Daisy Edgar-Jones, the co-lead of Normal People, delves into her time on the set and all that she gained from the experience as an actress and as a person. She also shares her joy in reading the book and other literature, and how that has inspired a lot of what she wants to do with her career. Plus what she is planning for the Golden Globes.
Awards Daily: Have you and Paul Mescal teased each other about you getting the Globe nomination and him getting the Emmy nomination?
Daisy Edgar-Jones: [Laugh] We haven’t spoken about it, but yeah it’s funny it’s so interesting because we were such a team when we did the show, but it’s cool that we have both been recognized. I am so glad that the series has been recognized as well.
AD: From the first scene of the first episode of the show when you and Paul Mescal look at each other you can feel the attraction and the interest that you have for each other. What went into that scene?
DEJ: Gosh, you know that was the first scene we ever filmed, so actually in truth a lot of nerves. We had had a week or so of rehearsals beforehand, but most of it really was us developing a friendship. More than discussing scenes we just hung out a lot and tried to get comfortable with each other. But we were obviously both quite nervous and worried about that first scene. It’s hard to put my finger on, but Paul and I just sort of have this shorthand when it comes to those characters. It’s almost like we both have the exact same instinct of how their dynamic is, and that was very present from our first chemistry read. So yeah, I think when they said, ‘Action,’ we started to be those characters and it was just sort of there. It was interesting because, before ‘Action,’ we were nervous just getting into position but as soon as we were able to be Marianne and Connell there was just this comfortable stillness and line of communication that we just got quite immediately, which I was so grateful for.
AD: Are you virtually attending the Golden Globes, do you know what your situation is going to be?
DEJ: Yeah, virtual it will be from the waist up.
AD: Do you have a speech ready?
DEJ: Not yet, I haven’t really thought that far ahead. I always worry about jinxing it, so I wonder if I’m going to leave it as a spontaneous thing if it were to happen. To even be able to be there, it’s still something I’m getting my head around. It’s the craziest thing.
AD: Are you still going to dress up or are you going to do a more casual look with virtual?
DEJ: I think I’m going to wear a dress because I haven’t had much of an opportunity to dress up. I think I’m going to take it as far as I can and dress up to the nines.
AD: So, much of your role involves intense emotion, be it the feelings Marianne and Connell have for each other, or Marianne’s depression and desire for sadomasochism. What did you do to get into that headspace?
DEJ: I think we were so lucky to have Sally Rooney’s novel, which I am a huge fan of. There’s something so beautifully raw and in depth about the way she writes her characters. And as an actor it was such a privilege because you were coming to scenes with so many different perspectives of your character. You had the perspective of the characters from their own inner life because you had Marianne’s chapters about how she felt she was perceived, how she felt she navigated the world. Then you had the perspective of Connell and how he viewed Marianne. I always find that very interesting about how different our idea of ourselves is to how we are actually perceived.
So when it came to those rather tough scenes, that are very different from me as a person, I had such an amazing depth of knowledge about why Marianne felt that way into how that could be played both from showing her inner life, and also showing that through the way it would be looked at by other characters. So it was really conversation with both the book and getting that detail onto the script and also the camera, because certain shots I was able to show one side of the feeling, and certain wider shots perhaps I would show how that character was being perceived by the other. So I was able to play with the camera a little bit on that, but we also had such amazing directors that were really helpful to guide us through those trickier scenes.
AD: You also have an upcoming film Where the Crawdads Sing. Can you tell us about that?
DEJ: Yes!!!!! I am so excited about it!! It’s based on the novel of the same name by Delia Owens, which is one of the most exquisitely written beautiful stories I have read in such a long time. I was such an avid reader as a child and I always used to love imagining myself as those characters in that world, so to have the chance to bring to life another literary character that I adore just like I did with Marianne I just can’t believe it. It really feels unreal because I was such a fan of that book. So, yeah, it starts filming in a month and we will be out in the marshes. I’m just so excited! Kya is such a complex and interesting person, and I can’t wait to delve into her world.
AD: That actually kind of goes into my next question. Are there any other projects of a certain character or story that you were really interested in pursuing?
