“Filming the scene where Connell breaks down was brutal”: Stylist speaks to Normal People star Paul Mescal

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Helen Bownass
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Stylist magazine spends a socially distant sunny day with the star of the hit BBC drama. 

It’s no exaggeration to say the last two months have been life-changing for Paul Mescal. The 24-year-old actor has become one of the most critically acclaimed and searched for actors of the moment.  And this week the talented Irish actor stars on the cover of Stylist, which you can download on the App Store or Google Play. In the issue you can read him, in his own words, on how the show opens up difficult but vital conversations about mental health.

As our exclusive pictures of Mescal show this is no ordinary shoot – lockdown meant we had to simplify things. Instead of the usual large crew that comes with a photoshoot in a studio, we sent Mescal out with photographer Tom Van Schelven where the two of them walked and cycled round East London making the most of the local landscapes and fields in bloom. “This shoot was really collaborative and laid-back,” says Van Schelven. “Paul was great company and was equally up for exploring and being outside, now we’re allowed to, as I was.”

Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones in Normal People
Normal People: Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne and Paul Mescal as Connell

Mescal has a deeply personal reason for appearing in Stylist, beyond talking about the outrageous success of Normal People. He wants to elevate conversations around mental health, something he has seen the importance of first-hand. On screen as Connell Waldron, Mescal portrays a man who falls into a dark and debilitating depression exacerbated by the death by suicide of a childhood friend.

In Stylist Mescal exclusively reveals why it was so crucial for him that the scenes that see him seeking help from a counsellor felt real. “Filming the scene where Connell breaks down was brutal. They called cut and I was still bawling” he reveals “I wanted desperately for Connell’s pain to feel authentic. A massive percentage of people will experience something that Connell and Marianne are experiencing in regards to their mental health.”

The Irish actor did in-depth research to ensure the aunthenticity of Connell’s experience. “Prior to filming I met a counsellor who worked in Trinity College,” he tells Stylist. “I asked her: does this feel real?’ She said that it’s like a documentary in terms of how it was written. There were so many details that Sally [Rooney] got so right in terms of Connell avoiding eye contact or crying and not wiping away his tears. Then it was about going back to the very start of the novel and building the blocks so it makes sense that he ends up there, you can trace his anxiety back to episodes one and two.”

As such the actor is also raffling one of his own chains – fans will know Connell wears a chain throughout Normal People and an Instagram account dedicated to his neckpiece now has over 160,000 followers. The money raised will help Irish charity Pieta House, which supports people with suicidal ideation and engaging in self-harm. Mescal tells Stylist he has seen how suicide can impact a community after the suicide of a student in his year group when he was 13. 

“It was so important for me to support Pieta House, which is a support centre that combats suicide. I have seen the work they do, not only in my own community but across Ireland” Mescal tells Stylist. “So when we made the decision to raffle one of my chains for charity, this was immediately the organisation I wanted to support.”

Mescal also tells Stylist how he’s managing his own well being in these unique times which involves listening to “sad music” and a lot of running where he listens to podcast I’m Grand Mam. “They’re two guys from Cork who are the best friends, you can feel the chemistry between them. It’s a lovely hour to spend. They release new episodes every Sunday and that’s my Sunday ritual.”

Samaritans operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. For confidential support call the Samaritans in the UK on 08457 90 90 90 or visit a local Samaritans branch.

Normal People is on BBC iPlayer now

Images: Tom Van Schelven, BBC 

If you’re an avid Stylist fan, you’ll know it’s not always possible to find an issue of our magazine. Often they’re gone before you head into work (they disappear fast!), or you live in a part of the UK where you can’t get your hands on a copy. Add to this the fact that millions of us are not commuting right now, and we wanted to ensure you don’t miss out on the magazine any longer.

Which is why we’re delighted to let you know that Stylist magazine is now available in a digital format, both for Apple and Android users, allowing you to download the full magazine directly to your smartphone or tablet, wherever you may be.

Pricing for our digital magazine starts at just 99p for a single issue, or £21.99 for a full year’s subscription –that’s less than 50p a week! Simply click on the link to activate your Stylist app download from either the Apple store or Google Play and enjoy!