A long distance conversation between actors and fast friends Paul Mescal, star of the upcoming film God's Creatures, and Honor Swinton Byrne of The Souvenir Part 1 & 2.

Topics covered include: the thrill and terror of acting without a script, the meta nature of The Souvenir movies, Joanna Hogg as genius puppet master, the return of real film, Paul’s “chill and kind” rugby-playing brother, Irish gatekeeping, drama school memories, slowly developing a bad back, being patient with yourself, getting off social media, the courage to be disliked, and Tilda's fish pie.

Episode transcript

Speaker: Hey, and welcome back to the A24 Podcast. You might know actress Honor Swinton Byrne from her incredible performance in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir parts I and II. For today’s episode, Honor called in from the remote Scottish Highlands for a long distance conversation with a fan who was very excited to meet her. Paul Mescal also happens to be one of the most exciting young actors around, and he’s starring in our upcoming film, God's Creatures. We hope you enjoy the episode. Listen to the very end for a surprise guest appearance.

Paul Mescal: I know. What a sentence we're shouting on the A24 Podcast. We've made it.

Honor Swinton Byrne: What did you ask? Sorry.

Paul: Will you allow me to geek out for a little second? Because I only found this out the other day, with The Souvenir, that there was no—I'm sure this is not news to a lot of people, but it was news to me, in that you didn't work from a traditional script, and what that looked like, because it both gives me kind of a total fear and chills as a concept because I'm scared of it, but also I think it's true form acting. I'd just love you to talk a little bit about that and what that was like. And were you scared? Or is it a form in which you really like to work?

Honor: That's such a good question. Do you know what? It was very frightening, and very freeing at the same time. It was overwhelming, but also felt very natural. I would really like to work, preferably only like that in the future. It feels like such a kind of organic flow. Really interesting things happen, I think, when you're improvising as another person. That's interesting because you're accepting all of the stimuli you're getting visually, through sound and everything, people speaking to you, seeing people coming at you with knives, as there was in one scene, that I didn't know was going to happen, that was cut.

Paul: Whoa.

Honor: This drug dealer came at me with a knife and I was like, "What the fuck?" And then I had to, yeah, react as Julie. Whereas Honor would kick the guy in the nuts, Julie would be a bit of a victim.

Paul: Yeah. And how do you navigate? How do you navigate the surprise when you're in character in a scene? Do you find that the process has evolved to the point where Joanna, and through conversations with yourself and Joanna, that arrive on set within that kind of space, within Julie's world—but when something actually surprises you, do the lines blur at all? Do you find that there's an amalgamation of Honor and Julie at moments? Or are you in a position that you know that character so well that it's just like two separate people? Do you know what I'm trying to say?

Honor: I do know what you're trying to say.

Paul: And do the lines blur in that? Yeah.

Honor: And you're saying it so well, because I've tried to explain this to people and I haven't explained it as well as you just did there, that the lines blur. Absolutely, the lines blur. They really do. I didn't think they would, and I think over time, they did more, because she was like my alter ego by the end of it. And then as you'll maybe see in part two, Julie and Honor get very, very close in personality. It's really interesting. So we start off the first Souvenir as someone who's very different to me, but somebody who I once was, very interestingly enough. And then at the end of the second one, it's kind of Honor. So this kind of morphing situation happens. And it's interesting because when speaking with Joanna about it—

Paul: It feels super meta, right?

Honor: Exactly. It's amazing.

Paul: Yeah.

Honor: And I feel like Joanna said she sort of—I mean, I don't want to put words in her mouth, but I understood from her that she didn't have a very precise, clear climax with the second one. She wanted to see where I took it.

Paul: Okay.

Honor: With her guidance. And it just took such a cool, kind of unpredictable turn to it. But yeah, absolutely, the characters really meshed. They really kind of merged in good ways and bad. I feel like a lot of the time I would react in scenes quite ballsy and aggressive and certain of myself, and Joanna would say, "Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. No Honor, just remember that you haven't quite got the balls yet. You're not quite there yet. You're still grieving, and you're in this really weird, very emotionally abusive relationship. So just dial it back a bit." So it would take a few goes sometimes.

Paul: Yeah, yeah. I love it, like the scenes with yourself and Tom and your mother, incredible. But I feel like the form, just the format of not having a script, like essentially, to me, watching that film, that film is about manipulation and gaslighting, which is kind of weirdly ingrained in the shooting process, in a safer way. You know? It's like you're being drip fed this information as the character is, and not to explain what it was for you, but from an audiences' perspective, I feel like having now learned that's the way that you shot it, it makes total sense. It's like you are in a similar emotional and mental state as the character, and that's where it really helps to blur the lines, I feel like, from a process point of view, right?

