In one breathless season, Normal People, author Sally Rooney's novel-to-Hulu hit series, sparked a streaming surge. The 12-part drama follows the love story of Irish teenagers Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal), who begin a secret tryst that evolves into a hot and heavy four-year love affair full of fits and starts.
What on its surface could have been another cheesy teen romance quickly garnered critical acclaim for its authentic depiction of first-love chemistry and the “wrenching process of breaking down the person you were in order to become the person you’re going to be,” according to The New York Times. How did Normal People depict young love so accurately? Here are some facts about the steamy series.
1. Normal People was a best-selling book before it was a hit TV show.
Author Sally Rooney published Normal People, her second novel, in 2018 and it quickly became a U.S. bestseller—selling almost 64,000 copies in hardcover in its first four months of release, according to Vox. It even beat out former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Becoming to be named Book of the Year at the British Book Awards and was long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize.
2. Actor Paul Mescal is more like his Normal People character Connell Waldron than you might think.
Paul Mescal, the 24-year-old Irish actor who plays Normal People’s handsome lothario Connell Waldron, may be a TV newcomer, but he was a shoo-in for the leading man role. Like Connell, Mescal grew up playing Gaelic football and attended Trinity College in Dublin. Plus, he told GQ that Connell’s identity crisis felt all too familiar, saying, “how he perceives himself in the world and versus what he actually wants to do is also something that I definitely related to.”
3. A tip-off from a friend helped Daisy Edgar-Jones land the role of Marianne on Normal People .
Had Daisy Edgar-Jones not heard her friend auditioning for Marianne in her kitchen one day, she might never have sent in her own tape and scored the part. "I was in my bedroom and I was listening in," Edgar-Jones told Metro about how she learned of the project. "I was like, 'Oh, that sounds good.'" Normal People co-director Lenny Abrahamson was apparently so impressed by Edgar-Jones that the production flew her from England to Ireland for a chemistry reading with Mescal, who had already been cast. Needless to say, their chemistry was fog-your-glasses real.
4. Normal People employed an intimacy coordinator to make the sex scenes authentic.
There’s a reason Normal People’s 41 minutes of sex scenes felt so real: The series employed an intimacy coordinator. Ita O’Brien is something of a pioneer in the field of amping up the realism of on-the-set intercourse. In addition to Normal People, she has worked on shows like The Great, Sex Education, Gangs of London, and I May Destroy You to make spicy sequences as authentic as possible.
5. The COVID-19 pandemic has been blamed on Normal People’s sex scenes.
Archbishop Michael Cox of the breakaway Tridentine wing of the Catholic Church told the Irish Sun that Normal People's full-frontal nudity was blasphemous and suggested that it somehow could be the cause of ... the current coronavirus pandemic?
“I’m not surprised we have COVID-19 with this sort of stuff on TV," Cox said. "Do I think that these outrages are responsible for the coronavirus? I think people should read the Bible and find out."
6. Connell’s signature silver chain on Normal People has its own Instagram account.
If you want to understand the depths of fans’ passion for Normal People, look no further than Instagram account @connellschain. More than one thinkpiece has been penned about what author Rooney described in her book as “an unadorned silver neck chain” Connell wears throughout the story. Costume designer Lorna Marie Mugan had Connell wear it throughout filming and it caused such a stir that an observant viewer created a thirst account around the necklace which now has more than 186,000 followers.
7. Normal People has been lauded for making nudity an equality issue.
Unlike most depictions of TV nudity that tend to only showcase women's bodies, Normal People took the bold step of make sure that the skin exposure was equally split between Edgar-Jones and Mescal—a move that has been seen as a win for women in film. Mescal was fully onboard with directors Abrahamson and Hettie McDonald’s choice. “I was very keen that male nudity was more present, if not at least equal, because it makes no sense for it not to be the case," Mescal told Digital Spy. "If you're portraying nudity, why would it be any different if you're going to do it properly?"
Edgar-Jones wholeheartedly agreed with the direction as well, saying, “I wanted it to feel that it was equal, and also that the nudity wasn't sexualized—which I don't think it is. I think it's more often in a nonsexual capacity that they are nude."
8. The Normal People series takes some creative license with the book.
Like many adaptations for television, the Normal People series didn’t follow Rooney’s book entirely. Marianne's brother Alan is even more aggressive toward her in the novel. For instance, in the scene when she's home from college, he pours dishwater over her head, but in the book he grabs her by the arm and spits on her. The endings are also different. Spoiler alert: In the book Marianne doesn’t find out about Connell’s New York City MFA program until the very end, leaving their parting more nebulous than their television sweet goodbye.
9. There’s a Normal People/Fleabag crossover sequel.
Thanks to RTE Does Comic Relief, a fundraising effort in support of pandemic victims, TV viewers were given a comedy sketch starring Edgar-Jones and Mescal as their Normal People characters going to confession with Fleabag’s "Hot Priest" Andrew Scott. Dubbed “Normal People Confessions," the skit shows a forlorn Connell pouring out his soul to Scott's all-too-understanding priest before a knock on the door brings Marianne into the confessional with her own divulgence. The one-night-only event saw 1.4 million people tune in and raised more than $5 million for the cause.
10. A second season of Normal People could happen—one day. Or it could not.
Given the popularity of Normal People's first season, it's only natural that people are already asking about the possibility of a season 2. While it was originally written as a limited series and no second season has been confirmed, many of the show's key participants have been vocal about being game to revisit the world of Normal People. In a recent interview with Deadline, Abrahamson said:
"We’ve talked about the possibility of how interesting it would be to check back in with them, but apart from just general musings and over a drink, no, there have been no concrete discussions about what it would be like. As Sally says, the book stops where it stops because it feels right. But, I have a sneaking thing in the back of my head that if everybody was willing, and if the stars aligned, I’d love to revisit them in five years and find out what happened, where they are. Is somebody a father or a mother? What relationships are they in that then get disrupted by their meeting again? But it would be really strange to pick that up eight weeks later with him traveling to New York, I think. There needs to be time ... You’d do it for real, you’d do it á la Before Sunset.”