‘Normal People’ Breakout Star Paul Mescal on His Emmy Nod & the Show’s Impact
Hailed as one of TV’s most emotional shows this year, Normal People took viewers on one big roller-coaster ride following its Hulu debut this past April, and now its star Paul Mescal is nominated for an Emmy.
The breakout actor stole viewers’ hearts as Connell Waldron, one half of the show’s complicated romance which is made whole by Daisy Edgar-Jones‘s Marianne Sheridan. Following their early years as high schoolers in the county of Sligo, Normal People chronicles their connection as they continue onto Trinity College together in Dublin.
Delving into some truly dark and mental reflection, Mescal’s character and performance garnered critical acclaim which earned him a Emmy nod for Outstanding Actor in a Limited Series alongside the likes of Jeremy Irons and Mark Ruffalo, to name a few. Since Normal People‘s debut, Mescal has become a bit of a phenomenon himself, featuring in the latest Rolling Stones music video and teaming up with Fleabag‘s fan-favorite hot priest Andrew Scott for charity.
Below, Mescal opens up about his nomination, his process when it comes to hitting those emotional high notes, Normal People‘s impact on his own career and much more.
What was your initial reaction to learning about your Emmy nomination?
Paul Mescal: There was a lot of frantic breathing, trying to get in touch with family, and lots of laughing and borderline crying. It was all just very frantic for about 20, 25 minutes [Laughs].
Your acting career really began in theater. Did that have any influence or impact on your approach to the role of Connell?
Totally. Theater is the thing that I think essentially taught me [how to act]. I went to a drama school, which is focused predominantly on theater. I don’t know specifically exactly what it taught me, but it taught me the value of preparation, of really centering around your own character and looking at the minute details of how this person interacts with the world.
I think that that’s a particular focus in dramas; it definitely is in theater and the world around. It’s a really robust means of acting, one that I love doing, and will definitely go back to as soon as I can.
And speaking of drama, your character Connell goes to some really emotional places in Normal People. Was there any moment or scene that you were most excited to tackle? Any that intimidated you?
I think both of those things are kind of tied together. I was terrified of playing Connell from day one, but also what terrified me about him is how complicated he is and that’s also the fun part of playing somebody. You’re constantly worried that you’re not hitting the mark because the audience never really knows what Connell’s thinking, [like in scenes] with the therapist or if he’s really actively communicating with Marianne.
A lot of the time, he’s kind of in his own head and stuck there. So for all the reasons that I was excited about playing him, they were also the reasons that gave me anxiety. I knew it was going to be challenging to play somebody who’s that interior.
When it comes to playing into those darker moments, are there any rituals you practice behind the scenes to prepare? Is there any mindset you have to enter?
Yeah, I think it’s important. Each day is its own challenge. I don’t particularly like to be overly sad for the whole day, but it’s important to be in a general place where the scene is. But not to be stuck in it because I don’t think that’s particularly useful either. I think sometimes that can lead into being one note, or just the whole scene being sad.
Anything that’s well-written, like Normal People, wouldn’t tolerate that kind of means of working, I don’t think. That’s definitely another way of working that I’m interested in, but you definitely kind of have to go to a place in your head where you’re not like cracking jokes on set. Music’s a real help with that; you just kind of stick to a playlist and you’re not overly trying to stay in the mood, but the music itself does the work for you in between takes.
Music is something else you’re quite talented with as you play piano and sing. Do you have any desire to seek out roles that could showcase those talents?
Totally. Yeah, absolutely. It just has to be the right kind of project, but definitely. I love the music!
Apart from your nominations, what has been one of the most rewarding aspects of playing a role in Normal People?
The people that I’ve met, honestly. From members of the crew to Daisy [Edgar-Jones] and Lenny [Abrahamson] and Hettie [Macdonald] and producers on the show, people who I will know and will be great friends with for the rest of my life. Not that I know — I’ve only been on one set — but it did feel kind of singular enough that there was a really tight bond between everybody who was working on the show. But definitely, the people would be the things that I would take away from the experience.
Your career has blown up since the show’s premiere and you recently starred in the Rolling Stones’ music video for “Scarlet.” What has it been like to have all of these new opportunities because of Normal People?
It’s just something that if I would’ve said to myself back in drama school, “Oh yeah, this is going to happen. And then you’re going to do a Rolling Stones music video,” and this and that… It’s been a real [whirlwind].
I honestly find shooting a music video is so freeing because you’re not necessarily working with dialogue or anything like that, but there’s action and physicality, and I really enjoyed that process a huge amount. And it’s also just a crazy thing to be able to tell my grandkids if I ever have any that, when they think I’m uncool and old, I did a Rolling Stones music video [Laughs].
You also teamed up with your Normal People costar Daisy Edgar-Jones and Fleabag‘s Andrew Scott for a fun Comedy Relief crossover. When did that film and what was it like getting to work together?
It was filmed during the pandemic (post-lockdown with safety measures in place) and because of the confessional boxes, we shot everything in isolation so that was all socially distanced. That’s why that kind of device really worked. You can direct a shoot that all allows us in isolation. Andrew Scott’s one of my favorite actors and getting to work with him on that, and him just being the gentleman that he is, was an amazing experience.
When it comes to the Emmys, you’ve got a bit of a time zone difference being in Ireland as opposed to the United States. Will you be staying up to watch the ceremony?
Oh I’m definitely going to be up. That’s a no brainer. I’m going to be up. I’ll probably be a little bit tired, but these things don’t come around often, and albeit in the strange setting that it is, I’m going to enjoy it as much as I can.
Does that mean you’ll be dressing up for the occasion or is it casual all the way?
I’m going to probably split the difference. Smart-casual is the way I’m leaning at the moment.
Definitely, don’t want to go overboard…
No, you don’t want to be over eager. Got to play it cool. [Laughs] Cut to Paul showing up in a tux.
While Normal People is a great binge, is there anything you’re enjoying on TV at the moment?
I’ve been really watching This Country and Stath Lets Flats — two amazing comedies. And I’ve been watching Immigration Nation, a documentary on Netflix which I think with the election coming up in the States is a must-watch.
Normal People, Streaming now, Hulu