Hulu’s Normal People dropped on Wednesday, and within hours viewers were moved by the quiet beauty and devastation in the main characters’ relationship.
Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal) can’t seem to escape each other, nor do they want to, but they struggle to find the contentment that love promises to bring. Mashable spoke to Mescal and Edgar-Jones ahead of the show’s premiere about what makes a relationship like this so intriguing and what it means to be soulmates — if that’s even possible.
Mashable: What attracted you to these characters? Were you were familiar with them from the book?
Daisy Edgar-Jones (Marianne): I read the book, actually, after my first self tape and before my chemistry read. Just from the [scene] alone, I really loved the character. I thought she was really funny, and a bit odd, and I really was excited to learn more about her. And then the book is, it was just the most incredible experience reading it. I really fell in love with the whole story and how simple it was, and just how Marianne was sort of flawed in many ways,
Paul Mescal (Connell): I think it’s very hard not to be attracted to the character when you’re reading in the context that you might be playing [him]. There’s so many great scenes in the book that when I was reading it, I was imagining how fun they would be to play as an actor. A very attractive book, I think from an acting perspective.
The whole of the story rests really a lot on Marianne and Connell’s dynamic and it was really important to get that right.
There must be some pressure coming in to portray a relationship where there are fans, there are readers who are familiar with it. And you need leads with convincing chemistry for a show like this. It’ll just fall apart without that. Were you aware of that going in?
DEJ: Yeah, definitely. The whole of the story rests really a lot on Marianne and Connell’s dynamic and it was really important to get that right. Paul and I were very lucky that that kind of was there pretty much from the start. We both had a very similar understanding of the way they interact and who those characters were with each other. And that meant that we had a very sort of easy rhythm. You can kind of see the difference, when both characters are on their own or with other people, it always feel a bit off kilter, which is really interesting.
What do you think makes a good romantic duo?
DEJ: Oh, that’s a nice question.
PM: Yeah, I don’t think we’ve had that question. I think that they find each other intellectually stimulating, which I think is the base level. I think you can absolutely fancy someone on a physical level, but ultimately, if you are intrigued by their intellectual capacity, that’s going to elevate the relationship and I think that’s really very present in Normal People… If I have to pick one trait that I think is essential for that kind of relationship-based drama and relationships in general, [it] will be that.
DEJ: Yeah. And I would say for some relationships in general, which I think Marianne and Connell really do on the whole, is they like bringing out the best in each other in a lot of ways. Marianne kind of encourages Connell to pursue his talent and writing, and Connell kind of allows Marianne to accept who she is and to feel that she’s worthy of love. And I think even though they do miscommunicate, they sometimes aren’t always the best, they on the whole bring a lot of good to each other, which I think is should be the sort of gold standard for most relationships.
And the relationship, because we follow them for so many years, goes through a lot of different stages. To someone unfamiliar with the text, how would you describe the relationship between these two characters?
DEJ: It’s hard to put your finger on it. For me, the part of the novel that I really remember stuck out in my brain was — I think it’s the final chapter… Marianne is thinking about what her school friends must be thinking when they see Marianne and Connell kiss on New Year’s Eve at the end of the book, and what she thinks is the fact that it must be strange for them to see these two people who, for whatever reason, can’t seem to leave each other alone.
I think that’s kind of perfect for them because they have such a wonderful dynamic, and as Paul said, they are both intellectually very bright and able to talk about things on such a deep level. But on the other hand, even though they can communicate so intelligently about huge, massive subjects, they seem to not be able to even do the simpler stuff sometimes of just being honest about what they feel. I think that just two characters who just are fascinated with each other and, I guess soulmates is the only way I could really think about it.
I’m so glad Daisy that you said soulmates, because I find it very fascinating in fiction, and obviously in real life too, that you don’t always end up with your soulmate. And that some of those stories tend to be even more interesting. With television and books you have the opportunity to explore that relationship differently, to explore what would happen if they didn’t get the timing right, or if they did get it right for a little bit.
