Just like a coin, there are two sides to Fionn O’Shea’s career thus far. One brings to life the wiry and often harmful Jamie, one of Marianne’s boyfriends who isn’t Connell in BBC Three’s Normal People. But on the other side of the coin, there is another O’Shea performance that’s quite different.
The rising Irish actor plays Eddie in endearing new film Dating Amber, which streams on Amazon Prime Video from today. It’s a teen coming-of-ager that frames a queer love story in a new light, one brimming with hope, wit and charm. Eddie, desperate to fit in, is a young gay man who starts a pretend straight relationship with school friend Amber (hence the title), played by Lola Petticrew. During production, O’Shea and Petticrew were best friends from the moment they met, and both are now firmly on the path to even bigger success.
Discussing the fine line between tragedy and comedy, the passionate hate he’s received from Normal People stans over the unlikable Jamie, and the filmmakers that he dreams of working with, O’Shea tells NME about his hopes for the future.
Eddie is very different to Jamie in Normal People – was that a difficult transition?
“The difficulty was that I had three days between finishing Dating Amber and starting Normal People – it was a massive shift. Although I don’t agree with 90 per cent of the stuff Jamie does, I had to be able to understand him. He is so insecure and jealous and anxious, but he hides it beneath that veil of hostility, aggression, racism, classism – and all this different stuff.
“The difficult thing was that it’s so exhausting being that nasty all the time! I remember after my first few days I was worried no one liked me. So separating the character from myself was a struggle.”
How has the response to the show been for you?
“I’ve been bombarded with hate, but in the best way! For people to feel so strongly about a character, be it love or hate, is incredible. I’m made up at the reaction. I do think some of the comparisons are maybe a little harsh, like comparing him to King Joffrey [Baratheon, from Game Of Thrones] – I don’t think he’s that bad, but I find the memes really funny actually.”
“There was only one that I took personally. Someone tweeted, “I hate everything about Jamie down to his stupid fucking sunglasses”, but they’re my own sunglasses… and not only are they my own sunglasses, they’re prescription sunglasses, so I need them to see things in real life. So now i’m going to have to either not be able to see, or get a new pair of prescription sunglasses!”
What was your first reaction to reading the script for Dating Amber?
“The moment I read it, I fell in love. It was so funny, but also heartwarming and heartbreaking. Sometimes you read something and think, ‘I really want to do this’ – and then sometimes you just know, ‘I need to do this.’ Thankfully they were willing to take a risk on me!”
What was so relatable about Eddie?
“I saw a lot of myself in him. Eddie is a bundle of insecurities – he has this artifice of masculinity that he’s cobbled together from films and TV and from his dad who’s in the army. So it’s this unwittingly comic attempt to be macho and masculine, while going completely against what he is. He’s also so strangled by his struggle with his sexuality and his parents’ marriage, which is breaking down, that he has no idea of who he is or what he can become until he meets Amber.”
How did you build that relationship with your co-star, Lola Petticrew?
“It was amazing. We describe the whole thing as lightning in a bottle. Dave [Freyne] wanted to cast people who could pretend to be best friends, and he cast people who ended up being best friends. He can’t believe his luck. We’ve spoken to each other every single day since starting rehearsals, which was two years ago. Also we’re isolating together now!”
The film walks a fine line between funny and sad – it feels like Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade. Did you discuss any other teen movies on set?
“Eighth Grade was a huge influence, particularly the score, which I love so much. They find the balance between humour and tragedy so beautifully.
“We also talked a lot about Booksmart, which came out around the time we were filming. Then whenever you’re making a high school film, John Hughes is obviously going to come up. Rushmore was another film we watched; a lot of Taika Waititi’s films too, so Hunt for the Wilderpeople was a big one.”
What do you hope audiences take from Dating Amber?
“Having queer stories framed in hope and optimism and joy is really important, because there was a time where a lot of queer stories on film were tragic, and that’s not reflective of the whole experience. It’s also a love story about platonic love, which I think is really gorgeous.”
Are there any filmmakers you’d love to work with?
“There are too many to name! I’d love to work with Bo Burnham, I think he’s incredible. And Greta Gerwig, Lynne Ramsay, Andrea Arnold…”
Paul Mescal said he’d love to play Gene Kelly in a film. Are there any people you’d have in mind for yourself?
“Maybe Michael Shannon, I find him so interesting as an actor and a person. I look nothing like him though! At the moment, I have to think of someone who is 24 but looks like they’re 12 years old, because that’s my casting bracket. I’ll put myself in the mix for Gene Kelly as well, and we can have a dance-off to see who can make it in.”