‘Fame brings pressure — but ultimately it’s phenomenal’

Overnight star Paul Mescal tells Esther McCarthy about adjusting to celebrity since Normal People and why he loves doing downbeat roles

Paul Mescal works the red carpet© ??  `??_/O????????

The actor plays a dad on holiday with his young daughter (Francesca Corio) in Aftersun

Paul with girlfriend Phoebe Bridgers© WireImage

Paul with Daisy Edgar Jones in TV sensation Normal People

Sunday World

In the spring of 2020, Paul Mescal was just another anonymous actor trying to forge a career.

While the theatre kept him busy, the recent acting graduate hadn’t established a screen presence — but that all changed with Normal People.

The series became such a global sensation that the Kardashians were among its high-profile fans and Connell’s shorts and chain became internet obsessions.

“In both a positive and negative way, I was like, ‘What is happening? This is incredible!’” laughs the Maynooth man now of that manic time.

Normal People wasn’t a show that was just popular and not critically well- received, it was both. It was popular and a really well-constructed show.

The actor plays a dad on holiday with his young daughter (Francesca Corio) in Aftersun

“There’s a pressure that comes with people knowing what you look like, where you live and who you are hanging out with. You learn to live with that shift. Ultimately, it has been phenomenal.”

Of course, Mescal’s relationship with one of the world’s best-known singers only serves to heighten public interest.

When Phoebe Bridgers posted on social media about her love for Normal People, it emerged that the admiration was mutual — the LA-based musician was top of his listening list.

It was only a matter of time before the two got together to host an Instagram live event, where the Irishman told Phoebe he loved her music. By summer, it was obvious the crush was mutual when Phoebe told NME of her realisation that he had followed her on Insta: “I got a little pitter patter in my heart when I saw”.

A romantic trip to Kinsale fuelled long-held rumours they were an item, but it would be months before they effectively confirmed the romance with a charming selfie. They have largely kept quiet about their relationship in interviews since, but in recent weeks there have been growing rumours that they’ve sealed the romance and become engaged.

Proving Normal Peoplewas no flash in the pan, he has no fewer than eight new screen stories on the way.

Paul with girlfriend Phoebe Bridgers© WireImage

Newly released in cinemas is Aftersun, a well-regarded indie drama which has been generating awards-season buzz for the 26-year-old.

The movie focuses on the relationship between Mescal’s Calum and his 11-year-old daughter, Sophie, played by Francesca Corio, at very different points in their lives.

The actor seems to have a knack for sad and mysterious characters. “I don’t know what that says about me. Maybe I’m drawn to sadness, conflict and melancholy as things that are innately dramatic.”

He was drawn to Aftersun because his character is a complicated dad, he explains.

“Calum is a young father from Edinburgh, living in London and separated from the mother of his daughter, Sophie. He is on holiday with his daughter but at the same time he is a man wrestling with being a young father and with trying to be a good dad and a good person.

“His mental health is in a bad place when we encounter him in the film.”

Critics have been full of praise for the dynamic between Mescal and Scottish newcomer Francesca, who is just 11.

Paul with Daisy Edgar Jones in TV sensation Normal People

“I was really intrigued to get a couple of moments in the film where it’s kind of a lot from a personal side for Calum, but with Sophie, he’s trying not to show that. That was a challenge that I was looking forward to.”

He has several forthcoming movies and series on the way, including Bring Them Down, a thriller set in the west of Ireland, and Strangers, a drama with fellow Irishman Andrew Scott and Claire Foy.

Choosing the right projects is important to him and has served him well so far. “If it’s a character I feel I can represent accurately and truthfully, I’m going to do that.”

  • Aftersun is in selected cinemas now


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