Normal People's Daisy Edgar Jones On Playing Marianne And Filming TV Show's Intense Sex Scenes

Normal People - Daisy Edgar Jones
Normal People's Daisy Edgar Jones On MarianneInstagram - Getty Images

Daisy Edgar-Jones is a new Guinness fan. Well, sort of. ‘I have to have it with blackcurrant juice, which is probably a bit of a sin,’ she laughs. The actor became accustomed to drinking a pint, or three, after moving to Dublin for six months to film the TV show that’s about to grip the nation – Normal People. Which, in case you managed to miss it, is the highly anticipated upcoming TV adaptation of the bestselling 2018 novel by Irish writer Sally Rooney – ‘the first great millennial author’, according to The New York Times.

The BBC Three 12-part drama, out this spring, sees Edgar-Jones star as book-smart loner Marianne opposite newcomer Paul Mescal (the sporty, popular Connell) in a startlingly relatable, witty love story set in and around Ireland’s capital.

Today, Edgar-Jones is on the orange juice. We’re back in her hometown of London (in pre-coronavirus times), sitting in Dover Street Market’s bakery midway through the 21-year-old’s shopping trip.

She says that playing Marianne wasn’t so much of a job as a calling, given that she’d already read the book five times prior to shooting. ‘I wanted the part more than anything,’ she admits. ‘I really felt like I understood Marianne. I really got her sense of humour.’

Frantically filming her audition tape between shooting intense death scenes for the BBC sci-fi drama War of the Worlds, a week later Edgar-Jones found herself taking an early morning flight to Dublin for a ‘chemistry test’ with Mescal (‘it was the most scared I’ve ever been’). ‘I was totally in awe of Sally, because she’s so incredibly talented,’ she says of meeting the author, Rooney.

It didn’t take long before she developed a love for the Irish filming locations Dublin, Sligo and Enniskerry. ‘The nightlife in Dublin is brilliant – it’s much better than London,’ she adds. To nail the accent in less than two weeks before shooting, Londoner Edgar-Jones spent hours chatting to her Irish cast mates and working with an accent coach. ‘I listened to Sally’s accent a lot,’ she says, before rolling her ‘Rs’ and explaining the subtle differences between the word ‘don’t’ in a County Sligo lilt and a Mayo one.

Daisy Edgar Jones - Normal People
Jeff Spicer - Getty Images

Growing up as an only child in Muswell Hill, in a ‘really loving family’, Edgar-Jones says her childhood couldn’t have been more different to Marianne’s solitary, troubled experience. She caught the acting bug young, moving from her role as a hen in a carol concert at age six to joining the National Youth Theatre at 14, followed by minor TV roles in Outnumbered, Silent Witness and Cold Feet.

How did she find filming the novel’s sex scenes, I wonder? She worked with an intimacy co-ordinator, a female director and a female director of photography and credits the show for not making the nudity gratuitous, as well as for its realistic depiction of the messiness of sex.

‘Connell is lovely with her,’ she says of the moment Marianne loses her virginity. ‘He tells her they can stop and that there’s no pressure. That’s so important for people to see, because that’s how it should be – a safe space with dialogue.’

As for the pressure of playing such a beloved literary character, she’s trying not to overthink it. It was only after her flatmate, who works at Waterstones, reminded her that Normal People was the retailer’s 2018 book of the year that she realised the enormity of taking on the role.

Daisy Edgar Jones - Normal People
Rachel Murray - Getty Images

‘You can never satisfy everyone, but I love the book just as much as the next person. I want to do it justice,’ she smiles. And on the prospect of achieving success akin to Emilia Clarke and Emma Watson, whose paths to international superstardom began with much-loved literary adaptations, she shrugs: ‘I haven’t really thought about it. You never really know about these things; it might come and go.’

Fresh from a debut theatre performance at the Almeida in London and with her first leading TV role just weeks away from airing on the BBC, it’s safe to say that Edgar-Jones is clearly cut out for the big time. We’ll raise a Guinness to that.

Normal People will land as a boxset on BBC Three on April 26, on BBC One (date to be confirmed), and in the US on Hulu on April 29.

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