Honor: That's bang on. It's such a good way to work when you're particularly doing all this very—it's all improvised, obviously. Because literally, I'm not told. I'm not given any lines. And I think, yeah, Joanna just sort of was the puppet master in just such a genius way.

Paul: Yeah, amazing.

Honor: She's just completely so safe, gentle, as you said, so secure.

Paul: Mm-hmm.

Honor: And I trusted her to the ends of the earth.

Paul: Yeah.

Honor: But it really was this very consensual—very interesting, very different to the plot line—but very consensual sort of naivety that I just surrendered to.

Paul: Yeah.

Honor: And Tom had read the—I mean, there wasn't a script, but there was a manuscript, I think Joanna calls it.

Paul: Right.

Honor: Which was just like pages of prose and descriptions of scenes, and no lines or anything. But he had read that. I've never seen it, still to this day. I have no idea what Joanna envisioned before we shot it. It's quite nice to not see it because then I can't compare it to what it could have been or anything. Yeah, it's just organic. I keep coming back to this word.

Paul: Yeah.

Honor: Yeah, it just happened in a really beautiful, natural way. And yeah, I mean, I met Tom for the first time in the scene, when I actually meet him on camera.

Paul: Oh, incredible.

Honor: It was so weird. So the scene in the bit in the first film where I meet him is—I didn't know the actor.

Paul: Did you know who? Oh, Jesus. That's incredible.

Honor: I had no idea what he was going to look like.

Paul: That just doesn't happen anymore. That's such an experience.

Honor: Yeah. It's so cool.

Paul: That's such an experience. And what I love about that is that's just for you. The audience

doesn't know that this is the first time that the two actors have met. I love when directors make it harder to pretend. Because I think it's all to a certain extent about pretending, but when they make it that bit easier to not pretend, when it's like they put structures or scenarios in place, where it gets the little child in your mind excited about the fact that this version of your imagination is actually closer to the truth than—do you know what I'm trying to say?

Honor: I know exactly. I know exactly.

Paul: Yeah, when it's like being held up as like—when you're acting in a scene and it's almost like a fantasy of your imagination, because you're in a period of history meeting somebody for the first time and you're actually meeting them for the first time. That's not a fully articulated thought, but I just got excited about being in your shoes in that position. This is like my kryptonite story.

Honor: Well, I hope you—no, honestly, I can't wait, I feel like you'll one day have an experience similar because it's fucking, like... It's so amazing. And it's so interesting because I can't take credit for how believable it seems, because it's real.

Paul: No, but of course you can, right? In the sense that it doesn't matter if it's real or not, you've still got to do, and you do it so brilliantly. I feel like there's weirdly more pressure on you, given the fact that you know that all of this has been put in place to support you, that you then have to be totally present and allow it to kind of flourish and be the moment that Joanna is hoping it will be, and it totally is in the film. Yeah.

Honor: Well.

Paul: Yeah.

Honor: Well, she just designed it in such a—it really was like a dance. It was so choreographed. And I only ever realized now actually how—I don't want to say controlled. I don't want to use that word, but how kind of structured it actually was. Because, to me, because I was the only one on set who didn't get call sheets, who had no idea what scenes we were doing. I was the only one. And so I was so out of my depth. I was, like, floundering, in a good way. I enjoyed floundering.

Paul: Yeah.

Honor: But everyone else was completely aware of how the scene was going to start and how the scene was going to end. And whatever happened down that path, whatever journey we took in the sort of sandwich filling of that, was up for the interpretation of the actors.

Paul: And so, just like a nerdy question, in terms of how you went about shooting that. So I can't imagine there was a huge amount of rehearsal, but in terms of coverage, like if they're looking to keep you, the actor, and Julie in the dark, did they shoot your coverage first or did they shoot masters first? Or how did that work, in terms of a filmmaking process side of things? Like how was that style protected?

Honor: Well, there was no rehearsals at all. So we would often shoot each scene twice, and move on. There's massive, massive bits of the film that were cut out. Because we shot, I think in total, I think each film took about two months to shoot. Really short. Really, really quick.

Paul: Mm-hmm.

Honor: And what often happened is Joanna—she would shoot for 20 minutes. She'd do a 20 minute take and then kind of take the week—

Paul: On film, right? On 16 mil?

Honor: On film.

Paul: How long could that run for? Sorry, these are all super nerdy questions. So the mag can take 20 minutes?

Honor: I should know this.

Paul: Or something, yeah.

Honor: I should know this. But I think it is about 20 minutes.

Paul: That's crazy.

Honor: But it was amazing. We would just kind of run and then Joanna—it was just amazing to witness these people that just knew so much about film, and they were like proper nerdy. These had been their lives. Like they'd gone to film school and they'd made these student films that no one really wanted to work on and they'd failed and they'd been kind of—it's so amazing. It was incredible to pretend to be at film school when all these people had actually witnessed it and kind of, yeah, been in that position before.

