Sally Rooney’s Normal People has made it to the small screen just two years after it became the most-talked-about book of 2018. And finding the perfect Marianne and Connell was perhaps the most important challenge of adapting the novel which has already become an integral coming of age love story for a generation and no doubt will be for generations to come.
Challenging it was for showrunners Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Ed Guiney (The Favourite), and Emma Norton (The Lobster).
Connell came to them much sooner than Marianne. Paul Mescal embodies everything about Connell; he’s effortlessly charming, handsome, and carries a rare vulnerability – an integral part of the man in Rooney’s best-seller.
Marianne, however, was more complicated which perhaps isn’t too much of a surprise to anyone who’s read Normal People before. There are many layers to Marianne and each one is indisposable.
Thankfully, Daisy Edgar-Jones’ friend was auditioning for Normal People in her kitchen. However, said friend didn’t know that in turn actress was inspired to audition too.
‘I came a bit later than Paul,’ Daisy told Metro.co.uk. ‘I had heard about they were making it into as a series because my friend had auditioned for it in my kitchen.
‘I was in my bedroom and I was listening in. I was like, “Oh, that sounds good.” Then a month later I got myself a tape through. I just really loved the scenes we got given, she just seemed like a really interesting character.
‘So as soon as I send that off, I didn’t have much time to prepare because I was in the middle of a job, so I just kind of filmed it at lunchtime and sent it off and then I read the book. Then just the stakes were massively high because I just loved it so much and because I was auditioning.
‘it was quite an intense thing to read because I was really imagining myself as the character.’
With Paul already a firm booking as Connell, Daisy was sent to Ireland. She may have been a perfect Marianne, but together, were they the right Marianne and Connell?
‘I just had to wait around all day getting increasingly more terrified,’ Daisy continued. ‘I couldn’t eat anything – I was bricking it. And then I went in and I had my audition and I kind of relaxed straight away because I think Lenny is just very good at making a room feel productive and not like we’re kind of being tested or passing a driving exam, which is nice. So we ended up just having a really fun audition.’
Paul was studying at Trinity College Dublin when whispers that Hollywood bigwigs were on the hunt for Connell started to ripple.
‘I was doing a play in Dublin at the time that had a lot of young actors in it,’ Paul told us. ‘There was a lot of young people in our cast all furiously reading a book. So I stayed at the side and watched people walking around saying, “I think I’m Connell.” That was before Christmas of last year and then I met Lenny for the second round and I remember walking to the audition like, “F**k.”
‘Then I was the only guy called back to the first set of chemistry reads, but they didn’t give me the part by then – it was awful. And before the next round of chemistry reads, they put me out of my misery, offered it to me, then I met Daisy and she was amazing. And then that was it.’
Daisy and Paul have big boots to fill. The pressure is on. Normal People is as precious to its biggest fans as Tolkien, Austin, or Kerouac have been to millions before Rooney.
Skeptics, however, need not worry. Daisy and Paul are every inch of Marianne and Connell.
‘I’m proud of what we’ve done, but I am also aware that, you know, you’re not going to please everyone and, and it’s, it’s going to be heartbreaking for some people who imagined Marianne blonde,’ laughed Daisy.
Paul chuckled: ‘On social media you see 100 people saying, “Oh they’re exactly what I imagined!” And then there’s a guy who just says, “Who are the people and why are they playing these characters?”
‘I think the fact that both myself and Daisy care what people think, I think that’s a good sign. It’s also weird being in it and also being a massive fan of the book. It’s just a really difficult place to be going into an audience seeing it, I think.’
Normal People is available to stream on BBC iPlayer now and will air on BBC One Mondays at 9pm.
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