The television adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People caught the attention of fans around the world.
The modern-day love story between Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal) — two young adults who profoundly impact each other’s lives — was successful not only due to Rooney’s writing, but the two break-out stars who played them.
In a new featurette, released by People, series’ director Lenny Abrahamson explained that putting “Daisy and Paul together, that was the crucial test.”
“That’s where that chemistry was so apparent, you could see it. For two young actors who haven’t had a huge amount of experience, it’s a challenging show to shoot. They also happen to be exquisitely talented,” he said.
The series was filled with intimate moments, from passionate sex on a couch to small nuanced glances between the couple, and it was here, that the series’ intimacy coach, Ita O’Brien, said the real connection came from.
“Daisy, she was fantastic,” O’Brien told the outlet. “She could just know that the slightest glance would read [on camera] and that subtleness was just beautiful.”
Executive producer Ed Guiney agreed with his colleague and said that it was an “incredibly intimate way” to get a “sense of how they’re thinking and what they’re feeling about each other.”
Edgar-Jones, who was also featured in People’s featurette, said the show was an “amazing exploration of what it is to be a human being.”
“I really put myself in Marianne’s shoes and just fell in love with her.”
O’Brien, who also served as intimacy coach on Netflix series, Sex Education, worked as a dancer, actor and movement director before developing best practice for intimate scenes, sexual consent and nudity across, film, TV and theatre.
In an interview with Vogue UK back in May, O’Brien said she began looking at how “we can keep actors safe” during intimate scenes, six years ago.
“I started looking at how we can keep actors safe and what we need to put in place to help them enter into the work and also leave at the end of the day in a good place,” she said.
With Normal People, sex was such an integral part of the series, and O’Brien said it was about “serving the storytelling”.
“After reading the novel, I could see that we were being brought into the characters’ internal psychology through those intimate moments,” she told the outlet.
“Marianne and Connell are so beautiful together and very different as people compared to how they present themselves to the outside world when they’re with their friends. So I thought, if the show is going to honour that, then the intimate content has to be inherent to the story. Plus, there’s a lot of it!”
According to O’Brien, when a script is presented to the cast, it is colour coded. “Her moves are highlighted in pink, his in green, and yellow is for what they do together.”
“In rehearsals, I’ll be watching to make sure there is clarity, agreement and consent when it comes to touch. That brings a degree of ease because the actors know what’s happening and then they can bring their own impulses and idiosyncrasies to the performance.”
Due to the many sex scenes Mescal and Edgar-Jones took part in, by the end of shooting, the pair had an “understanding”, but with others, it proved much more of a challenge.
“Daisy and Paul had such a beautiful connection that it was always really interesting when the characters of Marianne and Connell had sex with other people [laughs].
O’Brien has now developed an “intimacy on set” guideline which was presented at a Time’s Up UK meeting, which was endorsed by Women in Film & Television..
Currently, it is “filtering around the world” and her intention is for it to become legislation.
Normal People is now streaming on Stan.