Lenny Abrahamson: In Conversations with Friends your character, Nick, is an actor. And there’s a scene where Frances asks him about his work and Nick says that the thing he likes about acting, as opposed to real life, is ‘knowing what to say, what comes next.’ Is there anything in this that chimes with your own relationship with what you do?

Joe Alwyn: I find that very hard to answer, so thanks for starting there Lenny!… But I guess one: it means I don’t have to be myself, and two, it means I do get to be myself! That sounds really unclear, I know, but what I mean is I like playing other people because you get to step out of your own shoes, and there’s a part of me that has always liked that removal. But at the same time, in pretending to be someone else, in totally unrelated and ridiculous circumstances, there’s an odd kind of catharsis. You can funnel yourself through other people and express things that you might otherwise put a lid on and bury as ‘you’. And so there can be this great feeling of release. Jesus, I don’t know if that makes any sense?? But with my character Nick… Well, I don’t think it’s as crippling for me, Joe, as it is for Nick, with regards to knowing what to say, or what comes next. I certainly like the structure of the job in general, once you have it. A few months of knowing where you’re going to be and what you’re going to work on, that’s a nice luxury before the panic of not knowing what’s next kicks in.

LA: After a day’s filming, can you let it go or do you rethink and critique what you’ve done? How do you get along with yourself when you’re working?

JA: I’m British, so I think it’s in my nature to second-guess and rethink what I’ve done. I’d love to have a bit more of that American self-belief, but it just seems to built into our bones to question everything we do. I do it more at the start of a shoot when I’m still finding my feet and wondering why on earth I’ve been trusted to do the job. It gets easier as it goes on, but I suppose I’m harder on myself more often than kind, which is something I’m trying to work on and change. I feel like working on this show taught me a huge amount. And to be clear, I had so, so much fun making this. It was a dream job and in many ways I could not have been happier. I feel ridiculously lucky. So, thank you, Lenny…

LA: Do you remember how you felt when you first read Conversations with Friends? What excited you about it? Now that you’ve seen what we made together, do you think we’ve captured the things you admired about the book?

JA: I loved it when I read it. I loved how human they all were, Sally’s characters. And I loved how it was funny and moving and extraordinary and had these huge shifts but actually always in quite a subtle way. It just felt very real. I’ve not seen all of our episodes yet but I do think we held onto those qualities. At least I hope we have. And really that starts with you, Lenny! The way that you approached the material, you seem to interrogate every line and moment in such detail, looking at all the possibilities of what each beat could be. Your knack for building a world that just feels really, really genuine — complex and intricate and alive and subtle — is amazing. It’s there in a lot of your work — obviously most recently in Normal People. An attention to detail (without ever being overbearing) that creates these very real worlds and people, and watching how you track each of us within that… it’s incredible to see. I also think that to accept the complexity of what Sally is talking about you have to see both positives and negatives in all the characters. It’s not as simple as having good and bad. There’s a joy in accepting the complexity of it all, and so you can’t really ever know exactly who you’re fully ‘rooting’ for. There can’t be an outright villain or anything. I think that feels well done here.  it’s messy and complicated in the right way.

LA: Forgive me for this, but what’s it like being so handsome? I promise this is a straight-up and very serious question!

JA: If it helps, I’m incredibly stupid.

LA: One of the great pleasures for me in making this show was watching how you and the other actors formed such strong bonds and how much fun you had. How would you describe the dynamic between you all?

JA: We got lucky there! When you spend five months with a group of people you cross your fingers that you’ll get along. And we all really did. We were shooting in a time of partial lockdown, so we had no choice but to hang out with each other on the weekends. Luckily, everyone just clicked. And I think that really fed into the work on screen too. we all weirdly morphed into our characters a bit but maybe that’s inevitable. It was great though — it was a job, but it was also a really special life experience with a special group. We’d be filming on the beach in Croatia during the week, only to all go back to the same spot at the weekend. It was just so much fun.

LA: Most of your big scenes are with the wonderful Alison Oliver who plays Frances. How was it working with her?

JA: It’s incredible that this is her first role out of drama school. She’s wonderful in the show. I don’t think that there could have been a better Frances. She brings so much to the role and worked so hard, and you could see that each day on set. Beyond her being so talented, she was just the most joyful, genuinely excited person to have around; completely positive and willing to jump in and try anything. It was inspiring to see that positivity and enthusiasm each day.