Paul: And also, just the fact that, like, film is making a comeback in terms of like—I don't know if you feel this, but it's so, I think it changes everything when you're like—

Honor: I completely agree.

Paul: It's really coming back, the fact that people just want to shoot on 30. I know you guys shot on 16, but like 35’s coming back. The next thing I'm doing is on 35 and the last two things have been on 35. And it's something that you listen to older actors talk about in the sense that like, they ask if you've shot on film or things like this, and it's really—I don't even know what my point is. I'm just kind of excited that it's coming back and that we get to do it. It does feel like, kind of, when you hear about musicians recording on tape rather than digitally, it feels like that. It's richer or something.

Honor: Exactly.

Paul: It makes everything less disposable. I think it makes performance and choice—it's not just like, run through it and we'll try it tons of times. And I think it requires a kind of attention and focus, and kind of discipline, which I find hugely important. And yeah, zero point to be made there other than I was like, “Yay, it's coming back.” And to get to act for a full mag on film, and Joanna's not calling cut is so thrilling to hear.

Honor: It's amazing.

Paul: Yeah.

Honor: It’s very sensual to me, the fact that it was so precious, transporting the film afterwards was such a massive parade.

Paul: Oh God. Yeah, yeah.

Honor: Whether there was going to be a hair in the gate and the whole thing was going to be gone. And there's something so—yeah, you can almost taste when you're watching it, the graininess, yeah, exactly what you said.

Paul: It's so nice. Yeah.

Honor: It's so personal. There's something so raw about it. Yeah, digital is just not quite, it's not the same thing. But anyway, enough about me. Please tell me what it was like to work—where did you shoot Normal People?

Paul: We shot it mostly in Dublin and Sligo and Italy. And like I was telling you, I saw your film when I was shooting Normal People with Daisy, we went to the cinema. It was a long week and we were like, "Hey, let's just go see this." And so, yeah, I feel like, weirdly linked in that sense. But yeah, we shot it the summer of, I think, 2019, and yeah, it's kind of crazy that it's still—to a certain extent, people talk about it, which is really exciting.

Honor: Of course. My God, it's literally, it's all my friends talk about. And they don't talk about it enough. It's just, yeah, I can't get enough of it. But I've never met Daisy, we share the same agency, and I've never met her.

Paul: Oh, fun.

Honor: But I've heard just such wonderful things about—

Paul: Oh, she's the best. Oh, yeah. I feel like she's just, genuinely, one of a kind. I was talking to her the other day, and it's a weird thing now, we were talking about having spent so much time with each that summer and then COVID happens, and we spend so much time on Zooms with each other, talking about the thing, and then suddenly, the world opens up and we're so lucky that that show then allowed us to work in different corners of the world on projects that were really exciting. But we essentially haven't really hung out and kind of decompressed together about what that shooting experience was. So we're trying to plan around Christmas when we can hang out and see each other. But I feel like we've grown, for both of us, we talk about the fact that so much has happened in two years, that feels like six months. But there's no real point there, but a lot has happened to us and we just, yeah.

Honor: Yeah. That's how I feel as well, it's just flown by, but just so much has been condensed. I mean, I've been at uni online, which is so shit. It doesn't feel like I've been studying.

Paul: Yeah. My brother's the same, he's sick of it. Yeah.

Honor: How old is your brother?

Paul: My brother is twenty…oh Jesus, he's 22. He's 22.

Honor: Nice.

Paul: I'm sorry, Donnacha. No, he's 22.


Honor: And what does he study?

Paul: He is studying HR management—my sister's a musician, she's an amazing singer, and my brother is the person that you turn to in a moment of crisis who is—

Honor: So important.

Paul: —so chill and kind, in a way that is so disarming. He plays rugby and he's a big, strong boy, but collectively as a family, we turn to Donnacha for a level-headed voice. So yeah, HR feels like a—whatever he does, he'll be a public-facing people person.

Honor: I get such a kick out of—

Paul: Well, Donnacha's getting a shout-out on the A24 podcast.

Honor: Yes. We're all here to talk about him. No, I just, I love hearing people talk about their siblings, when they really, really love them. I just get such, I don't know what it is. It's different to talk about friends or parents.

Paul: But I feel like if I really hated him, imagine I really hated him, I feel like I would perform loving him on the A24 podcast, you know?

Honor: Well, yeah, exactly.

Paul: But actually, we're estranged and we don't speak to each other.

Honor: I am going to perform in a minute that I actually like my brother.

Paul: [Laughs] Yeah. Yeah.

Honor: I hate him. No, I can't even perform, I absolutely hate him.

Paul: Okay, great.

