Sally Rooney’s novels reset expectations of Ireland, says TV director | Drama

The Irish director behind Conversations With Friends and Normal People said he enjoys portraying a modern, uncluttered Ireland in hit TV shows.

Lenny Abrahamson, who adapted Sally Rooney’s first two novels for the screen, said he noticed stark differences between the Ireland of Rooney’s generation and his own.

“I found it fascinating to visit people’s lives in much the same place I had been. I went to Trinity College, I remember my feelings walking through the door for the first time, so I can directly compare these two generations,” he told the Radio schedules.

“I found that really uplifting and positive. I thought, God, these people and the world they inhabit is so much less encumbered by some of the things that Irish people had on their backs when I was that age. So , recognizing this is an opportunity to show this culture and this place in its new form.

Abrahamson, 55, best known for his 2015 film Room, which received four Oscar nominations, said he believed the clichés of Ireland were still there. “Sally’s work is like a huge palate cleanser, it resets your expectations,” he said.

Normal People, Rooney’s searing tale of teenage first love, and Conversations With Friends, which focuses on the relationship between a group of young Dubliners, have emerged from the youth-only BBC Three Online to become huge BBC One hits. They propelled the careers of actors Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal (Normal People), as well as Alison Oliver who stars alongside Joe Alwyn in Conversations With Friends.

Abrahamson said he felt responsible for the young actors while filming the sex scenes prevalent in both shows. One such scene in Normal People lasted over nine minutes, making up a third of the episode.

“Intimacy in these series is an essential part of the story. It’s not decorative. We felt very responsible, so during filming [we had] an intimacy coordinator. We created a safe environment and showed the actors the episodes before they aired, to make sure they were happy,” he said.

After the release of Normal People, clips of intimate scenes were taken out of context and posted on porn sites. At the same time, callers to RTÉ Radio 1’s Liveline program complained about the show’s sex scenes.

Abrahamson said everyone involved with the show believed their work was “good and important” and could be defended. “I don’t think that [the repurposing of footage on porn websites] hurt one of the actors.

The production team was quick to remove all clips from porn sites, he said. “I think that’s all you can do, otherwise you let the worst people in society determine what you can do because of how they interpret it.”

Abrahamson said viewer complaints reflected Ireland’s historically Catholic culture. “But ultimately I think it was a positive experience. That episode of Liveline became iconic precisely because it doesn’t represent the country now. We could watch it and shake our heads, whereas before it was the dominant point of view,” he said.

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