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Movies & TV

13th Mar 2021

INTERVIEW: Normal People casting director on the pressure of follow-up show Conversations With Friends

Rory Cashin

Normal People quiz

She also discusses the reactions to when Paul and Daisy were put in a room together during the casting process.

There is a certain kind of magic to be found in the ultimate marriage of actor and character, the idea that while other performers could take on the role, it does feel like this role was created specifically for this actor, or that this actor was born specifically to play this role.

These kinda of serendipitous moments don’t come along very often, which makes it all the more impressive that Normal People featured two of them, with Paul Mescal as Connell and Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne, and as we all know since then, they’ve become two of best-known actors in the world. And all off the back of one Irish TV show.

One of the people who helped make that happen was Louise Kiely, one of the pre-eminent casting directors in Ireland, and when we had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Louise (thanks to the folk at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival), of course we had to ask about the process behind that casting:

“Paul was amazing in the show, and Lenny directed in brilliantly… It was the perfect combination of all of the right things, so it was an amazing start for him.

“As for his career trajectory, Paul is an incredibly talented actor, so I believe his work will be amazing, regardless. And I feel that I was lucky that I was part of the casting process for one of his very early projects.

“As regards to knowing when it is perfect, the interesting thing is many times there are a few versions of perfect. So we might see one group of people or one couple, and if we cast that group, the movie would be one thing. And if we cast a different group, then the movie would be something else. Both great.

“And that is what comes with such an abundance of talent, so when you put the people together, something else is created, and it is about which magic you choose in that moment, or just logistically, who is available for it.

“When it came to Normal People, I have to say, Paul and Daisy, when we brought them into the room together, there wasn’t one iota of doubt from anybody in the room. And we had had a big search, especially for the Marianne role, and it was just the most amazing moment, because we found them!”

With the recent news and casting announcements of Conversations With Friends, another Sally Rooney adaptation from the same producers and director as Normal People, did Louise feel any additional pressure for the casting success to compare to the global reaction that Normal People received?

“The thing is, you don’t want to do a bad job, ever. The casting, it is like every job happens on its own, as a separate event. For example, yes, Conversations and Normal People will have the same creative team, but the same [casting] rules apply to something else that I’m working on.

“So I’ve had a successful casting job on a movie, for example, and then do I put the pressure on myself for the next film, to cast it as well? I think if I thought like that, it might stress me out!

“Working with the same creative team as Normal People on Conversations was just a total luxury, because they’re very, very talented people. The producers, and obviously the director. So what you have is my instincts on an actor, and Karen, my colleague’s instincts on an actor. But also three producers who have amazing casting abilities, and a director who is incredible at it. It is absolutely a team.”

You can listen to our full conversation with Louise Kiely below, which also includes the biggest casting call she’s ever been a part of, working on Foundation – the huge sci-fi show that is the most expensive production ever in Ireland- and why Avatar 2 is on her IMDb page:

This interview was edited slightly for clarity.