, “Oh, my god, that’s Connell.” I felt like I knew him because I’d read the story, which is so strange, but he was lovely. He came out and had a little chat with me, before we went into our audition, because I was obviously absolutely terrified, and he was very, very nice. I felt that I really understood Marianne, even just from that initial self-tape. Sometimes there are characters that you just feel you can unlock in a way that comes very easily, and I did feel that with Marianne. So, it was really exciting to be able to bring my version of her into the room and feel like Paul’s version of Connell was just so perfect, and their dynamic was how I’d imagined it, when I read the book. That was a real special thing. I relaxed very much into that audition, which doesn’t usually happen. Usually, you remain terrified throughout the rest of it, but I actually up enjoying it, which was nice.

Do you remember which scenes you had to read for the audition?

EDGAR-JONES: I’ve still got my initial self-tape on my phone. My initial self-tape was the scene at the start, when Marianne says to Connell, “Maybe you should give me grinds, Connell.” And then, one of the other scenes from my self-tape was The Golden Notebook scene, where she and Connell kiss, for the first time, so that was a strange one to do on my own, in a self-tape. But then, in my audition with Paul, we read the scene where Marianne tells Connell, “You should go to Trinity,” and the scene where they reunite, for the first time, at Trinity, when Marianne says, “Oh, you’re dating Rachel. Are you still together?” And then, I was also given a big monologue to do, when Marianne goes in on Mr. Kerrigan in class. It ended up being a bit smaller in the show, but it was a big old monologue, when Marianne was being mouthy.

You lived with this for quite a good chunk of time. Are there things that you miss about playing Marianne, or did you pack her in a box and put her away, when you said goodbye to her?

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Image via Hulu

EDGAR-JONES: Yeah, I really miss Marianne. Mostly, I miss the stillness that came with playing her. She’s a very quiet character, really. Even though she can be quite loud and abrasive, she’s incredibly thoughtful and deep. I miss the kind of quietness that came with playing her. She speaks in such a measured way and such a beautiful way. She really only ever says what needs to be said. She doesn’t over complicate anything. I guess I miss spending time empathizing with someone like her, and being able to be quiet and subtle. It’s been a strange few weeks because we’ve spoken so much about Normal People, but from a very different way, in talking about it retrospectively and from an objective place. So, I miss being in with her and living those scenes, if that makes any sense.

Did any of your own schooling experience, or anything that you’d heard from your friends influence your performance, at that time in Marianne’s life?

EDGAR-JONES: There was definitely stuff about her experience in school that I really vividly related to, particularly her really interesting observation of school, what that is, and the social ladder. I remember when I was at school, and where you landed on that ladder was the epicenter of your life. And then, suddenly, you go to college and you realize that actually it doesn’t matter. The mean girl isn’t necessarily the one with a lot of friends because people realize, pretty quickly, that she’s just quite mean and people don’t want to hang out with her. I remember that feeling of going to school and finding friends that I felt were like minded, and that I could grow into a shape that I’d become at school. And also, I never really cared too much about fitting in or being on that ladder, really. I’m similar to Marianne, in that way. I liked to observe it from the outside. Sometimes I probably would get more wrapped up about being on it then she did, but I didn’t care as much as I know some people may have. I’m similar to Marianne, in that way.

It seems like when you do a project like this, that delves deep into the relationship between your characters, that you can’t help but get close during filming. What was it like to share this experience with each other? How did the first day working together compare to the last day working together?

EDGAR-JONES: It’s funny because the first scene we shot was actually meant to be the first scene of the series. I think it now is a school scene, but initially, it was when Marianne asks him if he’d like to give her a grind, and she’s eating ice cream. I remember that day very vividly. It was not only a feeling of, “Can I even play this character?,” but it was also a first day of school feeling, where you’re like, “Can I make any friends, or is this going to be a really torturous four months?” I was very lucky that Paul and I have the most wonderful friendship, and that’s something that I’ll always treasure. I feel very lucky to have gone through this whole thing with him. Even just the surrealness of talking about the show and promoting it from our bedrooms in isolation, it’s wonderful to have shared it with Paul. I’m just so chuffed that people like the series as much as we enjoyed making it.

There’s a definite intimacy to this relationship. It’s not just that you guys have sex scenes together, but these are very intimate scenes between these two characters. What was it like to have an intimacy coordinator on set? How did that help with putting you at ease and helping you feel like you have a safe space to explore those moments?

