Paul Mescal doesn’t like to win easy

The truth is, after Normal People, Paul Mescal could do what he wanted. He talks to me from his hotel room one morning in mid-October, with his face a bit like that, the t-shirt and the unmade bed in the background, the maximum expression of that relaxed coolness and cool which fully represents it. He could have capitalized on the sudden fame bestowed on him by the series based on Sally Rooney and his character, Connell (and his chain), by launching himself into the mainstream, and instead he chose the most difficult path, but also – if I understand anything about him after our chat on Zoom – the one that can give the most satisfaction to a guy like him. Translated: intimate and powerful films, with chiaroscuro roles that really put him to the test. Just like Aftersun (presented in Cannes and from January 6 on MUBI), the first work of the Scottish Charlotte Wells, a small indie wonder, a fragmented collection of memories and moments captured during a holiday between a young separated father (beautifully played by Mescal) and his daughter (Frankie Corio, perfect) in a village economy Turkish. A summer worth a lifetime, a very delicate and very hard film at the same time. Start from here.

It’s your first time playing a father. Has the role of Calum changed anything in your approach to characters as an actor?
I don’t think so, what I like to do to get ready hasn’t changed. I had some time with Frankie before shooting, that’s something I care about. I think I wouldn’t have done my character a good service by changing something about my approach just because it’s a father.

And what was it like working with Frankie?
Fantastic! He’s a bomb of energy, he inspired me a lot. It was also difficult at times, but in the way working with a young girl can be. The biggest surprise though was that she became a friend and I really didn’t expect it. I loved every moment of this movie.

There are many titles that talk about the father-daughter relationship: but usually the father is absent, Calum instead is a great dad and is instead struggling against something else, a sort of depression. How did you work with Charlotte in this sense?
We tried to mirror in reality what Calum does in the film: he pretends that everything is fine with his daughter. We tried to protect Frankie (and Sophie) from seeing what was behind it, although there are a couple of moments where Calum doesn’t. I could play my character in two very different ways and that was the challenge. I really liked the idea of ​​impersonating someone in that state of emotional discomfort, finding a way to convey it: trying to be honest about how I perceived him to feel, how he was trying to fight something. I really don’t know how to explain that process, other than to say that I trusted Charlotte and Frankie, trying to make everything seem as authentic and real as possible.

In the film, I loved the idea of ​​the contrast between the light when Calum is with Sophie and the dark when he’s alone. Did she help you in the performance?
Yes, that was what stuck with me the first time I read the script. It’s almost like there are two different movies, and for an actor it’s crazy, it’s like playing each moment separately. And I don’t think Calum can experience light without that dark and dark without that light. The film needs both to have the impact it has. And it’s all thanks to Charlotte’s beautiful writing.

The title is also beautiful: Aftersun. I had never thought about how the gesture of spreading the cream represents love and care. I think that’s all there is, that nothing else needs to be said.
The intimacy of that gesture is wonderful. I remember it as a child, when parents spread sunscreen on you: it’s the definition of affection and care for someone, the concern that the sun could burn that person’s skin, it’s a very intimate gesture.

Frankie Corio (Sophie) and Paul Mescal (Calum) in ‘Aftersun). Photo: MUBI

There are several very strong sequences, but I loved one in particular: after a game of chess, the two embrace and Calum tries to explain to Sophie why he doesn’t like living in Edinburgh. There is in the background Tender of Blurs.
One of my favorite things about Calum as a parent is that he treats Sophie like an adult, like an intelligent human being, trying to explain to her why he’s not going back to live in Edinburgh, why he doesn’t feel he belongs there. Often in movies you see parents talking to their children and telling them not to do certain things. And instead Calum tells Sophie to do whatever she wants to do, she knows she’s safe and she can talk to him about anything. If Sophie asks him a question, he doesn’t shy away from answering. When she Sophie asks him why she said “I love you” to his mother even if they are no longer together, he explains that “love” does not mean only one thing, but has many faces. Love transcends.

What was the already difficult scene to shoot?
Surely the one after Sophie sang “happy birthday” to Calum, when he cries next to the bed, was a difficult emotion to find and express. And then the mud bath sequence, we were short on time and only did two take: I’m very proud of it, it’s very tender and very touching, because you see Calum’s shame and love for his daughter at the same time, and also her love for him. They protect each other, hug each other. I don’t think we could have shot that scene sooner chronologically because it needed that familiarity, which Frankie, Charlotte and I had achieved. We were able to shoot it very quickly because our relationship was authentic. But it was also tough, we had little time and risked panicking in the hope of catching her. And it also takes a lot of prep work to figure out how someone can spit on her reflection in the mirror: You listen to your daughter explain what depression means to her, and you feel responsible, so you spit at yourself in the mirror. She’s tough to play.

