Hulu revealed the first look at its upcoming adaptation of Sally Rooney's best-selling novel Normal People, on Friday during the Television Critics Association winter press tour. Although the 12-episode limited series does not yet have a premiere date, it's expected to debut on the streaming service this spring.
Normal People details the ups and downs of the complicated but tender relationship between Marianne and Connell, from the end of their school days in a small town in Ireland all the way through their undergraduate years at Trinity College in Dublin. Daisy Edgar-Jones (War of the Worlds, Cold Feet) portrays Marianne, who struggles to fit in at school but flourishes when she goes to college and is free from her family's influence. Paul Mescal, in his first television role, portrays Connell, a popular boy at school who struggles to find his place once he goes to Trinity as what he wants for himself and what society tells him he wants cause him emotional distress.
Rooney adapted the novel, which tells the story from both characters' points of view, with writers Alice Birch and Mark O'Rowe. One of the challenges of bringing the very introspective and intimate novel to the screen was acknowledging that the scripts were just one small piece of a much larger puzzle.
"As a novelist, you have a whole set of tools you can use to express interiority, and as a screenwriter, you have a different set of tools, and I just wasn't used to using those," said Rooney. "That definitely was one of the big challenges for me in the beginning of this process, and the way that I think you deal with that is by acknowledging that the script is only one small part of what will become the show. As a novelist, all you see is what you put on the page, as language is the only tool that you have, whereas a screenwriter you accept that you're just one small part of all the layers that will go into presenting the story in a new way."
Making things more difficult for Rooney and the writers was the fact that, as Rooney noted, Marianne is "characterized by not having any friends or anyone to talk to" while Connell is "characterized by never really saying anything."
"Both of these characters have a kind of introspective quality, so how do you make that quality transfer from the interiority of the page to the visual technologies of TV and film? Part of that obviously is the role of actors," said Rooney.
"And when you cast two people as talented as Daisy and Paul in material as rich as this, it gives you an opportunity to ... present the direct presence of those characters," added director Lenny Abrahamson (Room), who directed the first six episode of the series. He added, "What this novel gives you is this essence, and then you just really find your way, as a group of creative people, to really reproduce that sort of essence in a different context."