Obsessed with 'Normal People'? The stars open up about fame, sex scenes and Connell's viral necklace

Warning: If you haven't watched the conclusion of "Normal People," spoilers are included in the conversation below.

If you haven’t binged “Normal People” yet, you’re doing it wrong.

The Hulu sensation, a 12-episode series based on Sally Rooney’s best-selling 2018 novel, follows two Irish teenagers, Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones)  and Connell (Paul Mescal), as they navigate love, sex and the evolution of their identities over the span from high school through college.

Marianne is brilliant and privileged but an outcast, her sharp tongue eviscerating teachers and students alike. But she quietly craves the shy, popular athlete Connell (the son of her family's housekeeper), who, to her surprise, is drawn to her, but only behind closed doors. Their intense sexual affair is cloaked in shame and secrecy, until they hit college, when suddenly their roles are reversed.  

Devoured by a quarantined international audience, “Normal People” has swiftly topped critics' lists, with a score of 84 (out of 100) on the Metacritic aggregation site; garnered amusingly horny headlines; earned its stars viral fame; and become the most watched Hulu Original to debut this year, while also earning raves upon release in the U.K.

What does becoming the next big thing look like during a pandemic? Edgar-Jones, 21, and Mescal, 24, Zoomed with USA TODAY from their respective London apartments to discuss.  

Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne’s (Daisy Edgar-Jones) relationship begins in secret in high school.

Question: So what has it been like to experience international success while stuck at home?

Daisy Edgar-Jones: It's very odd. It's very odd to even kind of believe it to be true, to be honest.

Paul Mescal: It's weird because I am experiencing it all through my phone, and when I put my phone down, nothing else is really different. And that's a good thing.

Q: What were you both like in high school?

Mescal: Hmm. You’d have to ask my friends and my mum, but like, academically quite good. Didn't really like getting in trouble at school.

Edgar-Jones: I liked school. I was head girl, so I was probably a bit of a goody two shoes. But I enjoyed school actually. I worked quite hard.

Q: Connell’s necklace now has its own fan-made Instagram account, and GQ made a shopping guide for it. Did you see that coming?

Edgar-Jones: We were probably not expecting such a love of the chain. I mean, it is a lovely chain, but at the time, we didn't think about it really very much.

Mescal: It's a bit crazy, isn't it? It's just a really simple chain. Like, to be honest, if he wasn't wearing a necklace in the book, it wouldn't have been something that popped into my head when we were doing the costume fittings. But that one just seemed to be the one that suited him the best.

Q: Have you ever worn anything as consistently as Connell wears that necklace?

Mescal: Yeah, my necklace (holds up a slim silver chain with a pendant). It’s a Celtic Trinity knot.

Q: Connell’s actions are so controversial, especially in the high school years. Paul, was his inability to protect Marianne frustrating to portray?

Mescal: It's frustrating for Paul, the reader and lover of the book. But ultimately as the actor, your responsibility is to the character, not yourself. You kind of have to leave the hat of being a fan at the door and then go in and go to work.

Q: How did you both prepare your family for the show's sexual nature?

Mescal: They didn't really need coaching, because once I got the job, they read the book and I think they became very aware of what was going to be required. It's always funny the first time you show them and you're like, 'This is me. This is all of me.' But they're 21st-century parents. Sex isn't taboo. Nor is it normal to see your son kind of present the act of it. But they've all been amazing about it.

Edgar-Jones: When I got chatting about auditioning for it, we were told that that would be a part of it. So I obviously got the approval from mum. She'd read the book and she was like, you've got to do it! (When we got early episodes) I could show them to my mom and dad … it just meant that they were prepared for when to make tea and fast-forward things. And then my grandma and granddad, yeah, I think just a lot of fast-forwarding was necessary: ‘As soon as any kissing starts, fast-forward.’

Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal) continue their relationship outside of the school's walls.

Q: How did having an intimacy coordinator on set affect your experience?

Edgar-Jones: I just cannot believe that they are a relatively new job. I can't believe that scenes like that were ever filmed without one, because you know, it's just really important that the kind of environment is very safe when you're filming those scenes, because it is quite a vulnerable place to put yourself. And you want to feel that you have control and you are in the best pair of hands. (The creative team) really set the bar for how I think that should be handled. And I think the results are far better because you can see that there is an element of us feeling safe, and therefore the work is more powerful. 

Q: Paul, you've now reached 'internet boyfriend' status. What has it been like to be objectified by the masses?

Mescal: It's not something I'm fully comfortable with, nor is it something that I have any control over. So it can sometimes be very flattering, sometimes be quite terrifying.

Q: I have to say, it was refreshing to see parity onscreen as far as nudity was concerned. Did that make things feel more equal on set?

Edgar-Jones: That was a real sort of important thing for me, going in knowing that there would be a level of equality there and (co-director) Lenny (Abrahamson) and all the creatives were really keen to make sure that that was all handled very tastefully and there was never an element of nudity for the sake of it. Especially as a woman, you often see there is (nudity) without a real reason for it, and it's mostly the women.

Mescal: Yeah. And it was discussions that I had with Lenny early on; we both came to the agreement. We realized that we had the opportunity to kind of readdress the balance, which you don't see. So ultimately that's something I'm really proud to hold my hand to and say that we had the opportunity to do something that's fair and balanced, and we did.

Edgar-Jones: I'm just so glad about that and I hope that that becomes the norm,  because I'm over women being kind of exposed all the time, to be honest.

Q: What do you think happens to Marianne and Connell? Do they make it?

Mescal: I don't think they stopped loving each other at the end of the series. I think they're forced to do the right thing, and the right thing is to forego the current circumstances. Connell has to go to New York for him. Marianne has to stay for her. And that doesn't mean to me that their love stops as a result of them not being in close proximity. I think they could potentially go off and be with other people, but absolutely love can survive those turbulent years. It's not easy, but I think it can happen.

Edgar-Jones: I do love that ending. I just love how it's handled and how beautifully deep those two characters are, despite their age. And just the depiction of how much you do change and how important those years are for the rest of your life and who you become as a grownup.

Q: I know you’re both in quarantine, but has anyone recognized you on the street?

Mescal: When I was in the shop yesterday while I was doing the self-checkout, somebody asked me for a photo, but I was scanning mushrooms and that was a little bit embarrassing.

Edgar-Jones: I did have a funny experience a couple of days ago: There were two girls who sort of stopped in the street opposite me and screamed, and then they were pointing and I was like, 'OK?' I think they were probably pointing at me, but I couldn't tell.

Q: Have either of you tried to cut your own hair yet in quarantine?

Mescal: (Pulls at hair.) I don’t know what I’m gonna do cause I can't cope with it. Hopefully in a few weeks, hairdressers will open or maybe like, emergency hairdressers.

Edgar-Jones: My flatmate’s actually done it for me. She's actually cut herself a fringe too, so we look the exact same now.

Q: Do you think there's a chance that you two will resume these characters? Fans are clamoring for it.

Edgar-Jones: I’d love to, but I think that's probably dependent on Sally and where she wants to go with them. I wonder if it would be nice to visit them in a few years when they're older, just to see what's changed and where they're at.