After breaking out in Hulu's Normal People and making his film debut in The Lost Daughter, Paul Mescal shot three films over the course of 2021: The rural Gothic drama God's Creatures, the memoiristic Aftersun, and a modern day reimagining of Carmen, told through dance. He spent the better part of 2022 traveling to film festivals with the movies: The former both debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, and when they screened again at the Toronto International Film Festival, the latter premiered alongside them.
"Without sounding cliché, it is like a dream situation," says the actor. "If I got to draw a map of the films that I want to make and associate myself with, these would be the kind of films that I would make up for myself. So, it feels both really exciting and maybe slightly overwhelming at times, but really, really good."
Mescal began acting at age 16, and only because his primary school mandated that every student audition for the theater productions. He was cast in Phantom of the Opera as the Phantom. "It was a baptism by fire," he remembers. Still, "I fell in love with the process of rehearsing something and building an inner life of another person. And... I don't know. It's like, how do you describe what it's like to fall in love with something? It just was that."
For Aftersun, Mescal received his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The drama, writer-director Charlotte Wells' feature debut, sees him playing Calum, the young father of an 11-year-old daughter, as the two spent the week on a Turkish holiday. "To be recognized by the Academy is such an insane honour and I'm so utterly grateful," Mescal said of the nomination. "I want to dedicate this nomination to my two friends Charlotte and Frankiewho I love dearly! This is bananas!"
Below, Mescal shares with A.frame the five films the continue to inspire him.
This article was originally published on Sept. 29, 2022.
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance | Written by: Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne
One of the films that I saw in the early days in drama school was Blue Valentine. I didn't have a big film upbringing. I kind of got into it when I was in drama school — I was asking friends what I should watch, and Blue Valentine just happened to be one of the first ones that my friend recommended. I saw it and I was so deeply, profoundly upset by that film. I think it was the first time that I remember, like, truly wanting to switch off from the world for 10, 15, 20 minutes after the film. The performances and also the study of naturalism as a form of acting was so apparent to me in that film that it's stuck with me ever since.
Directed by: James Ivory | Written by: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Anthony Hopkins in anything, ever, always is my answer to that. I think it's a study in a particular repression that is reserved for men. There's just something so deeply sad and frustrating about watching Anthony Hopkins' character trying to navigate expressing his feelings. It's such a masterful performance, and one that my dad will watch and quote frequently. "I read books, Miss Kenton, to further my grasp on the English language," and he's holding his hand up to his face — it's so sad!
Written and Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Marriage Story was my favorite film of that year. I like when films allow actors to act, and that's the centerpiece of Marriage Story — these two towering performances. And the screenplay is so strong, and the ending is so moving. There's a theme of sadness here. And I think I was sad because it was hopeful. It was like a warm, sad cry.
Directed by: Elia Kazan | Written by: Tennessee Williams
I saw it in that formative drama school period, watching Marlon Brando kind of reinvent the wheel and do something that I don't think had been truly done before. I feel like James Dean started a conversation around naturalism and then Brando ran with it. It's just such a wonderful expression of toxicity in a way that is alluring and exciting to watch.
[In the West End revival of 'A Streetcar Named Desire,' Mescal starred as Stanley Kowalski, the role Brando played in the original 1947 Broadway production and the 1951 film.]
I feel honored to play a part that is so brilliantly written. Obviously, I feel frightened. I'm really trying to unremember and remember the parts of Brando's performance, as to not copy or even attempt to emulate it, but to remember what about his performance aligned with what I feel when I read the script. It's always fun to work on your favorite play, and it's a classic for a reason.
Directed by: László Nemes | Written by: László Nemes and Clara Royer
László Nemes is a wonderful director. It's my favorite film of the last 10 years. It's just a masterpiece. I recently got to work with the DP [Mátyás Erdély] who shot Son of Saul, and the first 10 minutes of that are where I feel like a super talented actor meets director meets DP — which only can happen in film. A different kind of alchemy happens on stage. But that first 10 minutes, I remember my jaw being on the ground and being like, 'This is a masterpiece.' And, really, trigger warning. It's really upsetting. It's a Holocaust film that is pretty brutal.