LA: What was it like playing a middle-class South Dubliner? How did you work on the accent and get a sense of that very specific world?

JA: I remember you when I chatting right after being cast and wondering whether we wanted to do this British or Irish. The South Dublin voice we landed on isn’t too far from home, really. In some ways I find that trickier, when there isn’t a huge departure from how you normally sound. It really is quite light and almost anglicized. We also decided that this was someone who had spent a number of years in London, and was married to a Brit… so his accent was at a place where it come a lot softer than it could be. I listen to a lot of people like Andrew Scott and Tom Vaughn-Lawlor, worked a lot with the wonderful coaches — Neil Swain and Judith McSpadden — and luckily, you and Ed [Guiney] we’re never too far out of earshot! I didn’t want it too twangy, which I noticed it can sometimes be. That didn’t feel right for Nick. It was useful talking to you about that very particular world and upbringing. And although in some ways it’s very different, it was useful to get a flavour of some of those types of schools and boys and backgrounds from What Richard Did.

LA: I think it’s hard for people in our industry who gets a lot of attention not to let it go to their heads. You manage to be open, generous and kind to everyone that you’re working with. How do you guard against becoming disconnected from other people?

JA: Well, thanks for saying that but I make sure my days include plenty of crippling insecurity, impostor syndrome, and self-doubt. Plus, I’m awful to people behind their backs! No, I guess because why wouldn’t you be? it makes me frustrated, the rare times that you see people treat others unkindly on set. Who do you think you are?! I don’t know. you don’t see it often, and I’m lucky that I’ve never worked with a real tyrant, but I’ve seen flavours of that kind of behaviour and it doesn’t help anyone. I honestly think I’d find it harder to work if I ostracized myself from people in that way. it’s also literally our job to stay very connected and empathize with others… not to disconnect altogether and stand on some higher ground.

LA: Now that you worked with me, does it feel like you’ve peaked? Joking aside — I’m not joking — who are the filmmakers you’d be most excited to collaborate with?

JA: During these past few months that you’ve been in postproduction, I finally managed to process and (just about) come to terms with the fact that you were indeed my peak, my everything, my summit. My perfect pint of Guinness on a warm, sunny day. Where do I go from here? In all honesty, I have an overly long list of people I’d love to work with. Brace yourself… Off the top of my head… Chloé Zhao, Rob Eggers, Sean Durkin, Lynne Ramsey, the Coens, Luca Guadagnino, Debra Granik, Eliza Hittman, PTA, Francis Lee, Barry Jenkins, Marin McDonagh, Guillermo Del Toro, Chris Nolan, Andrea Arnold, Ruben Östlund, László Nemes, Greta Gerwig, Craig Gillespie… Okay enough! But it goes on…

LA: I love The Souvenir Part 2. Joanna Hogg is a brilliant filmmaker with a particular way of working with script. How was that experience for you?

JA: I loved being a part of that film! Joanna doesn’t, to my knowledge, ever give a script to the actors, so everything is improvised. You have no idea what the full story is, and only a few directions are given as to the shape of the scene. I found the improvisation scary but oddly liberating, and really refreshing. There’s nowhere to hide. You can’t not listen to whoever you’re talking to. There is no incoming queue. It feels real and alive. And Joanna will curate the scene after each take, honing in on the bits that worked well. I only popped in for a couple of days on the film but I’m so happy to have been a part of it and I’d love to work with Joanna again. Yes, she’s a brilliant filmmaker.

LA: Now that we are close to broadcasting the show, do you feel nervous about how it will be received, particularly in light of the success of Normal People?

JA: I don’t think it’s hit me at the people will actually see it. it still feels like we’re in this bubble of making it, maybe because the turn around was so fast and we only finished a few months ago… or maybe because it was created in the pandemic. Inevitably, as with anything, there are nerves about people seeing it. I do feel that it’s very different to normal people though. it shares similar qualities, but it does feel very much its own thing. It isn’t ‘Normal People Part II,’ and I think that separation helps. I’m happy that people will see the show soon. I hope it will at least spark some conversations… with… well, I don’t know, perhaps, their friends? Alright, enough for me! thanks so much for taking the time to ask me these questions, Lenny. I appreciate it. See you soon for a pint.



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