Ari & Louise
Paul Mescal is graduating from lovelorn teenager to in-demand indie star.
The breakout star of Normal People26, recently hit the Toronto International Film Festival with three notable films, including his Irish gothic drama God’s Creatures (out Sept. 30) and the emotional Aftersun (Oct. 21), in which he plays a young father taking his daughter on a poignant summer vacation.
In God’s Creatures, Mescal plays an accused rapist who tests the devotion of his mother (Emily Watson). The film is an abrupt turn from his previous work, Mescal tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
“The film’s discussing every man’s relationship to their masculinity and how toxic that can be. Even if you’re playing somebody who is considered a bad person, I feel like it’s the actor’s responsibility to do something that surprises people,” he says.
In next month’s AftersunMescal takes on his first fatherhood role, something he knows might surprise fans who last saw him play a teen in the Hulu hit series based on Sally Rooney’s bestselling novel.
“Of course the last thing that most people have seen is Normal People,” he acknowledges. But he shot the pandemic cult-hit series in 2019, and for the actor, Aftersun was again an opportunity to play “against type, consciously so.”
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Early next year, the Irish actor will hit the screen in Benjamin Millepied’s Carmena film adaptation of the famous opera in which the star dances and sings opposite In the Heights‘ Melissa Barrera.
Playing a former Marine who suffers from PTSD, Mescal says his biggest challenge was “transitioning from playing somebody who was a teenager like in Normal People two a man. You can throw on top of the dancing and singing and boxing… It was a blast.”
With his indie career on the rise, is there a universe he’d like to join, like Marvel or DC?
“If I get to keep making indie films for the rest of my life, I’ll be a happy man,” he says. But there is one Tom Cruise franchise he’d be game for. “Something like Top Gun: Maverick would be more interesting to me,” he says. “I love that movie.”
The actor, who went Instagram official with musician Phoebe Bridgers last year, recently brought his girlfriend to the Telluride Film Festival, where they got to see other films together too.
“We do have the same taste, but it’s also really fun to take your partner to something which is not their world,” Mescal says. “It’s cool to sit in at the Women Talking world premiere with your partner and get to experience that together and talk about it afterwards.”