Daisy Edgar-Jones has arrived in New York fresh off a trip to Milan Fashion Week. She is as willowy, doe-eyed, and dewy-skinned in person as she appeared in Normal People, the steamy 2020 series that launched the 23-year-old British actor to sudden, global fame. Yet she lets out a peal of laughter at the notion that she might have walked in a fashion show. She was just attending a Gucci event, not hitting the runway.
“I’ve got a bit of a weird walk, actually,” she muses, perched on a sleek booth in the lounge of a sky-high Manhattan hotel, a phalanx of publicists waiting in the lobby. “I remember my first job was this show called Cold Feet, and I really had such a small part. One of the first scenes I ever had to do was just, like, walking somewhere. And I remember being so self-conscious and being so aware of: ‘I want to act like I’m walking. I want to look like I’m walking.’ … At least I’ve done it for long enough now that I can confidently walk somewhere and not be terribly self-conscious.”
That Edgar-Jones’ bar for success is “walk good” is laughable given all she’s accomplished in such a short time. While she’s here to promote her new thriller-comedy, Fresh (currently streaming on Hulu), she already has a battery of high-profile projects in the can: FX’s miniseries adaptation of the John Krakauer true-crime book Under the Banner of Heaven, co-starring Andrew Garfield, premieres April 28; Where the Crawdads Sing, a film based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name and produced by Reese Witherspoon, is due out in July. All that on the back of Normal People, the Sally Rooney adaptation that entrapped the minds — and dirty dreams — of a good portion of the world.
Delia Owens, who wrote the novel Where the Crawdads Sing, speculates that Edgar-Jones’ humility comes, in part, from the fact that she doesn’t quite know she’s famous — yet. “Some person — I’m not gonna say who — contacted her and she was so excited,” Owens says. “And I’m thinking, ‘Daisy, you’re big as they are.’ But she doesn’t see herself as this big famous star.” She adds, in a seemingly unwitting wink to the hugely popular Hulu series, “She’s normal people.”
Maybe she’s so down-to-earth, as Owens puts it, because said massive TV show took off square in the middle of the pandemic, and Edgar-Jones has yet to feel the real-world ramifications of fame. She met her newly signed agent for the first time while on this press tour — as in, today, a few minutes prior to our chat, in this same lounge at the Mandarin Oriental. But maybe sweet and down-to-earth is just who Edgar-Jones is. The girl you meet on the first day of college who’d rather grill new friends about their lives than brag about hers, who smiles with teeth in photos instead of trying to look cool.
Nonetheless, she was well-known enough to draw her Fresh co-star Sebastian Stan — he of Captain America and, more recently, Pam & Tommy fame — to the hilarious horror rom-com. He plays Steve, new boyfriend to her jaded, fed-up-with-dating-apps Noa, in a budding relationship that goes off the rails when it’s revealed he is actually an enterprising cannibal who sells bits and pieces of his paramours to men with very particular tastes.
“She was the reason I ended up doing this [film],” Stan says from a tiny Zoom window during Fresh’s hectic junket a few days later. “When I saw Daisy had signed on, I immediately emailed the Deadline article to my agents. I said, ‘She’s incredible. I want to get in on this.’ I saw Normal People and just loved it. She was so complex and layered and real and vulnerable and sort-of bold. It was the most raw, authentic performance that I had seen in a while.”
The role of Noa is certainly a departure from Normal People’s deeply interior Marianne — a move that was intentional but not without its challenges. The most arduous scenes, Edgar-Jones recalls, were the gore-fest final moments in which Steve’s stock of women — each missing various limbs — finally escapes his clutches. “For actors, there’s always a sort of scene on a schedule that you’re like, ‘Oh God, it’s coming. I know it’s coming,’” she says. “And I think it was the second-to-last week, and it was just really important to get that right.”
When Stan looks back on that sequence, he remembers how frigid it was in Canada where they were shooting, and all the fake gore, sure, but also Edgar-Jones’ warmth and good humor. “She was in this pink dress and had blood all over her mouth, and she was still cracking jokes, trying to make me laugh,” he says, laughing. “Then five minutes later she’d have to go and get to like a level-20 panic. It was a flawless switch.”
Edgar-Jones has only been acting professionally for about seven years now, appearing mostly in British television shows and stage plays before making her way stateside for programs like Fox’s War of the Worlds. She grew up tangential to showbiz, though; her father works for a British TV station and her mother was previously a film editor. “I have so much respect for the editor because, really, they’re piecing together your performance,” she says. “Sometimes you watch stuff back and you’re like, ‘Oh I didn’t think to do that reaction there, thank you for making that choice. Way better than what I did.’”
She first realized she wanted to act back when she was in elementary school. “I was pretty average at things,” she says with typical English self-deprecation, “and I was quite shy, too.” But when, at the tender age of seven, a teacher cast her as Anne Boleyn in a play about Henry VIII — done, inexplicably, in the style of Jerry Springer — she felt oddly at home. “I walked in with a fake head under my arm, and I was all angry that he chopped my head off,” she says. “And I remember being really sort of sassy, and really angry, and being like, ‘Can’t believe you did this!’ And, you know, it was very different from me. That was when I first had that experience of enjoying and really inhabiting a character. As a seven-year-old Anne Boleyn.”
That separation between self and character — and the ability to thrive in the in-between — stayed with her from then on. “Perhaps what I like about acting is that I feel able to do things that I am uncomfortable with when I’m in character,” she says. Take Normal People, which centers around the fraught relationship between Marianne and Connell (Paul Mescal) from high school through college, and features copious sex scenes, some passionate, some dark, all very vulnerable.
“I think the good thing about Normal People is that those scenes are sort of so beautifully shot that I’ve had a lot of friends say to me, ‘I forgot it was you,’” she says. Then she notes that both her parents and grandparents have seen the series as well, and that modesty kicks in: “They were able to lose themselves more in the story, but also, the wonderful gift of fast-forward is very helpful.”