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Now’s the Perfect Time To Watch Paul Mescal’s Breakout Role

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal in 'Normal People'

With the recent announcement of 2023’s Oscar Nominations, nearly everyone’s been exalting the sun for giving us Paul Mescal. The talented young actor has been making waves with his recent performance as a lead character in the indie drama Aftersun, where he plays a single father struggling to raise his observant daughter Sophie. It sounds like a beautiful movie that I look forward to seeing, and having seen Mescal’s past works, I’m fully supportive of him winning an Oscar. He’s a talented and utterly natural performer, having a certain mastered subtlety that most actors his age struggle with.

What’s even more impressive is that this was evident in his very first breakout role, as Connell in Normal People. I need to preface the rest of the article by first saying that Normal People is, in my opinion, an odd and rare case of the screen adaptation being better than the source material. I understand why people love the original author, Sally Rooney, but I’ve found most of her writing to be much the same in a way that doesn’t pique my interest. So when I heard that Normal People was being adapted by Hulu, I wasn’t exactly thrilled.

But oh my god, you guys, if you haven’t seen Normal People yet, this is absolutely the perfect time to do so. Now that Mescal is getting so much attention, he’ll probably get the Timmy treatment and start appearing in more things in the imminent future. Seeing his first major role will really help foster one’s appreciation for his talents—and, of course, it’s just a really damn good show.

On paper, it sounds painfully simple: two young people flit in and out of each others’ lives through high school and college (or, as it takes place in Ireland, “college and uni”) as they struggle to be vulnerable with their feelings. But the way that Mescal and his co-star, Daisy Edgar Jones, bring their characters to life is so utterly beautiful and devastating, I still don’t know if I’m capable of a rewatch any time soon.

The story begins in college, where Connell is a popular footballer and Marianne (Jones) is an aloof loner. They know each other through their parents, as Connell’s mother is the housekeeper for Marianne’s house. Through little interactions with each other outside of school, they both realize they have a lot in common: both are intellectually stimulated and enjoy creative pursuits, although Connell feels limited by his friend group, while Marianne has no friends to speak of with which to share these things. Eventually, the two begin a romance, which Connell—being young and immature—is determined to keep secret.

Fast forward to uni (the beautiful Trinity College, no less), and suddenly, the roles reverse. Connell is adrift and having a tough time making genuine friendships, while Marianne has seemingly “blossomed” into something of a socialite. However, despite all the reasons they have to not stay in touch, the two are constantly intertwined in one way or another. It’s almost infuriating how poorly they’re able to be honest with one another, and you’ll often find yourself shouting at the screen: “For FUCK’S sake, we’ve been through this already!”

But it’s fantastic, and grounded, and in large part as good as it is because of Mescal and Jones. Their on-screen chemistry, as well as their ability to make the characters feel so real, elevate the entire story into something that goes beyond the script. I mean, my god, see how electric this scene is:

You can see so much in this one scene alone. Regarding Mescal specifically, he’s radiating all sorts of feelings all at once: he’s nervous, yet excited to see her and talk to her; he’s feeling a little out of place, yet determined to give this party a try; he’s untethered by his younger social burdens and now just figuring it all out; and he’s still, at his core, Connell, with the same sense of humor and values.

If it’s not obvious by now, I think you should definitely watch Normal People if you haven’t already. It will absolutely baffle and bewilder you at times, but only in the ways that a truly good show can. If you’ve already seen it, feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments.

(featured image: Enda Bowe/Element Pictures)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer, dog mom, and casual insomniac. Her prior experiences with media have taken her down many different roads, from local history podcasts to music coverage & production. Niche interests include folk music, elves/wizards, and why horses are cool actually.