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

Published date28 February 2022
Publication titleIrish Times: Web Edition Articles (Dublin, Ireland)
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."

I suggest it must feel a bit like having made very close friends on holiday before everyone disperses to their separate homes.

"That's right, a holiday feeling. Filming was so intense. So full-on and all-consuming. Only you and that specific group of people know what it was like. A very insular experience that I now have this massive nostalgia for."

Like Mescal, Edgar-Jones has been following the news from a distance while the creative team from Normal People adapt another Sally Rooney novel...

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