The Stars of ‘Normal People’ on Hulu’s ‘Faithful’ Adaptation of Marianne & Connell’s Love Story
Based on Sally Rooney’s novel by the same name, the series begins streaming Wednesday, April 29 on Hulu with all 12 half-hour episodes available for viewing. Following Connell and Marianne throughout their youth as teens swimming in vastly different social circles, the action carries on into adulthood as they attend Trinity College together and beyond.
Drawn together and pulled apart at various points in time, these two individuals tackle depression, abusive backgrounds and more. Ahead of the show’s arrival, Edgar-Jones and Mescal provide some insight on the connection between their characters Marianne and Connell, how faithful of an adaptation the series is to Rooney’s book and much more.
What should people know about Marianne and Connell who haven’t read Sally Rooney’s novel?
Daisy: Marianne and Connell are two individuals that are incredibly truthful and real, and I think most people who have read the book or will watch the series can see some of themselves in either Marianne or Connell or both. I would say that they’re both characters that are hard not to relate to.
Paul: And also, if you haven’t read the book, read the book. Do yourself a favor.
Connell and Marianne have a deep emotional connection — what draws them together?
Paul: I think it’s the fact that they fancy each other, basically. They have a physical connection, but also they have this thing where their minds are on this elevated level where they feel like they can connect and communicate and talk about things that they can’t with other people, and I think that’s what ultimately draws them together.
Daisy: They have this honesty of communication that is very unique to them. They are two individuals who are able to elevate each other in lots of ways when they talk. But they also are able to massively miss each other because they have this deep inner life which kind of takes over sometimes instead of actually communicating.
How did you foster a bond behind the scenes to make some of Marianne and Connell’s more intimate moments less awkward?
Daisy: We’re very lucky that we always got on very well as people. We’re really good friends, thank goodness.
Paul: Thank the Lord.
Daisy: And then also we were lucky with those scenes in particular, we have an intimacy coordinator who allowed for a safe environment, which meant that we could relax and try and do those things because it’s a very vulnerable place to put yourself in. When you have a lot of love behind the camera, it allows for you to create that intimacy correctly because you are not feeling under pressure or anxious like you’re being made to do something you’re not entirely comfortable with. So having her was a really brilliant tool.
How faithful is the show’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel?
Paul: It’s a show that I think really does capture the spirit of the book. In certain places, it allows more space than the book in the sense that you spend six hours of footage with these two characters. It is an adaptation of the book.
Daisy: Yeah. I think the book is so special and it’s such a wonderful read and you learn so much, when you read it, about yourself. I think it’s something everyone should read. It’s faithful tonally. It’s really raw and naturalistic. And doing that with prepared back dialogue and with saying less, I think, is really clever. You still go away feeling the same that you did when you read the book. Or else I hope you do. It’s quite hard to be objective.
The book relies on internal thoughts and inner dialogue. Was it difficult approaching scenes without some kind of narration?
Paul: That’s a big challenge, but it’s also a really fun acting challenge to know the book and have these streams of pages where it’s describing what’s going on inside each of the characters’ heads. And then to now have the opportunity to communicate these massive internal feelings with a look or a breath or a gesture, and I think that’s a real hard thing to do, but also a really fun challenge as well.
Daisy: Yeah, and I also think that it’s a real wonderful thing to allow an audience to empathize with your character and not feel the need to over-explain how they’re feeling. I think we can all relate to what it feels like to feel heartbreak. But most of the time when we’re going through that, we don’t talk about it. We just feel it. So I think it’s nice to allow an audience to piece together what the character is thinking without being told exactly what they are thinking.
Sally Rooney wrote for the show as well — were you able to bounce ideas off of her on set?
Daisy: We’re both such massive fans of Sally. She’s such a lovely person. I met her for the first time at the read through and she was so lovely. She is such a brilliant collaborator because she trusted [the directors] to do the filmmaking parts [and] us, which was an amazing thing to feel.
Paul: To feel that level of trust from somebody who’s created these people — she’s created Connell and Marianne — and I never felt like she wasn’t onboard with the choices me and Daisy were making. I think that’s just a real confidence boost going into the shoot when she feels like you’re the right people for the job.
This show deals with depression and other heavy topics. What kind of measures were taken to portray this onscreen?
Paul: Yeah, I think for both me and Daisy they were really important sections to get right because it’s not something that is alien to our friend groups. I feel like when you’re playing Connell or Marianne, you’re representing your friends to a certain degree because everybody recognizes themselves in Connell and Marianne and I definitely felt pressure to get that right.
In terms of preparing, it’s just about rereading and rereading the book to understand why his brain works in such a way that facilitates that kind of downward spiral. And then it does make it a little bit easier that it was towards the end of the shoot and we’d lived in Connell and Marianne’s shoes for quite a bit of time. I just found that period of time really upsetting, because you fall in love with the people that you’re playing and then you see them in such a dark emotional state and you want to grab them and shake them and tell them, “Look, this is only episode 10, there’s two more episodes to go…” But yeah, fundamentally they’re quite difficult to film because you want to get the truth of the emotion into it. And I hope we did that.
Daisy: I completely agree, and I think reading the book was really helpful because especially with Marianne, there’s a large amount of her that I found hard to access. And [she’s] quite different from me, so I was relying on the wonderful detail that is in the book to help, and also on the filmmakers, directors Lenny [Abrahamson] and Hettie [Macdonald], in helping explore that stuff and access it properly. We were in very safe hands when it came to those kind of scenes.
Speaking of Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald, they each directed six episodes. Did you notice a difference between filming both halves of the series?
Daisy: Yeah, I mean I think there’s a natural kind of shift in the dynamic when it comes to [Marianne and Connell]. In block one they’re kind of always still together, and block two they’re alone, they’re apart for a lot more of it. So it was really lovely to get two different perspectives. And both Lenny and Hettie are incredibly talented and brought stuff out of Paul and I that we didn’t know we had access to, which is amazing.
They worked in different ways and it was really exciting to learn about that. Block one was quite handheld which was brilliant for when they’re younger because the camera was more excitable, and then block two everything was on a rig so it was a lot more smooth and kind of grown up and it felt like the camera had aged with them. So I thought that was really cool to kind of learn about the two different ways you can tell a story with just the camera alone.
Paul: We were absolutely privileged to work with such amazing directors, and there was a huge amount of commonality between them and I think it was the fact that they trusted both me and Daisy. It just gives you a natural confidence boost when you’re looking at people who are as talented as they are kind of going, “We value your opinion, we value your thoughts on these characters.” You couldn’t write it up. It was just a bit of a dream five months to be working with those people.
Normal People, Series Premiere, Wednesday, April 29, Hulu