Good things seem to happen to Daisy Edgar-Jones while she’s busy doing something else. Her breakout role as Marianne in the popular Hulu miniseries “Normal People” came about while she was on another production. She read the book in between takes and filmed her audition on set.
Several years later, she was on that same set when she found out that she had a shot at starring in the big screen adaptation of Delia Owens’ “ Where the Crawdads Sing ” (in theaters July 15).
“It was so wild to me that they were thinking of me for it,” Edgar-Jones said last week from London. “I think I was surprised to be in consideration considering the popularity of the book and just how important it was.”
“Where the Crawdads Sing” is about a girl named Kya who grows up alone in the marshes of North Carolina after her family abandons her. The story follows Kya from her childhood in the 1950s to adulthood as she navigates romances, ostracization from the townspeople — which only intensifies when one of her suitors is found dead and she’s brought to court — and finding her own path and purpose.
Written by a debut novelist, a retired scientist in her 70s, “Where the Crawdads Sing” became an unlikely phenomenon thanks at least in part to actor Reese Witherspoon, who selected it for her book club in 2018. Witherspoon and longtime film executive Elizabeth Gabler, who has been behind adaptations from “The Devil Wears Prada” to “Hidden Figures,” acquired the rights to produce a feature film for Sony Pictures. Since coming out in 2018, “Where the Crawdads Sing” has sold over 12 million copies and spent 150 weeks on the best seller list.
Edgar-Jones read the book in a day and was captivated.
“It’s a thriller. It’s a courtroom drama. It’s a survival story. It’s a love story. It’s a love letter to nature. It’s so many things,” Edgar-Jones said. “Something I really took away from it is a newfound appreciation for the wild and how much kindness can affect somebody’s life. Kya is taught to read by Tate and that’s a real turning point in her life, it means she’s able to make a life for herself. In a subtle way, you know, it does really sort of celebrate education.”
A friend, the same one who filmed her “Normal People” audition, helped put her on tape and sent it in. As the story goes, she was offered the part the next day.
“He’s my lucky charm,” she said. “I think I owe my entire career to him.”
She found herself relating to the “marsh girl” in unexpected ways. There was the loneliness and isolation of COVID-19 quarantines, but also a newfound appreciation for her surroundings.
“We were allowed one daily walk and suddenly I was introduced to little parks and things in my area that I just hadn’t had time to experience,” she said. “The story is so much about reconnecting with a love of nature that I think we often kind of take for granted.”
To prepare, she learned how to boat and fish and even took some drawing lessons. But, she laughed, she “cannot take any credit for the beautiful drawings in the film.” And, of course, she worked with a vocal coach to transform her English accent into Kya’s southern lilt from age 15 through 40.
Before filming started, Owens told her not to worry and to just do her best.
“It’s a lot of pressure. I wanted to get it right,” Edgar-Jones said. “She was really generous in that way.”
The cast includes both veterans, like David Strathairn as her lawyer, and up-and-comers, like Harris Dickinson (Chase) and Taylor John Smith (Tate).
Lucy Alibar, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” adapted Owens’ novel and Olivia Newman, the director of the festival circuit darling “First Match,” was enlisted to direct.
“(Olivia’s) such a sensitive director,” Edgar-Jones said. “She has imbued the story with a lyricism and a fairy tale quality that’s so beautiful.”
The “Crawdads” team is full of women, too, from the producers to the director of photography.
“It was just really, really refreshing to see so many women behind the camera,” she said. “I found that incredibly inspiring.”
Nothing could have prepared her for the beauty, and chaos, of the New Orleans shoot in the late spring early summer of 2021, though. It was not uncommon, she said, for the set to flood all of a sudden or for the cast and crew to have to take shelter in a car while a lightning storm passed. But in those four months everyone was also able to bond in the COVID production bubble in the bayou, eating, drinking and even kayaking during their downtime.
Edgar-Jones hasn’t had much time to process the past few years and the ascent that has put her at the center of a major summer movie like “Where the Crawdads Sing.” She’s mostly just appreciative of the fact that she’s able to spend a little more time at home in London, especially on a sunny Spring day. Last year, the actor said, she was home for 10 days total. But she’s taking everything in stride.
“I think that because of COVID my introduction to the world was a lot slower. It’s only in the past few months that I’ve sort of experienced the effect that the show ‘Normal People’ has actually had on my life,” Edgar-Jones said. “I just feel very lucky to be working. I love what I do.”
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Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press