DEJ: Oh, that’s a lovely question. I think that I like the idea of bringing to life literary characters even though it is a lot of pressure if you’re playing a character that has already been realized in the minds of the reader and have already fallen in love with and have an idea of. So there is an element we’re doing that is nerve-wracking because you really hope that you are able to satisfy what the readers want when they watch the film. I think I would love to bring a classic heroine to life, perhaps a Jane Austen period piece type heroine. I would love to try my hand at doing that because I think those stories are so wonderful. I’d like to continue on that path and find some more classical heroines and see if I can bring them to life in my own way. That would be cool.
AD: You’ve done a lot of television in your career. Is that something you’re interested in doing more of, like getting involved in another series?
DEJ: Yeah, I haven’t done too many films. Most of my work has been in long-form storytelling. I did an indie film years ago, it was one of my favorite jobs. I’m working on a film at the moment. I feel like with a film, because you only have an hour and a half to two hours to create and tell this character, there is a more of a kind of sense of who they are immediately. I really enjoy that because I think style as well plays into that so there is a kind of aesthetic that is present in a film. But I think now so many amazing filmmakers are coming to TV, and I also really enjoy having the chance to subtly develop someone over however many hours. You do not have to give everything away. We can learn who this person is over a longer course of time. I do enjoy that process too. I would definitely love to do more television and do more films. I’d love to do it all!
AD: You mentioned a little bit about the directors on Normal People. What was the advice they gave you? Because you had two different directors for the same story.
DEJ: There is sort of a natural break in the book, almost a shift in mood so there was something quite lovely about having a fresh pair of eyes and to have Hettie (Macdonald) come in because she had a different idea of those characters as they have grown up a little bit. What was wonderful is that they were both incredibly actor-oriented. They were all about the character, all about the scene, about making sense of the emotional beats, which was so helpful for Paul and I because we were filming out of sync, and we were filming twelve half-hour episodes, and we were trying to track their growth.
I think to have worked with Lenny Abrahamson is one of the biggest gifts of my life. He is just the most amazing person and director and the same with Hettie. He was very brilliant at really finding the joy in younger Connell and Marianne and the naivete of them, and the awkwardness of first young love, and the awkwardness of not loving yourself very much as you’re growing up because you don’t know who you are or what you want to be or who you should be. All of those emotions. Then Hettie was very brilliant at delving into the darkness of them as they grow up and mature and how they hold themselves differently having the context of these last few years. So yeah, they both have very different perspectives, but they were both very actor-oriented, which was such a joy for Paul and I to have worked with them.
AD: With the finale, some people have talked about wanting to see more of this, some are happy where it ended. I am in the I am happy where it ended. I thought it was a perfect summation of the story. But what was that experience in that final scene like for you?
DEJ: Well, that was crazy too, because that was actually the last thing Paul and I ever film together. We filmed that a week before lockdown, that was a pickup that we did. So there was something in that we weren’t just saying goodbye as the characters but also saying goodbye to the experience and joy we found playing those characters. There is a quote that Connell says about early school Marianne and Connell was a perfect time in my life, to be honest. And strangely enough, I kind of feel like the filming of Normal People was a perfect time in my life. So it was interesting when we came to that final scene because both of us had learned so much about ourselves and grown so much having had the opportunity to play these two characters and having met all the people that we did. It was such a wonderful set to be on, such a brilliant crew who were so kind and had now become our best friends.
So yeah, there was a mixture of feelings on that day. We weren’t just playing the scene but we were also saying goodbye to the experience as well as ourselves. It was a beautiful scene, so simple, and those are my favorite to do and watch actually, when two people just sit opposite each other and talk. Nothing massive is happening, it is just two people really speaking to each other. Which we don’t always do. We tend to talk around things or at each other or have so many stimuli that distract us. So something about the rawness of two people just looking into each other’s eyes and being honest, I thought was so joyful to play and I always find it very joyful to watch. It’s what I loved about the book–Sally captures that so well in her writing.
AD: That was beautifully said. Was there anything you wanted to leave us with?
DEJ: Just thank you for the nomination, it’s crazy! That would probably be the main thing. [Laughs]