‘Normal People’ – Hulu brings Sally Rooney’s bestseller to life
Marianne and Connell are lifelong Irish friends who can’t stay out of each other’s orbits – or beds.
As played by British actress Daisy Edgar Jones (“War of the Worlds,” “Cold Feet”) and newcomer Paul Mescal in the 12-episode, half-hour drama series “Normal People,” premiering Wednesday, April 29, on Hulu, they’re small-town teens in the west of Ireland who meet when his mother goes to work for hers as a housekeeper.
A friendship soon develops, followed by a first kiss and then intimacy but as always with young love, the relationship is complicated. They’re polar opposites – he gregarious, popular and an athlete; she dour, intimidating and a loner – and determined to keep their casual hook-ups secret.
The tables turn when both head off separately to Trinity College in Dublin, where she blossoms into an independent young woman with her own friends, lovers and pursuits and he is content to stay in the background, shy and uncertain. Through it all, though, the underlying bond – both emotional and physical – remains, one they have trouble acknowledging.
The story is based on Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel of the same name, which served as something of a bible for both young actors as they prepared for their roles, as they told a recent gathering of journalists in Pasadena, Calif.
“I was terrified after reading it,” Mescal says, “in the sense that you go for jobs all the time and you read the (scripts) and you try and go, ‘Oh, how do I go about playing this?’ But after I’d read it, I was like, ‘Oh, I have a fairly clear idea in my head how I want to go about doing this.’ And that adds its own pressure, because the ball is kind of in your court in that regard … . You’ve got all the kind of interior thoughts there, and then you just try and bring it into the kind of physical space of having those things going on in the back of your head, but not feeling the pressure to play them in a physical sense.”
Jones didn’t read the book until her second audition and first with Mescal, but she says it helped to quickly forge a relationship with her co-star, whom she didn’t know previously.
“I always felt that when we came to do a scene, I think we both had a kind of very similar instinct in what we wanted to kind of get and take from the scene,” she says. “But I think something that was quite funny is having the book – the chapter flips, obviously, from different perspectives so sometimes you were coming to a scene knowing exactly what your internal dialogue is, but also having an understanding of what the other character is seeing you as.
“Because I think that’s a real theme of the book,” she continues, “is kind of your vision of who you think you are as opposed to who you actually are. And so that was quite funny, because sometimes we’d be coming to a scene, and I’d be going, ‘Gosh, Connell is reading her as really cold, but I wonder what Marianne really is feeling,’ because I think she probably doesn’t realize that that’s how she’s coming across. So balancing that was really interesting.”