Daisy Edgar-Jones transforms into a wild girl

Good things 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 to her while she was working on another production. She read the book between scenes and filmed her audition on set.

Several years later, she was on that same set when she found out she had a chance to star in the film adaptation of Delia Owens’ “Where the Crawdads Sing,” which opens July 15 in the US.

“It seemed so crazy to me that they thought of me for that,” Edgar-Jones said last week from London. “I think I was surprised that they took me into consideration considering the popularity of the book and how important it was.”

“Where the Crawdads Sing” is about a girl named Kya who grows up alone in the swamps of North Carolina after her family abandons her. The story follows Kya from childhood in the 1950s to adulthood, as she navigates romance, rejection from the townspeople — which only intensifies when one of her suitors is found dead and she is brought to court — and find your own path and purpose.

Written by a debut novelist, a retired scientist in her 70s, “Where the Crawdads Sing” was an unlikely phenomenon thanks, at least in part, to actress Reese Witherspoon, who selected it for her book club in 2018. Witherspoon and film executive Elizabeth Gabler, who has been behind the adaptations of “The Devil Wears Prada” to “Hidden Figures” (“Hidden Figures”), acquired the rights to produce a feature film for Sony Pictures. Since its publication in 2018, “Where the Crawdads Sing” has sold more than 12 million copies and spent 150 weeks on the literary charts.

Edgar-Jones read it in one day and was captivated.

“It’s a thriller. It is a court drama. It is a story of survival. It is a love story. It is a love letter to nature. There are so many things”, said the actress. “Something that really left me is a new appreciation for nature and how kindness can affect someone’s life. Tate teaches Kya to read and that’s a real turning point in her life, it means she can make a life for herself. In a subtle way, she really celebrates education.”

A friend, the same one who filmed her audition for “Normal People,” helped her record it and send it in. She tells the story of her being offered the role of her the very next day.

“He is my lucky charm,” Edgar-Jones said. “I think I owe him my whole career.”

The actress ended up identifying with the “swamp girl” in unexpected ways. On the one hand there was loneliness and isolation due to the pandemic, but also a new appreciation of the environment.

“We were allowed a daily walk and suddenly I was introduced to little parks and things in my area that I just hadn’t had the time to experience,” the actress said. “The story is very much about reconnecting with a love of nature, which I think we often take for granted.”

To prepare, he learned to sail and fish and even took some drawing lessons. But, he laughed, “I can’t take any credit for the beautiful art in the movie.” And, of course, he worked with a vocal coach to trade his English accent for Kya’s Southern cadence from ages 15 to 40.

Before filming began, Owens told him not to worry and to do his best.

“It’s a lot of pressure. I wanted to get it right,” Edgar-Jones said. “She was really generous in that regard.”

The cast includes veteran actors like David Strathairn as his attorney, and up-and-coming actors like Harris Dickinson (Chase) and Taylor John Smith (Tate).

Lucy Alibar, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (translated in Latin America as “The Girl from the Wild South”, “Beasts from the Wild South” or “A Wonderful Girl”, depending on the country), adapted the novel Owens, and Olivia Newman, director of festival circuit favorite “First Match,” was hired to direct.

“She’s such a sensitive director,” Edgar-Jones said. “She has imbued the story with a lyricism and fairytale quality that is beautiful.”

The “Crawdads” crew is also full of women, from producers to cinematographers.

“It was very, very refreshing to see so many women behind the camera,” the actress said. “I found it incredibly inspiring.”

Still, nothing could have prepared her for the beauty and chaos of shooting in New Orleans in the late spring and early summer of 2021. It wasn’t unusual, she said, for the set to suddenly flood or for the cast and crew to have to take shelter in a car during a thunderstorm. But in those four months, everyone was able to make friends in the COVID-producing bubble in the swamp, eating, drinking and even kayaking in their spare time.

Edgar-Jones hasn’t had much time to process the past few years and the rise that has put her at the center of a huge summer release like “Where the Crawdads Sing.” For the most part, she appreciates the fact that she gets to spend a little more time at her house in London, especially on a sunny spring day. Last year, she said, she barely spent 10 days at her house in total. But she is taking everything in stride.

“I think that due to COVID my introduction to the world was much slower. Only in the last few months have I been able to see the effect that the ‘Normal People’ series has really had on my life,” she said. “I feel very lucky to be working. I love what I do”.

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