Paul Mescal on ‘Aftersun’ & ‘God’s Creatures’, the Internet and his relationship
While drinking a spicy margarita in a hotel in downtown Manhattan, Paul Mescal is afraid to pass for a “wanker”. It starts when the Irish actor talks about his experiences of dissociation during filming. “I mean that in a non-dumb acting way,” he says, which is to say not in the pretentious, masturbatory way of actors who talk about their technique. The wank returns when, after a not-so-welcome attempt to investigate his love life, I back off asking him about his musical tastes. He names Majical Cloudz and Stephen Sondheim. “I like musicals. If something is good for me, it’s the most played. Ditto for cinema. “I love blockbusters, if they’re entertaining,” he says, before admitting , “I like all crazy European cinema if it’s good, or the A24 slate.”
It’s hard to extract much more personal information in an hour with the supernaturally polite and good-humored 26-year-old. Mescal was a theater actor from Dublin in the 2020s normal people has made him Twitter’s number one pandemic crush, and he seems unsure how much of himself to offer up for public consumption as he promotes his new film, God’s creatures. “I feel more secure in my own relationship with my new version of my new life,” he says, compared to his first publicity blitz, which took place mostly on Zoom. Twisting a cloth napkin around his Cartier love ring and matching rose gold ring, he adds, “I want to protect anything that allows me to play that kind of role.”
By “those kinds of roles,” he means reluctant men whose aura of mystery might be a harder sell if the actor were more familiar. Consider normal peopleit is Quietly intellectual jock, Connell: Would his inability to express his feelings outside of the bedroom have been so captivating if we thought Mescal was a movie snob? In God’s Creatures, released on September 30 on A24, audiences will see Mescal play another emotionally tortured, if more sinister, young Irishman. He stars as Brian, who, after being accused of sexual assault, manipulates his mother into providing him with an alibi. Three weeks later, Mescal’s second A24 project, After Sunwill be released, in which he plays a troubled young father, seen through the eyes of his daughter, who is still trying to figure him out 20 years later.
Mescal’s interest in repressed men comes in part from personal experience. “I’m lucky not to be from my parents’ generation,” he says. “I went to drama school and talked about my feelings for three years, and went to therapy. But I was also born out of something that’s not that. He’s attracted to the characters whose actions can’t be easily explained by an earlier scene of trauma, and he liked that God’s Creatures didn’t spoon-feed the public a tidy history of abuse to suggest why Brian becomes a predator. “I think there’s a lot of movies these days where it’s about the end product of acting,” he says. “The artist has nothing to do. It’s just like, wow, look at this awesome collection of scenes that are performed very skillfully and really well. He prefers actors who force you to pay attention to them with pure presence: “What about a performance confident enough that you don’t have to explain to an audience in the first 30 minutes why a character is driven? “
Saint Laurent sweater by Anthony Vaccarello
With back-to-back starring roles under the banner of A24 – the film production and distribution company responsible for the touchstones of the zillennial Euphoria, Zolaand Body Body Body – it’s tempting to think that Mescal boosts the credibility of indie cool kids. But After Sun Producer Barry Jenkins says there’s no ironic distance or glitz in Mescal’s work. “A24 is that ‘cool’ place [but] they always bristled at that association and I think Paul did too,” says Jenkins, whose Oscar winner Moonlight was also A24. “Coming out of normal people, he could have been Hollywood’s next young male idol. But he is in After Sun wearing 80s dad jeans and cheesy t-shirts. I don’t think any of the movies Paul stars in are anything like that “cool kids genre”. They are very serious characters. All the kudos to him for going against the grain of what’s “cool” in neon.
Mescal deactivated his public Instagram account in the spring of 2021, shortly after he finished promoting the marathon for Normal people. “It’s a specific 21st century skill that I don’t think I have,” he says. But nothing fuels a crush like Mescal’s silence and lust – his gold chain! his short shorts! – only grew after he turned black. And while being the subject of all that projection has its own challenges, he thinks the demands of social media outweigh the benefits of self-promotion. “The reward is not very good. You have access 24/7, all the time,” he says of social media. “I have smaller social networks now, just like posting photos of my friends, which will never be work related. I will never be in the photos.
Fans now get most of their information from Mescal’s partner, musician Phoebe Bridgers, whom he first met on Twitter. She kicked off their relationship softly in a tweet (“Paul thinks a thousand islands are called the hundred year sauce”) and kicked it off strong in a grid post of him kissing her on the cheek while wearing a Prada parka. With their relationship Instagram official, Mescal began appearing at various Bridgers World Tour stops over the past year. Fans, who call the pair ‘mom and dad’, post videos of him watching the show while cradling Bridgers’ black pug Maxine; in one, the musician slips away during an interlude of “Scott Street” to quickly kiss the two of them. He appears in Bridgers music videos and joins her on the Coachella stage to shout “I Know the End”.
“There’s a lot of movies these days where it’s about the end product of acting. The artist has nothing to do with it.
This is all material for a new internet fantasy starring Mescal: Indie Rock’s first boyfriend. The kind of modern feminist man who isn’t threatened with being on the sidelines, supporting his girlfriend. But in talking to Mescal about his relationship, he doesn’t make it seem grandiose, symbolic or subversive. “I really, really love being with her and her band and her friends. It’s also great to see a country that I don’t know,” he says. “I really love the Pacific Northwest. I love this part of the country, like Portland. New York. I feel like a pretty enthusiastic person, so everything has been very happy. Maxine, he adds, is also well adapted to the life of tour. “She’s great on flights. Great with noise. People love her. She’s like a big extension of us, representing well in every social interaction. Shortly after, Mescal’s publicist quietly ends to our conversation, and he dons his Wayfarers to be transported to his next duty.
Struggling to reconcile the giddy groupie in the Bridgers concert videos with the reserved actor I meet, I decide to ask Mescal normal people co-star Daisy Edgar Jones to shed some light on what Mescal is privately. “It’s hard to think of anything the public wouldn’t expect to know about Paul,” she wrote in an email, “because with him what you see is what you get.” She explains that he is warm and generous and does not correspond to the stereotype of the intense and tortured artist. “What strikes me most about Paul is his ability to access this raw vulnerability, bare it all on screen and go to such dark and painful places in his work, while still being an incredibly kind person. , funny and wonderful to be around. .”
Although Mescal is unfailingly kind, baring it all – baring it all – seems like something he only reserves for the screen. And perhaps for short bursts among his fans, as Jenkins observed while spending time with him at the Telluride Film Festival. “Telluride is a very relaxed festival, so nothing isolates you from the festival-goers. And there were young adults who really liked his portrayal in normal people and were kind of obsessed,” Jenkins recalled. “He was there with his partner, and he was so sweet about it. You could tell he saw himself in these people and understood what his interactions with them might mean. In real life, in other words, Mescal is as available as he hated feeling on social media. Not at all wacky.
Top Image Credit: Fendi Shirt