Honor: He won't even listen to this. I can't even pretend. I can say whatever I want.

Paul: He won't even listen because you hate each other.

Honor: Because we hate each other. We're twins, like hate each other. Anyway, enough airtime about him. That's enough. So your sister, she's—

Paul: But how did you get started in all this? In the world of acting and yeah, how did it all start for you?

Honor: Do you know what? I wish I could tell you. I never planned it, I never—I remember Joanna cast me, like, two weeks before we started shooting the first Souvenir, like 10 days maybe.

Paul: Whoa. Whoa.

Honor: I had just left school, I was—

Paul: Sorry, that’s crazy.

Honor: Yeah.

Paul: So 10 days before, and then you find out you're going to not get a script.

Honor: Yeah. And cut my hair.

Paul: And you don't know who you're going to be acting with. You got to cut your hair. That's...

Honor: I remember, they cut my hair with kitchen scissors.

Paul: Yeah, wow. That's incredible.

Honor: In the bathroom. It was really incredible. It was so weird at the time, it was such an adrenaline high. I was like, “Brilliant, fantastic.” I'm just out of school, and I was a florist’s assistant at the time. So I was going to weddings and carrying buckets of shit everywhere for months. And then Joanna came to stay to talk to my mom about The Souvenir because my mom was always connected to it. And I'd heard about it, I'd heard my mom sort of speak about this amazing film Joanna was going to make about her younger years and being a film student in the '80s. And I was like, "Oh, that's so cool. Fantastic." And like, "Oh, you're going to be the mom? That's amazing." Never even entered my brain that I would be involved in any way. I was like, "Oh, maybe I'll be an extra.”

Paul: And that your mother would be playing your mother. When you actually unpack it, there's so much. There's so much going on, it's just incredible.

Honor: And my dogs are in it, they're my dogs as well. And I wear a lot of my mom's clothes in the second one, all of the stuffed toys and all the pillows and all the decorations in the first one are mine, from my bedroom. It's weird. It's so meta, it's just amazing. Everything was, yeah, it was amazing. So yeah, she came to stay, and I remember I came back from seeing a pal or something. I think we met in a train station, we met in Berwick-upon-Tweed station, and I was coming back from Edinburgh and she was going to London. And we met on the platform and it was really rainy. And we went and sat in a Caffè Nero, because I remember, we walked away without paying by accident. And we sat there for four, maybe three hours.

And she asked me—I had no idea she was observing me or sort of interviewing me, casting me, but she was just asking questions about ex-boyfriends and weird sort of gaslighting experiences that I'd had, I think quite recently at that point, and I was just talking really freely. And I remember, I look back now seeing it slightly differently, and she was just looking at me and she was like, "God, that's so interesting, fantastic."

Paul: She was just putting you in the film as you were speaking. That's crazy.

Honor: Yeah, she was really analyzing me. And then we got home and she was like, "So do you want to be in the film?" And I was like, "Yeah, yeah."

Paul: Stop, like that day, the day that you met her?

Honor: That day, we sat at the kitchen table and she was like, "Look, I'm making this film, do you kind of want to be in it?" And I was like, "Yeah, sure." And she was like, "I don't need an answer now, how about you think about it and get back to me, because it's a big commitment. We're going to do two films and it will be over four years. And it's very low budget and very kind of, you wouldn't read the script or you wouldn't really know the story." And I was like, "Yeah, no, yeah, let's do it. Let's do it." And she was like, "I don't think you're quite understanding what I'm presenting to you." And I was like, "No, no, no, let's do it." And we did it 10 days later, and it was the best decision I ever made.

Paul: Amazing.

Honor: It was super cool.

Paul: That's incredible.

Honor: Are you allowed to talk about the things that you've just done? About the projects you've just worked in? Or are they top secret?

Paul: Yeah. I'm like, well, one of the films is an A24 film that has been announced. Yeah, I can't wait—it's a film called God's Creatures. We shot it in Ireland, Emily Watson plays my mom, and I love her deeply.

Honor: She's Scottish?

Paul: And I'm just excited for the film in the context of what—it's dark, it's incredibly well-written. And I'm really excited to see what the film-going audience's response is to it. And it was directed by Anna and Saela—it's an Irish film directed by two women who live in New York, which I'm super excited about, from an Irish creative standpoint. I feel the gate-keeping of our own cultures has kind of got to change a little bit in terms of, let's get brilliant directors in to examine us culturally, and let's start the discussion from there. But yeah, in terms of narrative stuff, I can't really talk about it, but I'm just really excited for it to come out. I don't know when, that could be next year at some point.

Honor: Amazing. Well, we're A24 family.

Paul: I'm excited.

Honor: We're family.

Paul: We're A24 family, exactly.

Honor: They're very good to us.

