Paul Mescal interview: ‘Aftersun’
Paul Mescal’s rise from the Dublin theater scene to global recognition over the last 32 months has been nothing short of meteoric. Mescal burst onto the scene in April of 2020 with his starring role in the Hulu limited series “Normal People,” a performance that won him legions of fans and multiple acting prizes, including two Gold Derby TV Awards. Movie roles for Mescal were quick to follow – including a praised supporting turn in last year’s “The Lost Daughter” – and it didn’t take him very long to find a big screen part that left viewers and industry peers once again in awe of his talent.
In “Aftersun,” Mescal stars as Calum, a troubled young father on what will become a fateful trip with his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (breakout star Frankie Corio). The film is the debut feature from writer-director Charlotte Wells and has already won acclaim in these early stages of awards season. On Monday night at the Gotham Awards, Wells won the Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award, while Mescal was among the 10 nominees for Best Lead Performance. At the Indie Spirit Awards, “Aftersun” will compete for Best First Feature while Mescal, again, made the list of Best Lead Performance nominees. (Both the Gotham Awards and Spirit Awards shifted to gender-neutral awards categories for actors.)
“It’s a huge honor,” Mescal tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview about the recognition for his “Aftersun” performance thus far. “It was the kind of film that was so small that we didn’t even need to announce it until it was going on. I take great pride in the fact that people still watch small films and have an appetite to go to the theater and that there is room for films like this to exist and have an impact on people. If nominations and all of those things help an audience come to those films, I take great pride in that. I also think it’s a huge honor for people to look at and engage with your work and deem it worthy of something. It obviously has its pitfalls – you can’t be reliant on that to elicit pride in your own work, but it helps.”
“Aftersun” is an autobiographical project for Wells, who based it on memories of a trip she took with her own father when she was around the same age as Sophie. “The essence of what I have to say about that is held within the 145,440 frames on screen,” Wells said in a director’s statement released by A24. “This film is unmistakably fiction, but within it is a truth that is mine; a love that is mine.”
Mescal says while the project was deeply personal to Wells, it didn’t change his approach to finding the character. “I think the process of kind of sniffing around the background and kind of interrogating the behavior is pretty much the same, or so far, it’s been the same,” he says of how he works. With “Aftersun,” however, he had to “trust the fact that there’s not a lot of clues” about what happened with Calum. “You’re never going to be satiated by having enough information, which I think is actually the power of the film. So it was a matter of kind of going off of a set of hunches in the early days and the prep. And then Charlotte was just so good at kind of letting me know [if I was right]. I would say that this is kind of what I’m thinking, in this ballpark. And for the most part, she was I was like, yeah, that’s where I should be landing. And so there was a lot of creative freedom sent my way from Charlotte, which I’m very grateful for.”
Mescal is currently rehearsing for his return to the stage as Stanley Kowalski in an Almeida Theatre production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” He’s also got a handful of major film projects coming down the line, including “Foe” which pairs him with Saorise Ronan. But despite the success, he says it’s still helpful to look back at what he does on screen and learn from the performances.
“I do think at the moment, it’s important to look at my work back. I think I would quite like to get to the point where I don’t feel the need to do that. But I’m learning as I’m going along,” he says. “This is my first leading performance out in the world. I don’t think I’m able to do an Adam Driver on it and not watch my work. But hopefully, I’ll get to that position. I just think it’s useful. It’s like your kind of expectations versus reality in terms of what you thought a day’s work looks like versus the finished product. For the time being, it is important.”
“Aftersun” is out in theaters now.