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Tattoos, fame and Normal People drinking games: what we learned from Paul Mescal’s GQ interview

by Megan Burns
24th Nov 2020

The actor that stole the world’s heart as Connell in Normal People earlier this year reflects on gaining fame during lockdown, giving up Gaelic football and his next projects.

Ever since the nation became totally captivated by the adaption of Sally Rooney’s Normal People earlier this year, Paul Mescal has been thrust into the spotlight. Suddenly, even a trip to the shops or a run around the park became worthy of media attention, never mind the frenzy around a potential relationship.

He has opened up about this, amongst other things in an interview in the Jan/Feb 2021 issue of GQ. Here’s what we learned from the article.

He’s genuinely grateful for his success

The interviewer, Jonathan Heaf, seems pretty taken aback at how, well, nice Paul is. He notes that “with Mescal there is no hint of ego or vanity”, and how it is “utterly captivating to see someone so unapologetically in awe of his own good luck and toil”.

It’s clear throughout the interview that Paul is incredibly humble, and puts his situation down to luck, with some hard work thrown in for good measure. He talks about being totally blown away by Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name, as a really formative experience.

“I was so moved by it, it sort of shocked me. He is on another level and it just made me realise what a young actor, roughly the same age as me, could be capable of, the level I had to get up to. I had hardly even worked at all at that point, but I very clearly remember leaving the cinema absolutely terrified by Chalamet’s performance, because I saw how high he’d raised the bar.”

This attitude is particularly refreshing, as is his dedication to his work. It’s clear throughout the chat that he’s particularly single-minded when he wants to achieve something,

He lied to his college tutors about that famous football injury

We’ve all heard the story by now of how Paul, a talented footballer, decided he had to give it up after a broken jaw sustained in a game. What we hadn’t heard before, was that his acting tutors at the Lir had forbidden the students from activities (like Gaelic football) that had a high chance of injury that could affect their careers.

“I played it on the sly for two years,” Paul says. “I had decided to give it up in my final year but then I got slapped pretty hard across the face and my jaw snapped.”

So when he returned to college, “I told them I got mugged in a shop. I was working behind the till in a garage at the time, so I told them, ‘Oh, my God, guys, you’re not going to believe this: someone jumped over the till, punched me in the face and stole thousands of euros!’ Luckily, they had no reason not to believe such a ludicrous lie. They bought it.”

He and Daisy Edgar-Jones have a Normal People drinking game

Paul mentions that he and co-star Daisy hadn’t actually watched the show together until recently, because of lockdown. When they did, “We actually ended up playing a little drinking game: every time Connell wouldn’t complete a sentence or any time Marianne would make an emphatic statement that made Connell uncomfortable we did a shot.”

Something to try if you’re planning a re-watch over Christmas.

Paul Mescal's GQ interview
Photo: GQ

He doesn’t use social media anymore

Speaking quite openly about the struggle of becoming famous almost overnight, compounded by being separated from those closest to him because of lockdown, Paul says that one way he has dealt with it is by staying away from social media.

“I wasn’t even seeing the positive comments, just the negative. I became entirely addicted. It was a problem. Spending hours and hours just reading all these comments… I can understand now the mental health implications. It’s toxic. So I pretty much just quit.”

He has a girlfriend 

Although he won’t reveal her name, Paul does confirm that he has a girlfriend, whose support, he says, has been “a lifesaver. To have someone to lean on through such a mad, mad time has been invaluable. Really, I don’t know where I’d be without her.”

Fans may speculate that it is Phoebe Bridgers, after the two were spotted having breakfast together in Kinsale in July. It was reported that she messaged him on Instagram after watching the show.

He has several tattoos

The interviewer asks about Paul’s tattoos, including a circle on his wrist, which he says he just liked as a design, and a swallow on the inside of his upper left arm. “My dad and I always used to go into the garden around March to spot the first swallows of the spring,” he explains. “It reminds me of him and home, I guess.”

He also has a deer on his other arm,  cryptically saying, “That, erm, has something to do with Normal People…”

The writer goes back through the book, trying to find any reference to a deer, and finds a section where Connell is writing to Marianne when she’s studying in Sweden. He writes about seeing a deer while driving at night:

“To me it’s weird when animals pause, because they seem so intelligent, but maybe that’s because I associate pausing with thought. Deer are elegant anyway, I have to say. If you were an animal yourself, you could do worse than be a deer. They have those thoughtful faces and nice sleek bodies. But they also kind of startle off in unpredictable ways.”

He’s undeniably magnetic

The writer leaves us in no doubt that the world falling in love with Paul wasn’t just the result of good acting. Several times he describes what it’s like to be around him, making it quite clear that he’s one of those people that’s hot not just because of how he looks, but how he moves. I will leave you with this quote:

“You can just tell he’s one of those men who is in control of his own body, from crown to toe. You can see it when he takes a sip of coffee, takes a drag of a cigarette or as he stands to walk back towards the door. Not to get too frothed up here, but there’s poetry in motion with Mescal. He is a man just completely comfortable in his own skin.”

You can read the full interview here.

Featured image: GQ

Read more: 6 times Paul Mescal proved he was undoubtedly Irish

Read more: Paul Mescal’s greatest triumph is making GAA shorts fashionable

Read more: 15 brilliant Irish films worth adding to your must-see lists

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