Even Paul Mescal himself — only now becoming widely known as the sensitive boyfriend on Normal People and a handsome distraction in The Lost Daughter — can admit that it's strange for him to be playing a tweenager's dad. But Aftersun, the delicate indie drama in which the 26-year-old Irish actor does exactly that, uses the slight oddness to its advantage.
"It's not a standard father-daughter relationship," Mescal says of his youthful, divorced Calum, on vacation with 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio, a true discovery). "I think they're friends first and foremost. And of course, he's a disciplinarian when he wants to be, when he's nervous about certain corners of the world that he doesn't really want her to venture. But then there are other moments when he is like: 'I've taken all the drugs in the world and you can too. Just promise me that you'll tell me.' You're basically seeing a young man navigating being a father, and I was able to access the young man a little easier than the father. And I just hoped that the love that I felt for Frankie would translate into something that felt authentic."
Aftersun is gathering the year's most rapturous reviews, a steady stream of praise not only for its two leads, but for its first-time feature director, 35-year-old Charlotte Wells. (Wells recently accepted the prize for breakthrough director at the Gotham Awards.) Paradoxically, for a movie with Oscar buzz you can hear months in advance, its performances are the opposite of loud. Mescal, especially, conveys an affecting sense of confusion that signals he's more than just a rising star, but a Streep-like talent who should be around for a while.
"It has asked me to remember my relationship with my own parents in a way that I haven't ever thought about," Mescal says. "And how demanding it is on parents. When you're a child, you look up to them like they're icons — they're the people who teach you everything. But what I think this film does is show you that your parents don't always have the answers. But they're expected to have them."
You can listen to more of our interview with Mescal in the podcast episode below, where he spoke about the power of a quiet script, the accent he tried hardest to avoid, and the rush of being in a Cannes sensation. Plus, check out the full episode to hear Team Awardist's thoughts on Mescal's Oscars chances, our in-the-room impressions of the Academy's Governors Awards, and more.
Reporting by Dave Karger.