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Image via Hulu

EDGAR-JONES: I cannot imagine shooting anything without an intimacy coordinator on set. It was so integral to the beauty of those scenes and the process of filming them. We already had a very wonderful crew and director who were always going to make sure that we were safe and looked after, but she created an open dialogue, whereby we were all able to speak honestly about what was important about the scenes and what we were trying to translate, in terms of emotional beats or narratives. She created that open dialogue, and it meant that we always felt that we had autonomy over certain things and we were never ever going to be pressured into doing something, not that we would have because it wasn’t that type of set or crew. It was just having an extra layer of safety, and it was amazing. She allowed us to be unselfconscious and safe. I think those scenes benefited, a hundred percent, from having her. I really think that has to be the gold standard now. I can’t imagine doing something without somebody like that to look after the actors, director and crew.

Was there a scene, a moment, or a day that you were most scared or most nervous about in doing this project, and then you were proud of yourself for just jumping in and doing it anyway?

EDGAR-JONES: That first day, you’re so self-conscious. You want to prove that you can do the more heavy stuff, or the laughter and the light-hearted stuff. You feel like you have to prove yourself, or I definitely did. Luckily, Lenny [Abrahamson] and Hettie [MacDonald] created such a wonderful, safe and happy environment on set, that was not pressurized. By the end of it, I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove because I felt safe in their hands.

What was it like to shoot the final scenes and to shoot their ending?

EDGAR-JONES: It felt very sad. It felt like we were saying goodbye to those characters. We actually re-shot that final scene, about a week before we went into lockdown, so we were very lucky to even get it. Just like Marianne talks about how much good they’ve done for one another, it felt like that show, and meeting Paul, and meeting Lenny, and meeting all of the cast and crew, did so much good for me. I feel like I fundamentally grew as a human being, which is what the whole story is about, with two people growing up. And so, it was quite funny to see that the final scene was actually like us, a whole year older. I love that final scene. I think you really get left with the same feeling when you finish the book. That’s one of the scenes that I’m most proud of.

You fell in love with these characters and you had this experience together throughout the shoot, but all you can do is give your performance and you don’t know what the finished product will look like. What was it like to see what this show turned out to be? How was it for you to watch and experience what you had done?

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Image via Hulu

EDGAR-JONES: That was one of the most insane feelings. We watched the first two episodes, just before we went to Italy, so we had about two weeks left of filming. When Paul and I watched it, it was so scary. It’s scary enough watching yourself, but we had invested so much in these characters and we loved them so much. It’s hard to know exactly what you’re even doing, when you’re playing it, and most of it gets completed in the edit. You don’t know what shots they’ll use, or how it will look. I just remember being so relieved because I actually found it easy to watch, which I didn’t expect. Watching yourself is never fun, especially during Episode 2, when there are parts of yourself that you’re not used to seeing. But I remember being able to watch it and being invested in the characters, and forgetting that they were me and Paul. That’s because of Lenny and all the creatives, that they’ve created such a world that you can be absorbed in. You forget about the day you had a cold, or that you only had five minutes to finish the scene, when you get so absorbed in the show. So, it was a big relief, if not a bit strange.

How are you with watching yourself? Is that something that’s very bizarre for you, or are you okay with watching yourself?

EDGAR-JONES: For a long time, I found it very, very difficult because I didn’t really have the confidence in myself, so I couldn’t help watching it without being like, “Oh, god, why did I say it like that? I wish we’d had 10 more minutes.” Often when you’re filming, you only have five minutes to get the really important shot of the scene, and it’s hard not to watch it and go, “Oh, god, I remember that day and the weather kept going wrong.” But with Normal People, strangely, I found it far easier to watch it without being so crippled by my self-consciousness, which was really brilliant. I think that’s because I’d had such a brilliant learning experience and had really gained a lot of confidence myself, but also was just so amazed by how they’d done it. I hadn’t really watched any playback, so I didn’t really know what it would look like or what it would sound like, and I got a bit more lost in it. There were obviously some things that I had to watch through my jumper, but on the hole, it wasn’t as bad as it usually is for me.

As challenging and weird as this new world is that we’re living in now, it’s also allowed for things like the sketches that you guys got to do for Comic Relief. How did you find out that that would happen?

EDGAR-JONES: That was a mad, old email. I just got a message from Lenny, saying that they’d come up with this concept for Comic Relief in Ireland, for raising some money, and would we like to be involved, and that Andrew Scott was going to be doing it. And I was like, “Oh, my god! Yes, please!” It was strange ‘cause, obviously, we all had to stay inches away, within the social distancing guidelines, so that was a bit surreal, but just really nice to be able to see real people, in real life. It was wonderful.

