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Normal People star Paul Mescal wants sex scenes saved from Gen Z prudes

Paul Mescal (right) was one of the stars of Normal People
Paul Mescal (right) was one of the stars of Normal People - Everett Collection/Alamy

Putting sex on television is “massively important”, and removing it to placate Generation Z is “doing everybody a disservice”, the actor Paul Mescal has said.

Mescal, star of Normal People, which was praised for its sensitive and truthful portrayal of sex and relationships, said Gen Z’s distaste for intimacy on television is linked to the rise of internet porn.

But, he added, film and television makers must not be tempted to remove it from storytelling.

“It’s massively important,” he said of sex on screen. “If we remove it, to make younger people comfortable, we’d be doing everybody a disservice.

“Sex is a huge part of life, a form of communication.”

Research published last year found that Gen Z, viewers aged between 10 and 24 years old, believe there is too much sex on television.

A questionnaire-based study at the University of California, Los Angeles, found 51.5 per cent wanted more content focused on friendships and platonic relationships.

‘Romance overused’

Almost half said sex was not needed for most plots and a similar amount, 44 per cent, claimed romance was overused in television storylines.

Gen Z, it was reported, had a growing appetite for programmes that are entirely romance-free.

Normal People, broadcast on the BBC during the coronavirus pandemic, won critical acclaim for, among other things, its treatment of sex in its young adult characters.

“If you want a progressive male, sad character, I’m your guy!” Mescal joked, in an interview with The Sunday Times Culture magazine.

His latest role, in All of Us Strangers, sees him playing Harry, the neighbour and love interest of Adam, played by Andrew Scott.

Asked by The Sunday Times about the modern debate over whether straight actors can play gay characters, Mescal said: “It depends who’s in charge of telling the story.

“The issue is that there have been so many queer performances in cinema that have been offensive, but that’s because the film-makers and the actors have been careless.

“I don’t think this film exists in that conversation whatsoever. And that’s it.”

‘Content a filthy word’

Saying he takes the craft of acting “very seriously”, he also laments the trend for film and television studios picking actors based on their social media following and popularity.

“It scares me greatly,” he said. “Acting should never be reduced to numbers of Instagram followers.

“Over the last few years people have been talking about films and TV shows as ‘content’.

“That’s a filthy word. It’s not ‘content’, it’s f—ing work.

“I’m not being snobby, but there are two concurrent industries. One that works with a lack of care and artistic integrity. Go nuts, make stuff with Instagram followers as a factor, whatever...

“But the other is what’s always been there, the craft of film-making, directing, lighting and production design. That keeps artists alive. And audiences want to be challenged.”

All of Us Strangers, starring Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell and Claire Foy, is in cinemas from Jan 26.

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