Paul: Yeah. And that was always one of my kind of—they're very good to us.

Honor: Very good to us.

Paul: I remember being in drama school and thinking, "God, I'd love to be in..." [Laughs] Yeah. Yeah. It's the opposite of talking about our brothers that we hate. We actually love A24.

Honor: We really do. We do. For legal reasons, we have to say that we do.

Paul: Yeah, we really do. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Exactly.


Honor: So where in Ireland is home for you?

Paul: So my family are from a place called Maynooth, an hour away from Dublin. So that's probably technically home, and I'm going home for Christmas, which is going to be exciting.

Honor: Nice.

Paul: But home is kind of, at the moment, it's kind of all over the place. I don't live there. I was living in London last year, and then with work, I'm kind of the cliché thing of living out of a—

Honor: Floating, yeah.

Paul: —suitcase, which is wonderful but also at moments, anxiety-inciting, I'm like, if shit hit the fan, I love my family very much, but I don't necessarily want to go back to my own bedroom. So I am kind of in the process now of figuring out where I want to be in the world, which I always thought would just be easy, which is naive. I was like, "Yeah, I'll probably live in London for a couple of years and come back home." And I'm definitely now in flux in terms of just figuring out exactly where I want to be. But what about you? Home is, you're in uni in Edinburgh, right?

Honor: Home is kind of Edinburgh.

Paul: Or London?

Honor: Whisper that. Edinburgh. It's Scotland. It's just Scotland.

Paul: Edinburgh.

Honor: Edinburgh. But I'm in the same kind of weird—I mean, not exactly the same. I'm not traveling as much, but it's being—I just turned 24. So we're the same age. And it's a weird stage because you're not that young anymore.

Paul: It just kind of creeps up on you to make life decisions.

Honor: Yeah, exactly. You're not actually that young anymore. And I'm like, "Oh, I'm young. I can do whatever I want." And then it's like, "No, I'm in my mid twenties. No, I actually can't." But then you are not remotely old.

Paul: I'm, like, slowly developing a bad back.

Honor: Yeah, you know you are getting old when you make a noise when you stand up. You're like, "Ugh." And now I'm like, "Ooh, it's getting cold, my joints." I'll say, “What's wrong with me?” I'm being possessed by this old woman or man, really. And it's just weird. It's weird being this age and also just, yeah, just working out where you belong and where you want your place to be. Not your family's, not your partner's, not your pals, where your nest should be.

Paul: Yeah. And I think it's about being patient with ourselves to a certain extent, just because what I've learned over the last few years is that displacement is kind of part and parcel of it all, and it's kind of a contradiction. It's like, I hate it, but I've kind of got to be at peace with it, in the sense that you go on to these sets and you go into rehearsal rooms, and by its innate nature, these people become your family, or they're the closest people to you for an extended period of time.

And then you go away and you go to a new home somewhere else. And I think it is about, I don't know, being patient with ourselves in our mid twenties. And not every decision—or I find listening back to interviews that I said when Normal People was coming out or things, it's like, nothing we say now is actually, or has to be, binary. The one thing that has to, or that I feel like has to be binary is our outlook on the world as human beings. It's like, what are your core values? The rest can fucking move and change as much as it wants, and I think it should. I think that's what we're both trying to say. Or that's what I'm trying to say is, I'm figuring myself out and I'm going to try and start enjoying that process rather than being scared of it. I think.

Honor: Oh, and there's the sound bite right there. This is what I was thinking, is that earlier, when I was talking earlier about why Normal People—why I felt so comforted by it. And when I said that, I was like, “That's so strange. I haven't said that out loud.” But that's really from my gut, that's what I feel about it. And I was trying to kind of, as we've been talking, I'm like, what do I mean by that? And I think you just hit the nail on the head saying that we are just being patient with ourselves.

And I think that's what Normal People was to me. A lot is about people fucking up and people learning from things and people just—and I take such comfort in cinema and TV and things portraying people being people, and not being like these gods or these dream people that never fuck up or never make mistakes or never learn from their mistakes or be young and reckless and learning, and I think it just, it really, yeah. I felt so comforted. I was like, “Yes, thank you.” Someone else showing me that it's okay to just do what I want for a second and then slightly regret it afterwards, but not really, actually, because I learned from it.

Paul: Totally. But I feel like what's different is, in a way that is both positive and negative, is we're in a position now where essentially we are having a chat and we are talking about our opinions on things now, as of, what day is it? It's, like, 19th of November, these are our opinions now as a 24 and a 25 year old. But to a certain extent, this is for public consumption. And I suppose it's like, how do you feel about access? Because I think, I love that I get to talk to another like-minded creative person, but there's also the part of panic in the ugly part in my brain that's like, of course think about what you're saying, like a normal fucking human being. But I always kind of like—protecting yourself. Basically it's a question. How do you feel about access to yourself and your thoughts and your opinions? Where do you feel those lines blur and what makes you anxious in that regard? It's basically like being public-facing and whatnot.

Honor: Do you know what I think? I don't see enough people speaking their mind, and it annoys me a wee bit because I'm like, “Please just say what you think. Just have unpopular opinions.” And this is what I'm loving about this conversation is because I can really—it's so open, what's going on here and I think—but to answer your question, it's so funny. I feel lots of different things, I always have this anxiety in these interviews. I remember I said something really awful. I'm trying to remember what it was, to an interviewer. And I could just see him scribbling it down. I was like, "Oh no, no, no, no. I didn't mean it that way. I didn't mean to insult that person that way." I was like, "Oh, shit, no, I do think the Oscars is great. Brilliant. It's fantastic." Or something like that.

And then I was like, "Actually, no, put that in, because that's what I feel." And I might feel differently in a week, but put that down because that's how I feel. And I really shouldn't apologize for that. And I just think it's, I don't know. It switches me on when people say what they feel. But there always is that little, ugly part of your brain—such a good way to put it—that little voice being like, "Oh, be careful, you're going to insult someone".

Paul: Be careful, yeah. People are going to use this as their sound bite for you.

Honor: Exactly. “Is this going to be a headline somewhere?”

Paul: And also, I'm saying this as somebody who actually deeply cares about like, if I'm being honest, I deeply care what people think of me. And part of that is a problem and part of that is just innately who I am. I want people to, definitely from a working standpoint, it's—I remember writing down a note at the end of drama school like “What does success look like to you?” And I remember thinking, “Success to me is, you can't be to everyone's taste creatively, but I would love people to conclusively assume that, oh, whether he's your taste or not, he's a good actor, and he's good at what he does.” That, to me, is what success looks like.

But also it's an unhealthy kind of mindset. I'm definitely people-pleasing. I came off social media last year in an attempt to put a bit of control around that and be like, I have this innately in me, but I don't need to see what people think of me all the fucking time. And it's totally ego-driven. But also I think it's an important part of being an actor, or maybe you might disagree, but I don't feel like we're doing it for ourselves. Part of us is doing it because we love doing it. But we're making things for people to see and view and talk about. And with that comes a kind of dissection of you as a person and as an actor. And it's like, where those two things line up is where—that is the center point of my anxiety, where those two things merge. That is the ugly part of my brain that I'm describing. Yeah.

Honor: Yeah. I completely agree with you. I agree that acting, it's not for yourself. It shouldn't be, I think it is for many people, but it's not for me and it's not for you. And I think it's very giving. It's very kind of, “Oh, that's my intention anyway with it.” It really is for other people. It's for the entertainment, it's a beautiful thing to move people and to make people feel comforted in lockdown, you know?

Paul: Comfort them with traumatizing television. That’s what people want.

Honor: Exactly, traumatize them. Exactly. Make them glad that they're, like, stuck in COVID, you know? [Laughs] But no, I completely agree with you. And I think that's a beautiful mentality.

But do you know what? I fucking hate social media. As someone who's on social media—

Paul: I definitely don't believe it's like—

Honor: And I'm on it. And I think it's fucking, it’s just ego-driven. It's all for yourself because all you're getting are these likes. It's approval.

Paul: No, but I feel like some people are able to navigate it so well, right? Some people are able to, like—

Honor: I'm not one of those people.

Paul: I know, I just get fucking scared of it. I'm just like, "Okay, well this one person thinks this of me, therefore, that person is a representative of 90% of the population. Therefore, I am hated." And it's like, I know when you boil it down, that's not true. But I feel like the loudest voice in the room is often the most negative, and it definitely doesn't help my work or my life, or trying to adjust to a new version of reality, which I love, by the way. it's like, I love that this is what our lives get to be now. We get to make films and talk to other creative people and be in parts of the world that I never, never would be without the job that we get to do.

So it's like, how do I make my dream a more comfortable reality, I think is what the last year has been. It's like, how do I actually enjoy this thing happening to me? And if it's like, take myself away from the world a little bit, I feel like that's where I'm kind of settling on at the moment, I think.

Honor: I think this is my push to not do it anymore. Because I do feel like, as you say, there is just so many more negatives than positives. It's just not, yeah. The loudest voice in the room is the most negative. I feel like I just keep checking it as well. I sort of wake up from this daydream where I'm just scrolling through all these people I don't know and I don't care about, and it's just wasting my energy and my time and I just, yeah, I think it's time.

Paul: Yeah.

Honor: Yeah. My mom bought me a book called The Courage to Be Disliked and I haven't read it yet. And I think I need to.

Paul: The Courage to Be Disliked. Great title for something.

Honor: The Courage to Be Disliked. And I think I should read it because I need more of that courage.

Paul: Do you think you have that? Do you think you have, as it stands now, how do you feel about people—

Honor: I'm so much better than I was. And I think with that comes this relaxation to, I mean, say all these things that I said on this chat that are probably going to offend a load of people. It's so freeing.

Paul: You definitely have not.

Honor: Honestly, well, I mean, we'll see, we will see!

Paul: Also, it's hilarious that we think that we've been, like, hateful. We've basically just talked about our own anxieties. If people are offended by this conversation, I feel like, fuck them, to a certain extent.

Honor: I know. I’m like, “I’m being so bad, I'm being so controversial.” And I'm just like, "Yeah, I have anxiety about social media." It's just, like, me and everybody else. But yeah, no, I need to read that book I think. I need more of it. I don't think you can have enough courage to be disliked.

My lordy. It's so nice to meet someone so like-minded, it's really nice. It doesn't happen a lot to me. It doesn't happen a lot.

Paul: Really?

Honor: Yeah. Genuinely, because I feel like—

Paul: So you're still in college, right?

Honor: Yeah.

Paul: That's crazy. You're doing a press tour for what I have no doubt is going to be an incredible film, and you're in college. That's so cool.

Honor: Thank you. It's cool. It's hard because I'm realizing I'm not super—and I know people say this all the time. They're like, "I'm not very smart" and I'm like, hmm. It's, like, false modesty. I really mean it. I'm not particularly, I'm not academic whatsoever. I'm doing psychology, and it's just all statistics, and I'm just realizing now I really—I just wrote an essay on the difference between emotional intelligence and academic cognitive processes and stuff.

Paul: Say that again, academic intelligence and—

Honor: So the difference between emotional intelligence and cognitive academic, like, good at exams, good at regurgitating information, basically.

Paul: Retaining information.

Honor: Exactly. I'm absolutely terrible at exams and retaining information and remembering what people say in lectures and remembering how to do maths. I can't do it. I just think for me personally, I'd rather be so much more emotionally intelligent because I think it gets you—

Paul: Well, I feel like it's way more useful for the job that you're so wonderful at. Who cares if you can't do your 56 times tables? You're going to have to blow smoke up your ass for a second. You can't do what you did in The Souvenir through anything other than emotional intelligence, because, yes, you're being put in organic situations to help with the filming process, but you've also got to be a dramaturg in your own head while you're filming, which I think is so impressive.

I didn't have to do that in Normal People. I got to work with the most incredible scripts that do a lot of the—I suppose, it's just, you carry a different weight of the film in different places. I definitely didn't have to be a dramaturg in terms of any of those shooting processes. I got to just invest in the writing and show up and try and achieve as much as I could, or bring what I thought was required to the scenes. Whereas you're just having the scene happen to you in real time, which is thrilling. I'm so glad that I got to talk to you a little bit about that.

Honor: But I'm so interested in trying this. I've never worked in any other setting than the improvisational, instant way. I'd be so interested to work with an amazing script written by an amazing writer with words that aren't mine. That, to me, is really moving. I think I'd really like to represent someone's character, something from their mind, and represent. I think that's really beautiful. Was there room for improvisation? You’re bringing your own—no, of course there was, but I mean, was there room for molding in your projects?

Paul: I wish I could talk—

Honor: No, I know you can't talk about it.

Paul: —because I definitely can't talk about this one. But there is one, I think it's fair to say that it gives nothing away and nothing's been announced, but where I spend essentially the whole film with a child. I'm just trying to police what I can say. That was so exciting, because process kind of goes out the window. You're just shooting with child hours, and there's something thrilling about that because it does feel improvised and you're just rolling with whatever you're getting. That was so thrilling and a process that I really enjoyed.

It felt super alive and there wasn't a lot of deliberating or talking about the scene. It was like, "Let's just go in and start it, and see where we end up." I really enjoyed that. I think that's what I'm looking for a little bit now is, not only a plethora of different colors for different characters. It's more so now, like, I'm looking at the process of how directors want to work and seeing if that's something that I would enjoy. Basically, I think what we described is that we're just trying to figure out our lives and what we want from the acting that we want to do, which is exciting. Right?

Honor: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Paul: Absolutely.

Honor: 100%. I just feel like, I'm so excited about meeting more collaborations because I think that's a beautiful word, because it means equality in terms of the actor and the director and the writer and the producer. All this teamwork, rather than many experiences I've heard about is, you just are a puppet.

Paul: Oh yes, “Stand there. Say it like this, say it faster, say it slower.”

Honor: Exactly. And then it might as well be anyone.

Paul: Who was it that told me a story the other day? An experienced actor was on set, I can't remember what. But a director went like, "Okay, you're going to stand over here." And before he'd even finished the sentence, the actor was like, "Oh, well this is going to be fucking shit."


I can't wait to be ballsy enough to get past the point of hearing a director say that, maybe at some point, and trying to nurse them out of that decision. Trying to nurse them into a conversation about collaborating. I weirdly can't wait to get to the point where I'm like—not in a dickhead way—but just like, "Oh no, no, no, this is not fun. This is not filmmaking. This is not acting." And, like, to just not care.

Honor: I want to get there.

Paul: I can't wait to care so deeply that I don't care.

Honor: I wonder what that feels like. But you know what? The next time, hopefully—I can't wait for us to meet in person because maybe we'll meet and be like, "I did it. I did it. I spoke up and I said that I didn't want to do that."

Paul: Please. Let's hold each other to that.

Honor: I mean it. Let's do it together. Let's go on this journey together. I think we can. I think you're going to hit it before I do. But I'll read that book and then it will maybe get me a head start, that The Power to Be Disliked book.

Paul: I'm definitely going to read that book.

Honor: I'll send you a copy of it. Let's both read it. Book club.

Paul: Let's endeavor to make everybody—let's make a promise here to endeavor to make everybody hate us in a really passionate way.

Honor: I'll win. I think I'll get there first. You're safe. I think you'll fail, Paul. I'm not sure, no one's ever going to dislike you ever.

Paul: I think you might underestimate me. I think you might be underestimating me.

Honor: Maybe I do. We'll see. We'll see. Oh my God.

Paul: Honor, it was so lovely chatting to you. I've really enjoyed this.

Honor: Please, let it be the first of many. I really mean that. Please. I'd love to get your contact.

Paul: No, for sure.

Honor: Let's chat. Let's do it. Because I think we've got a lot more to talk about.

Paul: For sure.

Honor: I mean it. Thank you so much. And, if you've got a second, my mum wants to meet you. Can she meet you really fast?

Paul: Oh my God. Yes.

Honor: Can she?

Paul: Are you joking?

Honor: Mama?

Paul: Please. I get to meet Tilda Swinton right now.

Honor: Immediately, she's, like, under the sofa. One second.

Paul: I'm nervous.

Honor: Are you coming in? It's time for you to meet...

Tilda Swinton: Hello.

Paul: Hello! This is crazy.

Tilda: This is crazy. This is great.

Paul: Huge fan. I'm freaking out.

Tilda: So now you're here in our house, and the fish pie is nearly ready. I wish you could come.

Honor: I wish you could.

Paul: Honor just described the family meeting of, meeting her boyfriend for the first time? Then she ran upstairs to do the podcast with me.

Tilda: He's next door. Should we bring him in?

Honor: Bring him in!

Tilda: I'm going to bring him in, too.

Honor: Bring him in. Bring everybody in.

Tilda: You're summoned now.

Honor: Rosie, come in, come. Do you have any pets?

Paul: Wow, this is—I have two dogs. My dog Jack is going blind, though.

Honor: Rosie's is going deaf.

Tilda: Rosie's gone deaf.

Paul: Hello. How's it going?

Honor's Boyfriend: Hi, Paul. How are you?

Paul: Hey, fellow Irishman!

Honor's Boyfriend: Yes. I have spent many a night in the Rooster.

Paul: No you haven't.

Honor's Boyfriend: Yeah, I have, I have. [To Honor] Did you bring it up? No?

Honor: No, I didn't. I was waiting for you to bring it up.

Honor's Boyfriend: A couple nights in the Rooster anyway. And you used to play with—?

Paul: Oh, yeah. I used to play county with him.

Honor's Boyfriend: Yeah. So I know him from—

Paul: He's a legend.

Honor's Boyfriend: Yeah. I used to play football with him.

Paul: This is bizarre. We start talking about acting and we end up at the Roost.

Honor's Boyfriend: The Roost and football.

Paul: And I just met Tilda Swinton as well.

Tilda: I think you should have insisted on coming here in person and having some fish pie, myself.

Honor: I know.

Paul: I know. I should have, I should have.

Honor: Where are you, Paul?

Paul: I'm in San Francisco, close to San Francisco. I actually have to run and drive my partner and her band to a show. I'm on chauffeur duty. So that's what's next in the cards for me.

Tilda: Very good.

Paul: But I'm going to be, actually, in London next week for 10 days, if you guys are—

Tilda: Well, funnily enough, we are coming down, aren't we?

Paul: Let's actually do one of the things where I'll get—can I get your number, Honor?

Honor: Yes, please.

Speaker: Thanks for listening. The A24 podcast is produced by us, A24. Special thanks to our editor, Thom Wyatt, and Robot Repair, who composed our theme.