“It’s nice to not have you propped up on seven books,” muses Daisy Edgar-Jones, as she compares her Fresh promotional trail to her Normal People experience. The BBC drama that catapulted the actor into the spotlight aired almost two years ago, when the world was at a standstill. Edgar-Jones was confined to the four walls of her room for interviews, relying on her trusty laptop to transport her all over the world as she talked about portraying Marianne opposite Paul Mescal’s Connell. She wishes she had been able to share the experience with “best friend” Mescal, she tells me.
Swapping one leading man for another, Edgar-Jones — who got her first credited TV role in the 2016 revival of Cold Feet — is now starring opposite Sebastian Stan in new Disney+ dark comedy Fresh. The London-born actor was a fan of the Marvel star long before their first meeting. “I loved his performance in I, Tonya,” she tells me. The professional admiration was mutual. “He was a fan of [Normal People], so that was really cool,” she reveals, excitedly. At a special screening of the film, hosted by Edgar-Jones, a pre-recorded video message from Stan ends with him bellowing: “Daisy Edgar-Jones, you’re the most incredible person in the world!” In response, Daisy quips: “I paid him to say that.”
Directed by Mimi Cave, Fresh is not for the faint-hearted — or the weak-stomached, but we’ll get to that in a minute. [Warning: Spoilers ahead.] The action follows Noa, a twenty-something woman, who is disillusioned with the substandard men she finds on dating apps. (Relatable, right?) It seems as though her luck is changing, however, when she enjoys a supermarket *meat-cute* with handsome doctor Steve, portrayed by Stan. He appears to be perfect, but a romantic weekend away changes everything. Steve drugs and kidnaps Noa, before introducing her to his strangely-acquired eating habit: cannibalism.
In a moment that would undoubtedly leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth, Steve tells his captive: “I’m going to sell your meat.” But he doesn’t plan to kill her straight away, oh no, he wants to keep her alive, and carve away at her piece-by-piece. “The fresher the meat, the better [it tastes],” he casually informs her. I wonder how Edgar-Jones felt upon first reading this gruesome reveal in the script. “I was flabbergasted. I hadn’t known what the film was really about,” she admits.
The plot gets wilder as the film progresses, and what ensues is a frantic, yet cautiously-executed, fight for survival, as Noa grapples to reclaim her body. That’s right, there are no shining knights in this story: the women are their own heroes.
Below, Daisy talks about filming intense scenes with Sebastian Stan, the disasters of modern dating, spotlighting the shared female experience, and returning to Normal People.
The moment where Noa wakes up and realises she’s chained to the wall makes for tense viewing, especially when she nervously asks Steve if he’s going to “rape” her. How did you navigate those scenes with Sebastian?
We played it in a number of ways before settling on how to do it. Noa’s initial instinct is to deny it’s happening, and pretend it’s a joke. We [women] tend to go, “There’s no way this is happening right now.” It was a really tricky one to do, and quite exhausting, as well. You put yourself through such a traumatic experience, so it was lucky I got on so well with Sebastian.
We did a lot of rehearsals together and talked about it a lot, as it was really important to get it right. If we hadn’t nailed that moment, then we wouldn’t have earned the rest of the film.
The intimacy scenes between Sebastian and Noa are brief, but the fight scenes are lengthy and all-consuming. The kitchen battle where Steve’s captives, Noa, Molly, and Penny, unite in the fight of their lives is chaotic. Tell me, how did you prepare for that?
We did stunt rehearsals, and it was really fun. I’d never done proper stunts before this. Sebastian has been in Marvel films for over a decade, he’s so good at all of that stuff. It was good to watch him in action. [Laughs] What I really like about those scenes is they’re quite funny, too. None of these women have ever had to fight for their lives before, so it’s fun to play on the messiness of it all. They’re not going to be trained and ready to go.
When they beat Steve up, the after-effect is that he [physically] becomes the monster he is on the inside. His face is completely swollen and disfigured. He’s pathetic, and I love that we leave him that way.
When you’re walking home, and there’s someone behind you, your first thought is, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s going to happen?’ It’s become so normalised that we [women] live with this fear.
We have to talk about when Noa, in an effort to escape, takes a bite out of Steve’s, erm, little friend. Talk about reality biting back. It’s such a visual moment when we see the blood dripping down her face. I imagine it’s like nothing you’ve ever filmed before, is that fair to say?