I read that you recorded the audition for Aftersun while you were turning God’s Creatures. And the first audition consisted of listening to a Blur song, smoking a cigarette and moving around dancing in the kitchen. What song did you choose?
(He laughs, searches his phone, plays a couple of tracks). Here it was, it was Song 2.

Did you also listen to anything else that helped you in the interpretation?
Charlotte gave us a playlist of late 80s and 90s songs, which was very helpful to me. And I made another one: I’ve heard a lot of Laura Marling, there’s a piece called Song For Our Daughter and another one called For You. And I also listened to Julian Baker. Regardless of the historical period, they were songs that I could connect to, that I felt at the time.

Frankie Corio (Sophie) and Paul Mescal (Calum) in ‘Aftersun). Photo: MUBI

I’ll try not to ask you the usual question you’ve already been asked a thousand times: how much has your life changed in the last two years after Normal People.
Thank you!

I want to try to be a little more creative.
Yes please!

If you had to describe these two years with a few fragments like in the film, which moments would you choose?
Cannes in particular and the festival circuit more generally. It’s almost ridiculous, it’s different, of course, my life has changed a bit, but I think it all seems much more strange to the others: I work, I do my thing quietly. Then of course there are the most exciting moments, like two premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, walking the red carpet, wearing wonderful clothes. It’s all funny, crazy, but it’s only a small part of my life, the rest has remained the same.

You were talking about Cannes, and it seems to me that a new part of your career has begun a bit right there, title: Paul Mescal, new star of indie cinema.
Wow, that’s weird (laughs). This must be decided by others, I can’t be sure to say it. They’re simply choices I’ve made, films I’m very proud of. This part of the job gets so much easier when you can sit back and look at what you’ve done with pride. And yes, they are indie films, and it takes a lot of effort to get them done. So I’m very proud of my directors and my films.

And how do you choose those directors, those films, those roles?
It’s the usual boring cliché, “the script”. And then a big part in the choice for me is played by instinct, when something seems “right” to me. I think it’s a good way to make decisions, maybe it won’t always work, because even that can screw you sometimes, but I think the only thing an actor has any kind of control over is the belly, the heart.

I know you really have a lot of important projects in the pipeline right now. Beyond God’s Creatures with emily watson, we will soon see you in The History of Sound with Josh O’Connor, Foe with Saoirse Ronan, Strangers with Andrew Scott, The End of Getting Lost with Margaret Qualley, Carmenloosely based on the work of Bizet, by Benjamin Millepied. How do you manage it all?
I think about one thing at a time, without looking too far ahead. In a couple of weeks I’ll start rehearsals for a play.

A Streetcar Named Desireright?
Exactly!

Well Marlon Brando, that’s a lot of stuff too. And also a return to the theater for you.
Oh yeah (smiles). A return to the roots: shutting down to rehearse, disappearing from the world, I can’t wait to spend five weeks in the theater working on this extraordinary play, it’s one of my favourites. I love going to the theater, I love the backstage activity, that leaving everything out, I missed it. But for me the secret is always to think of the next commitment as the most important. Then others will judge my work, I can only concentrate on what I do. Once the production is finished then, I no longer have control, it’s up to others to decide.

The best memory you have of Normal People?
While we were shooting, it’s a moment in my life where I feel like I’ve grown up, I met one of my best friends, it was a very precious period for me. And I want to protect those memories, all that summer corresponds to a feeling for me: I could feel that something was changing. Although I never thought it would all explode like this.

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal in ‘Normal People’. Photo: Hulu

You have worked with Daisy Edgar-Jones, Dakota Johnson, Saoirse Ronan and Josh O’Connor. You are a new generation of crazy actors, have you by any chance kept in touch?
Yes, they have become true friends, and this is the best thing about this job: not only meeting people you admire, but who – if you’re lucky – become part of your life. We’re a nice community of actors who care about each other, and I’m so grateful that that’s the case and that there’s no backstabbing, we’re all very protective.

That in The Lost Daughter it was your first film role. What did you think when you arrived on set?
“Is this really happening?” I expected someone to tell me, “We made a mistake, you can go home.” Thankfully that didn’t happen, and I got to work with Maggie (Gyllenhaal), Olivia (Colman) and Dakota (Johnson).

The first scene you shot?
It was that of the kiss with Dakota: go big or go home.

Source link

About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

Check Also

Porno, the best (and worst) movies on the adult film industry

Sex sells, so the old adage goes, and when it comes to cinema that sentiment …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *