Normal People

The highly anticipated adaptation of Sally Rooney’s literary phenomenon

Interview with Alice Birch

Do I think the adaptation is faithful to the original novel? Yes, that felt very important.Alice Birth
Date: 20.04.2020     Last updated: 20.04.2020 at 09.48
Interview with Alice Birch, screenwriter.

Had you read the novel before you were approached about the screenplay?
Yes, I'd read Conversations With Friends and loved it. I was given Normal People just after it came out and read it very quickly. I hoovered it up.

Were there any challenges in the adaptation process?
Yes, of course. Structurally, making the book fit into 12 episodes that feel compelling and like their own little story, but also work across the whole, was obviously difficult because that's not how Sally conceived it. The interiority of each character - that internal monologue / world is always difficult to translate to screen. Lots of missed communication or misunderstandings happen in the novel and that's hard on screen without being expositional.

Do you think the adaptation is faithful to the original novel?
Yes. That felt very important.

Did you have any input in the casting of Marianne and Connell?
Paul was cast very early on - he had already been cast by the time I came on board. I saw some tapes for actors for Marianne and spoke with Lenny about it, but Daisy was so brilliant and the chemistry between her and Paul was so great, that it felt very clear that they were the right two people.

What has it been like seeing Daisy and Paul bring Marianne and Connell to life on screen?
They're extraordinary. They both have to go on huge emotional journeys and work so hard to express so much of that complex relationship. It's impossible to remember what my imagined versions of Marianne and Connell looked like before all of this.

What makes Normal People stand out from other TV shows?
I don't know about comparing it to other TV shows - there's so much content at the moment. I know that everyone who worked on Normal People cared very deeply about Sally's novel and those characters. We were always talking about the book in micro and macro - there would be detailed conversations about a choice of word and one eye on the whole series all the time.

I think everyone came to the project because they felt excited about it, about Sally as an artist, and also because of a real love and empathy with those two central characters. So much investment from absolutely everyone made it feel like a special thing to be part of.

What do you hope audiences take away from the series?
When I finished reading the novel I felt breathless - and profoundly moved. If we've come close to that for an audience, that would be wonderful.