Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones: ‘Is this how our 20s are supposed to be?’

After rising to stardom during the pandemic, can the actor belatedly adjust to fame?

Tom Lemont

I’ve been told,” says Daisy Edgar-Jones, “that the trick for posing at film premieres is to put one foot forward, lift your chin, and basically try to emanate with your face that you’re a top-class lawyer who’s won a big case.”

We’re standing together in a London park, not far from where the 23-year-old actor grew up, on a cold but sunlit morning in February. Soon, Edgar-Jones will fly to Los Angeles for the premiere of a gory and provocative new thriller she has made called Fresh. Although her career exploded in spring 2020, when she starred with Paul Mescal in the TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People, the years since then have been Covid-straitened and quite weird (“smudged” is how Edgar-Jones puts it), and she has not yet had any red carpet practice. This will be her first premiere.

Have a practise now, I suggest?

“Here?” She glances over her shoulder. We’re by a boating pond, on the gloopy waters of which there are chained-up pedalos in the shapes of unicorns and swans; a disconsolate sight, we agree. A few dog-walkers are making circuits of the park, but nobody’s watching. “All right,” she says, and she puts one white-trainered foot in front of the other. She lifts her chin. She adopts a fierce, lawyerly scowl …

We were supposed to be meeting for a coffee in the park’s cafe, only it’s out of season and the doors are firmly shut. Edgar-Jones, who knows the local terrain well, ponders our options. Brisk walk, to keep off the cold? Brave it out on a bench? Climb aboard an anchored pedalo? On closer inspection, she notes, all of the pedalos are covered with bird droppings. Walk it is!

She wraps herself tighter inside a camel-coloured coat and leads the way. We zigzag around the muddy paths of the park, completing a few circuits, eventually passing within sight of her family home. She waves an arm: “Over there.”

When Normal People appeared on BBC iPlayer, becoming a sensation in the middle of that strange and scary first lockdown, Edgar-Jones was living in a London flatshare. As soon as the world opened up, she went off to work, capitalising on elevated acting stock to make Fresh (filmed in Canada) then an adaptation of the bestselling novel Where the Crawdads Sing (shot in Louisiana), then a mini-series called Under the Banner of Heaven (Canada again). She spent a year abroad, much of it masked, on Covid-wary sets, living in solitary rentals. She has just got back to London and has been staying with her parents, rehumanising with Sunday roasts and free lifts.

Has she come back with a bump, I ask? Or a sigh of relief?

A bit of both, Edgar-Jones says. “As much as I loved and am grateful for a year of consistent work, there were times when I was lonely. Really missed my friends. I just haven’t seen them. I was away for something like 10 and a half months out of the 12. And that little bit of time I was home, I was jet-lagged. Bad company.”

Happily for me, she is good company today, a rapid talker and rapid walker, one of those people who prefers to look at you as they speak and so pounds along without seeing where they’re going. Of the astonishing success of Normal People, she says: “I think I’m still processing it, to be honest. I haven’t worked out what it all means – if it means anything at all.” But enough time has passed that she will get stabs of nostalgia, she says, whenever she thinks about it. She still swaps texts with the friends she made on set, including Mescal. “But I haven’t seen anyone I made it with for two years now.”

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How can the BBC appeal to older viewers? Make more programmes like Normal People


Normal People

It’s pointless trying to divide up and second-guess audiences. Just create high-quality television and let us choose for ourselves

Should the BBC be making more programmes specifically targeted at older viewers? Responding to a letter accusing the corporation of taking older viewers for granted, the audience services department (on behalf of senior management) said that, in their opinion, the over-50s actually had varied tastes, so were encouraged to enjoy shows made for a “general audience”.

That wasn’t good enough for DCMS chair Julian Knight, who declared that many people feel “the BBC has left them behind”, while, in contrast, writer Charlie Higson has said that the BBC was “forever tying itself in knots about the ageing demographic of its viewers” and stereotyping them by programming gardening shows and documentaries about tanks. It’s also notable that BBC Three is getting an extra £40 million for its terrestrial reboot, with a schedule “aimed at audiences 16-34”, while BBC Four becomes a repeats channel.

