“The fandom on the show has been amazing, and seeing people have articulate discussions about character is so satisfying,” says Mescal, who notes that “99 percent” of his interactions with fans have been “really positive.” And that’s not even mentioning the praise he’s received from veteran actors, from Hugh Jackman to Richard E. Grant.
Some aspects of celebrity are a bit stranger. Getting photographed wearing short shorts on the way back from the corner shop, for instance. Or going for a jog. Or simply walking down the street looking at his phone. “I just find the whole thing a little bit toxic,” he says of the paparazzi. He underwent his first round of relationship speculation in the tabloids this summer, when reports emerged that he and the indie musician Phoebe Bridgers ate breakfast together in Ireland. (He declined to talk about the particulars.) And how does he feel about Connell’s chain—the chain that launched a thousand posts and think pieces and shopping guides?
“It wasn’t something that we put any focus on during filming. I think there has been a kind of leaning on the sexualizing of it, which has been a little bit difficult to adjust to,” Mescal says. “I don’t really have a response to it, because I don’t know what to say other than it’s a chain, and it’s a chain that’s referenced in the book, and it’s a chain that Connell wears. It’s not something I lie in bed thinking about at night.” (Mescal did seize on the momentum and raffle off his own, similar chain, raising 70,000 euros for a suicide-prevention organization in Ireland. He gave Edgar-Jones the original from the show as a gift.)
The attention swirling around the chain does get at something deeper: the reality of coming to prominence in the middle of an era when over-the-top male objectification is par for the course. I ask if it bothers him. “Honest answer? Yes,” he tells me. “It’s not something that I try to lean into. But I put it down to the audience’s associations with Connell rather than with me.”
He is quick to say that, of course, he is not ambivalent about his fame. That he feels “totally privileged” to be in the position that he’s in. He is, after all, having a great year. One of the best, even. And if anyone didn’t expect it to all happen so quickly for Paul Mescal, it was Paul Mescal.
“To be thrust into the spotlight in a time when everyone’s living in these really stressful environments of fucking COVID and trying to survive…” He takes a deep sigh. “It’s just been the most adrenaline-fueled, stressful, exciting time of my life.”
Gabriella Paiella is a GQ staff writer.
A version of this story originally appears in the November 2020 issue with the title “Everybody Has a Crush on Paul Mescal.”
Photographs by Alasdair McLellan
Styled by Ellie Grace Cumming
Grooming by Joe Mills using Joe Mills x Primark
Tailoring by Holly Harris for Karen Avenell
Produced by Ragi Dholakia Productions
Special thanks to Epping Forest, London