Could you ever have imagined, at any point, during making this show, that you would end up having a Fleabag crossover?

EDGAR-JONES: Absolutely not. I didn’t say this to him, at the time, but I’m a really big Andrew Scott fan, so I was really trying to keep my cool. And I’m a massive Fleabag fan, too. It was a little bit like trying to be cool, but finding it quite tricky.

It certainly seems fun and appropriate to get to share a scene with the Hot Priest and include Connell’s necklace, which became such a focal point of this show. Was it fun to have all of that, as you got to revisit these characters?

EDGAR-JONES: Yeah, it was fun because we were obviously still playing those characters, but there was an element of being able to enjoy the humor of it. It’s been interesting how parts of the show, that we didn’t even notice when we were filming it, have taken on a life of their own, like my fringe, Connell’s chain, and the fact that Connell says, “I suppose” a lot. It’s funny because it helps you become a little bit more objective about it. This is the other life that the show has, and I’m able to step back a little bit more and look at it from afar, rather than before, when it was so wrapped up in my experience of filming it and it was hard to be objective.

What was it like to see the older versions of these characters? Did it make you want to learn more about what had happened to these characters, in the time in between?

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Image via Hulu

EDGAR-JONES: Yeah, it’s so interesting because I think the show really captures that early flush of growing up, particularly that time of transitioning from school to college, which is a really big deal for a lot of people. That feeling of being in your early 20s and working out who you want to be, and sorting out your self-esteem, is something that we all can relate to, in some way. So, it would be interesting to see what that would look like, when it came to a different stage in their life, like their early 30s, but at the same time, I do also love that those characters are still very much alive and I don’t know what happens next. That’s also very special, in its own way. I’d be happy, either way.

Both you and Paul are both still pretty early in your careers. What did you learn about yourself, as an actor and as a person, from being a part of a production, playing these characters, and getting to really dig into such an intimate character study?

EDGAR-JONES: I learned a vast amount, really. It was my first real experience playing a lead, and it was a two-hander. I’d often played characters that were more on the surrounding periphery, so it was really interesting to then have a character that’s being observed quite closely, throughout the story. I learned a lot about the craft of it, when it came to screen acting, in particular, and what lenses you should use, and things like that, which I find really interesting, myself. More than anything, it was learning to have a bit more confidence. Until Normal People, I didn’t know if I had it in me to be able to do that. So, it was nice to go, “I can do this. I have it in me to play a character like this, and to do these types of scenes, and to work every day, and to be a lead.” It’s been a real nice thing to get a little bit more confidence in and trust my instincts a little bit more. That’s been a really wonderful thing to learn.

It’s easy to see why there might be a temptation to want to revisit these characters, at some point, and do some sort of sequel series where you pick back up with their lives.

EDGAR-JONES: Definitely. I definitely couldn’t let go of the accent for awhile. Those characters feel very alive, really, just like they did, when I read the book. I don’t feel like it’s me. I feel like it’s a very separate character to me, which is really interesting. I’d be curious to see what happens to them.

At this point, do you feel like you could go back and read the book, and not picture yourself and Paul?

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Image via Hulu

EDGAR-JONES: I don’t know. The book and the series go hand-in-hand. If you haven’t read the book, you can go back and read it and find out whole new depths of the story that you haven’t realized, from reading their internal monologues. And similarly with the book, you can watch the series and get a different perspective and view of them. I came to the book, knowing that I was auditioning for the part, so I’ve always pictured myself. I wish I hadn’t read it, so I could go back and read it again ‘cause it’s such a great book. I’m really jealous of anyone that hasn’t read it ‘cause I wish I could read it, for the first time again.

What are you looking to do next, in your career? Have you thought about the type of projects you’d like to do or the characters you’d like to play? Have you been reading a lot of scripts?

EDGAR-JONES: Yeah, I have been reading quite a lot of scripts. What I’m really interested in is the craft of filmmaking. First and foremost, is brilliant scripts and brilliant writing, which we were so lucky to have with Normal People. I’d love to find scripts that are as deep and complex and interesting as Normal People, and particularly female characters that are as layered and nuanced as Marianne, which would be really exciting. And I’m also really interested in working with filmmakers who have a real style or vision to them. I find that really interesting. I find the choice of music and grading and camera fascinating, in how that can completely make a story come alive. So, filmmakers with a real specific vision and style is something that I’d be really interested, so I could learn lots off of them.

Normal People is available to stream at Hulu.

Television