Frances and Connell were classmates! Conversations With Friends‘ Alison Oliver walked the halls alongside none other than Normal People’s Paul Mescal when the actors both attended The Lir Academy in Dublin, Ireland.
“Paul was three years above me, I think, in college, and I always knew him and he was always amazing, and it wasn’t until I was kind of, I think, maybe in second or third year I got to know him a little bit better. And then when I was kind of auditioning for this or got the role, he was just so lovely,” Oliver, 23, exclusively told Us Weekly. “It’s funny going through quite a similar thing to someone who’s had a similar kind of start as well. I think Lenny [Abrahamson], who directed the show, they’re all primarily Dublin-based and that’s where our college is.”
With just years apart, Oliver and Mescal, 26, would both star in Hulu dramas based on Sally Rooney’s bestselling novels of the same name. While Mescal starred alongside Daisy Edgar-Jones in 2020’s Normal People, Oliver’s Conversations With Friends debuts on Sunday, May 15.
“We actually do a course in that college of Sally Rooney. No, I’m joking! They should probably set one up!” she teased to Us, noting that five others from The Lir appear in her show while about a dozen worked alongside Mescal in his. “It’s really great to see all of the students and stuff get involved in this work.”
Normal People catapulted the careers of Mescal and Edgar-Jones, 23, with the Foe actor earning a British Academy Television Award for his performance. Edgar-Jones, meanwhile, has landed roles in Fresh opposite Sebastian Stan, Andrew Garfield’s Under the Banner of Heaven and the highly anticipated film Where the Crawdads Sing based on Delia Owens’ 2018 book.
With the Rooney connection, comparisons between the two shows were inevitable. “I think, yeah. I think there’s pressure doing anything really. There’s so much to do in a job, and I feel so lucky to have a job in general, but this one in particular,” Oliver told Us. “It’s obviously such a beloved book, as is Normal People. But I think you can feel those things in the beginning. But once you start to rehearse and start shooting, you just get so wrapped up in our story, which is a different story to Normal People, and different characters. That I think once you kind of separate that and just kind of immerse yourself in the story that you were telling, it’s actually quite difficult to compare them as such.”
Still, Abrahamson had a funny way of linking the two. “Lenny kind of calls them, he calls Conversations With Friends Normal People’s cousin,” Oliver said with a laugh.
Like the Normal People cast, Oliver treated the show’s book like the Bible, never straying too far away from the text.
“I was the same,” she said. “I completely devoured that book and was constantly referencing it throughout the shoot, because for me, I felt like the novel of Conversations With Friends is from Frances’ perspective. And so it was kind of this document of everything that’s going on in her head for that story. She’s such an observant person, I just kind of wanted to shove it in my head. I used to kind of almost think of it as Frances’ diary a little bit, which was really helpful. And so I was always using it.”
She added: “I think it’s just so wonderful to get to be a part of the kind of Sally Rooney world and continue on her brilliant stories.”