Definitely! We put this fake blood all over my face, and I later had to run through the woods with it on. It was definitely the strangest costume and make-up I’ve ever worn. I write in a sentence-a-day diary, with this year’s entry written underneath last year’s memories. It’s so funny looking back at what I wrote. It’s like, bloody hell, that was a mad experience.
There are two spontaneous dance scenes between Noa and Steve. Their first is rather cute, the second one, not so much, as it occurs when Noa’s being held captive. Were they awkward to film, and how much was improvised?
The first one, when they’re on a date, that was all improvised. It was fun, and, yes, I did feel very awkward, but that worked for Noa! The second dance was cool, because Mimi, our director, used to be a dancer, so she’s great with movement. She had a really specific vision for how we would move. We had a short routine which we rehearsed, and I loved it. The other scenes were quite heavy, so it was fun to have a little dance.
Cannibalism aside, this film offers quite an accurate portrait of the mundanity of today’s dating scene. In the beginning, we see Noa mindlessly swiping through the profiles of potential suitors. Did you resonate with that depiction of modern dating?
It was definitely something I was interested in exploring. This weird consumerist idea of how we now date. We swipe left as though we’re looking for a new pair of socks. [Laughs] We become a page or a profile, and that’s all we are, really. Also, the constant sort of balance we have to make as to how much we will let our guard down, whilst being aware of the risk that brings.
Noa’s first date feels incredibly authentic. From the awkward exchange about paying the bill to how he doesn’t handle her rejection well. But I especially liked the inclusion of Noa’s rushed, scared walk to her car afterwards. Did you base that on any real-life dating disasters or conversations with friends?
That scene of her walking alone at night was so subtle and well observed. It’s something my friends and I talk about. When you’re walking home, and there’s someone behind you, your first thought is, “Oh my gosh, what’s going to happen?” It’s become so normalised that we [women] live with this fear.
I found the first date scene fun to film. Brett Dier, who plays my app match, Chad, is a genius. It was great how that scene ended with his scarf dipping in the noodles.
I love how a man wearing that scarf has the audacity to tell Noa that she should have worn a dress…
[Laugh] I know! Such audacity.
There are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments in Fresh. Were you eager to explore the comedy within the gory storyline?
I was so excited to dive into a comedy. Before Normal People, I mostly did guest roles in comedy series like Cold Feet and Outnumbered. Comedy is where I feel most comfortable. I enjoyed being able to just be funny and improvise.
What struck me about this film is that it is a love story, not between Steve and Noa, but with Noa and her BFF, Mollie. How did you enjoy the female unity and empowerment aspect to this story?
It’s so true. I loved working with Jojo T. Gibbs [Mollie] — and it’s so important to champion female friendships, and to see the strength of shared female experiences on screen. Ultimately, that’s what helped the women overcome Steve.
I’m interested to know if you think there’s a deeper meaning to Fresh. If yes, what would you say it is?
It’s a social thriller, so there are aspects you can take away, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with its messaging. You can watch and enjoy it as a crazy, tongue-in-cheek genre film or you can leave thinking about the shared female experience, the general dating anxiety, and that we do sometimes walk home with our keys in our hand. It will resonate with everyone in a different way, so I’m excited to see how everyone reacts.
You mentioned experiencing all of the Normal People hysteria online rather than in-person. I wonder, because of that distance, did it take you a while longer to realise just how much your life had changed?
A little part of my brain was like, “Is this even real?” After it aired, I went abroad for a year to film, so I went from one bubble to another. It’s only these past few months of being back home, going out and about a little more, that I’ve finally been able to register how viewed the show really was.
Everyone is lovely about it. I’ve had people say to me, “Normal People was a real highlight of my lockdown,” which is so nice to hear. For people to still feel that way, almost two years later, is wild to me. Also, the fact that I went into lockdown at the age of 21, and I’m now 23, is crazy.
Would you be open to reprising the role of Marianne, and reuniting on-screen with Paul Mescal, in the future?
If the opportunity arose, definitely! Playing Marianne was one of the biggest joys of my life. To do it again would be amazing. Paul’s one of my best friends. It launched both of our careers, and I feel so lucky that we were together for that experience. I’m really excited to see where we’ll both be in 10 years, and we’ll know it all began with Marianne and Connell.