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"It's a very modern love story." The Conversations With Friends cast on what to expect from the series.

There's an inherent interest in Conversations With Friends - the second limited series to be based on a book by Irish author Sally Rooney.

The story is separate from the first, Normal People, which took an isolated world by storm in April 2020, but there are plenty of similarities in the Irish setting, the class dynamics, complicated relationships and excruciating longing.

Conversations With Friends is Rooney's debut novel. It follows college student, Frances, her ex-girlfriend turned best friend Bobbi, and married couple Melissa and Nick. Things get murky when Frances and Nick begin an affair, with the book exploring love in all its forms - in romance and friendships - and what happens if you love multiple people at the same time.

Watch: The Conversations With Friends trailer. Post continues below video.


Video via Amazon Prime Video.

The series' leads, Joe Alwyn as Nick and Alison Oliver as Frances, could very well be staring down the barrel of a stint as the internet's 'celebrities of the moment', just like their Rooney-verse predecessors Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones in 2020. 

This may offer a look into their future career prospects too, with both Mescal and Edgar-Jones establishing very successful careers after appearing as Connell and Marianne in Normal People.

But if they're thinking about that, they aren't letting on.

"I find it quite hard to jump ahead and think about that," Alwyn told Mamamia in an interview ahead of the series release, a stance that's echoed by his co-stars Oliver and Jemima Kirke, who plays his on-screen wife, Melissa.

"Throughout the story you're not really sure who you're with at each time, and I think that's really interesting and I can't wait to hear what people get from that," Oliver added.

"And then I think all the other stuff, I'll just roll with the weirdness of it all I guess," she laughed.

As fans of the book, Alwyn and Oliver both jumped at the chance to be involved in the TV adaptation, which brings together much of the same team as Normal People - including Oscar-nominated director Lenny Abrahamson.

"I would've willingly jumped into anything that [Rooney] wrote, I was such a fan of the book and along with many, many people found there's something so relatable and grounded about her characters and what she's talking about," Alwyn said.

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"It's a very modern love story, and the themes that she is exploring are provocative and interesting and thought-provoking. That, coupled with the fact that I knew Lenny was involved in directing and I'd been a fan of his for a long time, it was just such an exciting opportunity."

Image: Prime Video.

Conversations With Friends covers a lot of complex themes - from self-esteem to sexuality to class - but ultimately, it's about the human need for love and the complexities that come from that.

For Oliver, it was how the storyline breaks society's 'rules' for love that struck her the most.

"That idea, 'you can love so many people and you cannot control that', it's all the social or cultural messaging that makes that so complicated but the actual feeling is really simple, it's just love," she explained.

"The way that Sally does it is so wonderful, because she just presents you with that reality. This is just the place for these people and they have developed these relationships... And hopefully, through the narrative and through the journey that they're going on, that just opens itself up to you and you kind of go 'oh yeah, of course, that's the decision that they would make.'"

For the cast, the magic of the series was in peeling back the layers of their characters, each relatable, but not always likeable. They are nuanced, with secrets that only reveal themselves if you stick around. 

"They're all so wonderfully written, and there's so much to them and I think when you keep on peeling back layers, just more and more comes out," Oliver said.

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"Speaking for Frances, when I first read the book, I found that she immediately has this guardedness, and I was so interested in uncovering that and wondering why she behaves the way she does or why she feels the way she feels."

Image: Prime Video.

Alwyn is the first to admit that when audiences first meet Nick, they're probably going to find him maddening.

"One of the reasons I liked him and was interested in him was when you meet him initially he is incredibly mysterious and enigmatic, and a little bit aloof and hard to read," he said.

"He keeps his cards close to his chest, to a frustrating sense in the first few episodes, but you don't really know what's happened before the story's begun, and he's in a place of recovery in a way, and he's slightly numb to the world.

"As it goes on, you get to peel back those layers and see where he's coming from. As he has this relationship with Frances which brings him back to life, it was interesting looking at those layers and peeling them back. They're all just deep, complex characters and I saw him as a joy to play."

What's also appealing is the setting. We watch so many TV shows with incredible settings and larger-than-life characters, which are admittedly very interesting, but in Conversations With Friends, the story is set in everyday places with everyday people. It's quite easy to imagine yourself in the story.

For Kirke, that presented a unique acting challenge too. 

Unlike her co-stars, she had not read Rooney's source material before being approached for the project, and so it was this context that got her interested.

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"It was told in quite a mundane setting, everything about the setting and the scenes and the actions that happened were so normal, and so every day and so unremarkable," she told Mamamia.

"The story itself, what was remarkable about it had to come from the performance, right? Because nothing really happens in this story. You have the affair of course, but in a way affairs are somewhat every day. Anyone can have an affair, it's not necessarily a standout thing, depending on the details of course.

"And that's a challenge. You don't have the narrative to carry you in the performance. Ordering a cup of coffee at a coffee shop cannot be just ordering a cup of coffee at a coffee shop, it has to be made to be remarkable."

Image: Prime Video.

Kirke said she was met with a lot of questions about Melissa's behaviour and motivations. Her method of getting into a role is through writing, both about and as the character.

"The writing is basically just me trying to figure out who this person is, without going straight to the director or the writer. When I read a script I have questions, if I'm paying attention I will have questions, and I try to answer those questions in my writing," she explained.

"My first question for Melissa was 'why does she want to be friends with Frances and Bobbi?' and I really didn't know the answer so I had to try to find it."

In some cases, she could answer her questions by establishing a backstory or entertaining the world of her character, but with Conversations With Friends, Rooney had already provided her with that information, so she had to go deeper.

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"What I would be bringing to it is my own points of view. How I might feel, why I might do it. I try not to do that, it's not ideal, but that's the first step. Then hopefully as I keep writing I get closer to why Melissa's doing it."

Unlike her co-stars, Kirke has experience with the strange level of intrigue that can come from being on a TV show everyone is talking about.

Image: Prime Video.

She gained international acclaim as Jessa on Girls, and in 2021 appeared in a new, main role on beloved Netflix series Sex Education. Even so, she tries not to think about what happens when a show 'goes out into the world'.

"It does cross my mind in the same way it crosses anyone's mind when they're making something. Being an artist is, you're making yourself pretty vulnerable, you know. Insofar as my insecurities, yes [I think about it], but not in terms of the show itself or the work... It would be irrelevant because its taking away from what we're making right now. I have no control, the only control I have over its success is how present I am in making it."

Instead, all the cast are united in their hope that the show sparks - terrible pun incoming - conversations between viewers and their friends.

"I do hope people discuss it and it is thought-provoking in the same way that Sally's books are," Alwyn said. 

"I like that she's asking messy questions and doesn't give a neat, tidy answer at the end. I think the show is similarly complicated and messy in the right way."

Conversations With Friends premieres May 16 on Prime Video.

Feature image: Prime Video/Mamamia.

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