But is the viewing audience really that simply – or starkly – divided? I think it’s eminently more sensible to make programming for that so-called “general audience” rather than fretting about demographic targets or second-guessing audience preferences in such an offhand, even patronising, way.

One of the big hits of lockdown, BBC Three’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People, might seem a prime example of “yoof” telly, as a coming-of-age drama centring on two teenagers navigating love, sex, family and education. Yet only 5m of the record 16.2m viewers in its first week were from that 16-34 group; the other two-thirds were older viewers.

And that makes perfect sense. You don’t need to be a teenager right now to be able to understand adolescent experience; we’ve all gone through it. Nor do you need to match the characters’ age in order to appreciate a sensitively crafted, beautifully performed piece of drama. If anything, it might be a more powerful watch with an added wistful nostalgia. Certainly, Rooney’s readership wasn’t confined to young adulthood, even as many labelled her a “millennial” voice.

The same applies to other lockdown favourites, like The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. By November 2020, over 62m households had tuned in to watch the exploits of chess prodigy Beth Harmon, not just those of a similarly tender age. And of the 9m-plus consolidated viewers who enjoyed ITV’s Quiz, about Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’s “Coughing Major”, 1.5m were aged 16-34, even though this was based on a scandal that took place before many of them were born.

It just goes to show that you can’t pigeon-hole viewers – and it’s foolish to try. What we really want is quality entertainment, and if it touches on a universal experience or emotion, then of course it will appeal to people of all ages. The best television doesn’t divide us; it unites us. And never have we needed that more than in this past difficult year, with many separated from loved ones or living in isolation. Continue reading

Daisy Edgar-Jones & Paul Mescal Shared Where They Think Marianne & Connell Are Now

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal share their thoughts on where their Normal People characters could be today.

It’s safe to say the beginning of lockdown 2020 wouldn’t have been the same without BBC Three’s Normal People. Millions fell in love with Marianne and Connell, as their on-again-off-again romance unfolded on screen. The ending left viewers heartbroken, with Connell heading to New York and Marianne staying in Ireland, and the couple deciding to part ways.

In an interview with Radio Times, the actors who played Marianne and Connell, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, shared their thoughts on where their characters could have ended up.

Edgar-Jones said she had questioned whether Marianne may have found herself in an unlikely situation. “I don’t know, I wonder if Marianne is doing something really out of character like she’s working in Ibiza,” she told the publication. The actor went on to suggest maybe she “gets a job somewhere” and perhaps she “hangs out with Lorraine (Connell’s mum) a bit.”

Mescal also thought his character Connell would be abroad. “I remember we talked about that a huge amount when we were filming. I think Connell is in New York, and as much as he should go, I don’t think he’s well equipped for that territory,” he said.

Despite all the speculation as to where each character may have ended up, Sally Rooney, the author of the original novel, may have already shared all there is to know about their future already. In an essay she wrote for The White ReviewRooney seems to explain what happened to Marianne and Connell after we said goodbye to them last year. While they aren’t together, it does seem like they still have feelings for each other.

Although the series may have come to an end, director Lenny Abrahamson keeps us hopeful as he shared with Radio Times that he’d like to revisit the characters for a future show in 10 years time.

“If my knees are up to it, I would still love to do that,” he says. “I mean, it feels like they’re so real and there’s so much richness that sits there having told that story.” Fingers crossed we get that reunion.

Source: Daisy Edgar-Jones & Paul Mescal Shared Where They Think Marianne & Connell Are Now

Conversations with Friends director says it’s Normal People’s “cousin” and addresses Connell and Marianne cameo idea

By Patrick Cremona | Radio Times

After playing a huge part in the success of Normal People last year, director Lenny Abrahamson is now turning his attention to another Sally Rooney adaptation for BBC Three, Conversations with Friends.

The series is based on Rooney’s debut novel and explores the relationships between four central characters, including college student Frances and the married author, Nick, with whom she begins an affair.

Normal People

In many ways it is completely distinct from Normal People, but Abrahamson has revealed that there are some clear similarities between the two shows. Continue reading