As the lead in the Hulu/BBC drama and one of the year’s most anticipated TV shows, the rising British talent is having a major career moment, one that she’s been experiencing from the confines of her London flat.
Having your big Hollywood break in the middle of a global pandemic is a curious experience.
Whereas many rising stars about to be jettisoned into the public eye thanks to a TV show or movie might expect to be shepherded by teams of publicists between late night talk show sofas, photographer’s studios, magazines and newspaper offices, hotels for press junkets and perhaps even a few long-haul flights, for Daisy Edgar-Jones the COVID-19 lockdown has seen the usual media circuit stripped back to whatever can be achieved from her bedroom.
Not that it’s made the promotional work any less hectic for the star of the 12-part Hulu/BBC drama Normal People.
Thanks to the phenomenal buzz surrounding the show, based on the word-of-mouth sensation that was Sally Rooney’s 2018 novel about the four-year on-and-off romance of a young Irish couple, the 21-year-old has been conducting near back-to-back interviews over the phone and via Zoom from her shared flat in the north London borough of Haringey. And while there may be less pampering and travel, promoting the show from home is certainly making things a little less complicated when it comes to getting herself ready for each video call.
“I only have to dress up from my upper half, because that’s the only thing onscreen,” she says with a laugh. “It’s jogging bottoms on the lower half … it’s great.”
Unlike many, the Brit was a late arrival to the Normal People party, being told about the book — which debuted at No. 3 on the New York Times best-seller list, shipping almost 64,000 copies in hardcover in the U.S. in its first four months of release — by a friend who had been “singing its praises from the rooftops.” But despite being desperate to read it, she was then working on a job and didn’t have much time.
Soon after, she discovered that an adaptation was being developed after overhearing her boyfriend (the actor Tom Varey) help a friend, also an actor, record a self-tape in her front room for the lead role of Marianne, the awkward heroine whose secretive and complex relationship with Connell (played by Paul Mescal) is the story’s beating heart.
About a month later, Edgar-Jones, too, got the invitation to submit a tape for the role. Once having done so, she finally picked up a copy of the book herself, devouring it in one sitting.
“I loved it so much, so I’m actually very glad I hadn’t read it before, because I think I really would have self-sabotaged,” she says.
As for the friend, Edgar-Jones claims she was “really lovely about it” when the part eventually came her way. “It’s strange when you’re both actors.”
Raised in London’s leafy Muswell Hill to a film and TV editor mother (whose Northern Irish roots helped her with her accent for Marianne) and TV documentary producer father, Edgar-Jones says her parents’ own experiences in the industry enabled them to understand and appreciate the self-employed nature of life as an actor.
“I think it’s is probably the most daunting thing to a have a child going into that line of work, because it’s so unreliable,” she says.
Her father, now the head of Sky Arts, the theater and music-skewed channel from Comcast-owned Sky, was actually an exec producer for Channel 4 on the somewhat less highbrow reality show Big Brother when Edgar-Jones was growing up. Not that she was allowed to watch it. “Apparently it was too rude,” she admits.
But it was her mum who encouraged a 15-year-old Edgar-Jones to audition for the U.K.’s long-established National Youth Theatre, where she first realized that what had previously been her favorite lesson in school could become a career.
Just two years later, she landed her first major break, a role in the much-loved relationship comedy Cold Feet. The show had first aired on ITV from 1996-2003 (then starring Friends alum Helen Baxendale), but was being given a revival with the original cast, this time with their onscreen children, giving Edgar-Jones the chance to work alongside TV veterans including James Nesbitt, Hermione Norris and John Thomson.
“It was my first professional TV job and I’m so grateful for it, as I kind of think of it as my training,” she says. “When I first started on Cold Feet I genuinely struggled just walking across the screen without being really self-conscious and hyper aware of everything, so it gave me the chance to get used to things, you know, like being able to drink a glass of orange juice naturally.”
Since Cold Feet (which went back on hiatus in February after four seasons of the revival) and alongside annual performances with the National Youth Theatre, Edgar-Jones has appeared in episodes of the BBC’s long-running crime drama Silent Witness, the HBO/BBC period series Gentleman Jack and the reimagining of War of the Worlds from Fox Channels/Studiocanal. Earlier this year, she earned her West End stripes in Mike Bartlett’s Brexit allegory Albion at the Almeida Theatre (“It was only on for a month and literally closed just about the week before we went on lockdown,” she says).
But it’s Normal People that will propel the rising Brit before a bigger audience than ever before, and possibly now far bigger than Hulu or the BBC originally envisaged (“At least we know people will be watching TV,” she says with a laugh).
Not that Edgar-Jones is really able to grasp much sense of the hype.
“It’s awfully strange, because I’m just sat in my bedroom,” she says. “There’s all this mad stuff happening and I’m just, like, in my bedroom. It is a bit odd.”