Daisy Edgar-Jones: Starring in Normal People was the best way to prepare for my stage debut at the Almeida

The actor, who plays Marianne in the TV adaptation of the hit Sally Rooney book, discusses making her professional stage debut in ”Albion” as it returns to the Almeida

Daisy Edgar-Jones in rehearsals for Albion
Daisy Edgar-Jones in rehearsals for Albion
© Marc Brenner

Daisy Edgar-Jones has a pretty exciting few months coming up. Stepping off the back of runs in TV shows like War of the Worlds and Cold Feet, she is about to lead the cast of the upcoming small-screen adaptation of Sally Rooney's award-winning novel Normal People. But before that she has the small matter of making her professional stage debut – in Mike Bartlett's seminal Albion at the Almeida no less. We talk to her about all things theatre, Normal People and gardening.

So how does it feel making your professional stage debut?

I'm very excited – I'd never really got into the audition room that often and I'd been desperate to get back to theatre after performing with NYT [Edgar-Jones starred in the fantastic Reluctant Fundamentalist at the Yard in 2017]. It's such a wonderful play and, given that I've not had much stage experience before, it's nice stepping into a show that's been done already, so the creative team in the room has a good idea of what works and what doesn't.

What have rehearsals been like?

We were off book very quickly and put it on its feet early on. We've had a month's rehearsal period to get to the meat of it. It's been quite nice to get thrown into the deep end – half of the cast is returning and half are new, which is a great way to provide different viewpoints on things. A lot of it is about politics and Brexit so it was very relevant when it first premiered two years ago, because the vote had just happened. Now we're in such a different stage in the whole process so we're re-exploring the themes of the play. 

Did working on the play affect your own political perspectives?

Coming from London and having a particular kind of friendship group, you get made aware that it's a bit of an echo chamber. I very much believe my views but it's important to hear other perspectives. Mike was there for the first read-through and for the first full run, and his writing is so beautifully subtle – it explores deep messages in a lighthearted way.

Daisy Edgar-Jones in rehearsals for Albion
Daisy Edgar-Jones in rehearsals for Albion
© Marc Brenner

And have you had some hands-on gardening experience?

I think I might get bitten by the bug – I've started cultivating a collection of indoor plants. My boyfriend had bought me a plant just before my Albion recall and I had to carry it there with me – I only realised when I walked into the audition that I looked really sad – bringing this potted plant to a show known for having a garden on stage!

So, Normal People – what was it like working on one of the most eagerly anticipated TV shows of the year?

I couldn't have ever predicted how busy 2019 was going to be – in 2018 I did a few jobs here and there but had a lot of downtime. But then I got Normal People and it all changed! The process was sort of similar to theatre, funnily enough. It was the first time I've had the chance to talk about the psychology of a character a lot. Alice Birch [screenplay], Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald [directors] have all worked in the theatre and Hettie had a theatrical, directorial way of working with us. She'd give us secret notes and work with us a lot in rehearsals – which was probably good preparation for Albion.

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal in Normal People
Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal in Normal People
© BBC Pictures

Did you feel a sense of pressure taking on the role of Marianne?

When Paul Mescal [Connell] and I were cast we felt like we were in such a bubble – we were such fans of the book so when we met up it was like we were just having fun. It's only really now that I'm like "oh gosh this is a thing, people are actually going to see it". There is a bit of pressure there and rightfully so – she is such a wonderfully written character and Sally has written such a fantastic book. If I was watching it I would want Marianne to match what I had in my head. At the same time, the book is very internal and the series is on screen – it's a different medium and we'll have got the tone of it. I'm proud of what I've seen so far. 

And how did it feel having so much already written about your character?

It was an interesting balance – characters are written from both Marianne's perspective and from Connell's depending on the chapter – so sometimes you were walking into a scene knowing what your character's brain was going through, and other times you only knew how you were being observed by another person. So you had to judge between playing what you thought in your head and what other people thought of you. Connell can see Marianne as harsh, but Marianne doesn't realise that that's how she's coming across. So that was an interesting balance to get right. How much do I let the audience know what's really going on, and how much should I let them know that I'm posturing?