DEJ: I think that’s precisely it, and it’s precisely because they’re soulmates that the ending is as it is. They love each other so much that they’re able to let each other go if it’s for the best, if it means the bettering of each other. Marianne, she knows that the pain of loneliness will be like nothing compared to the pain of feeling unworthy. I think she loves Connell enough that she wants to give him goodness by giving him the gift of encouraging him to go to New York because that’s not something he’d be able to make the move to do on his own. And I think that’s what true love is, that you can love someone enough that you can sort of move past the painfulness to give them the best.
PM: I also think that it’s probably more true to life that … to be able to actually end up with your soulmate is a rarity — even to find your soulmate, and I’m not even sure if I believe in that as a concept. But I think in the case of Marianne and Connell, I think they struggle to find somebody as well-suited to each other.
Were certain scenes that really stood out to you, that you still remember now from production as particularly interesting or challenging… One thing that comes to mind, Paul, is your scene with your therapist. That’s a really intense emotional one.
PM: I think that what me and Daisy were really lucky with is that you could pick any one of those kind of big scenes where they’re in [conversation], talking to each other. Both Connell and Marianne [together] and Connell and Marianne in isolation, and you’d be lucky if you get to play one of those scenes throughout a series or a film. There’s normally one scene per episode that is gigantic or is like seven or eight pages long. The counselor scene was one that I really wanted to get right, because I think it’s a beautiful depiction of somebody — beautiful is definitely not the right word to use, but I think it’s an authentic insight into somebody suffering from depression.
Also, I think those big scenes between Connell and Marianne are real studies in the complexities of a relationship. It’s so hard to pick one because there’s so many of them, but I love the scene in episode 5 when they communicate very effectively and Connell apologizes for not inviting Marianne to the debs. It’s funny, I think that’s one of Lenny’s favorite scenes as well, because I remember in the shooting process that day was just gorgeous, like we had really lovely rehearsal of that scene and mine and Daisy’s input was — you definitely feel it in the scene and it’s just really nice to see that on screen.
DEJ: I think challenging-wise I definitely found all the scenes when Marianne… isn’t with Connell quite challenging. Because Paul and I had such a shorthand, really, by the end of the process of doing scenes together, I think I found it very difficult when the characters were apart and and in a dark place to kind of to play that. I guess particularly in Sweden when Marianne makes certain choices, it’s a tricky thing to access.
As Paul said, there were so many big scenes that I guess are flags when you read the book, that really stand out in your mind. Doing them always felt strange when he stepped on set because it was like stepping inside the book and thinking “Oh, gosh, okay, hope we can do it as well as as the book does it.” So certainly stuff like that I always find a bit daunting.
The show does a really good job with with the sex, with the scenes of physical intimacy. It’s simultaneously very sexy and very just lovely. I was curious how that was emphasized throughout the script and production because that’s a really difficult thing to get right.
DEJ: They so wonderfully written in the in the book, and it was really important to do them justice in the series, because I think what’s great about them is they’re never kind of for the sake of it. They’re always carrying on a certain narrative or a story beat that’s really important to those two characters. So I’m really glad that they come across the way we we wanted them to and Paul and I were very lucky that when we filmed them we had a brilliant intimacy coordinator on set who was in charge of the heavy lifting when it came to choreography and stuff like that, which meant we only ever had to worry about what exactly we were communicating acting-wise. We were very lucky to have that kind of safe environment to do so.
PM: Yeah, totally. I can’t imagine doing those scenes without an intimacy coordinator because I think, ultimately, we just wouldn’t do as good a job because we’d be way too self-conscious. The power of having an intimacy coordinator is that it’s somebody whose job is to is to specialize in making those scenes feel as authentic and as real as possible, while still empowering both myself and Daisy to feel creatively engaged but also incredibly safe. I would just implore any production company both for the benefit of their own TV show or film, to employ intimacy coordinators, and I think, to be honest, in the next few years, it’ll become a necessity rather than a choice.
Normal People is now streaming on Hulu.