Why Paul Mescal Is Afraid of the Fame ‘Gladiator 2’ Might Bring


Paul Mescal is crossing his fingers that Ridley Scott’s Gladiator 2 won’t make him more famous than he already is when it hits theaters in November. Mescal is one of the industry’s buzziest new stars, after breaking out in Normal People and securing an Oscar nomination for Aftersun. He’s also getting some awards buzz this year for his performance in Andrew Haigh’s erotic melodrama All of Us Strangers.

Although Gladiator 2 will be Mescal’s first lead performance in a major blockbuster, the actor admitted to The Times U.K. (via Variety) that he’s not excited about any additional fame the project might bring him.

“I don’t know what the difference will be,” Mescal told The Times when asked how he anticipates the film changing his public image. “Maybe that’s naive? Is it just that more people will stop you in the street? I’d get profoundly depressed if that’s so and hope it isn’t true.

“I’ll have an answer next year, but if [Gladiator 2] impacts my life in that way, I’ll be in a bad spot. I’d have to move on and do an obtuse play nobody wants to see,” he joked.

Mescal seemed to have little patience for the way his industry tabulates stardom, hitting back against the notion that acting, and fame in general, is inextricably tied to social media popularity. “What are we doing this for?” he asked rhetorically. “It scares me greatly. Acting should never be reduced to numbers of Instagram followers.”

Noting that he takes acting “very seriously,” Mescal expressed further dismay that his industry is determined to distill all art into streaming juggernauts. “Over the last few years people have been talking about films and TV shows as content,” he lamented. “That’s a filthy word. It’s not ‘content,’ it’s fucking 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 filmmaking, directing, lighting, and production design. That keeps artists alive. And audiences want to be challenged.”

Mescal never explicitly said that he sees fame as directly oppositional to his desire to disappear into a variety of roles, but he’s danced around the topic in other interviews, as well. The actor has given a variety of soundbites about his work on Gladiator 2 that betray a nervousness to immerse himself in blockbuster films.

Last month, Mescal told Natalie Portman that the movie is “a big departure from everything that I’ve done before” while regaling his grueling training schedule. In August, he admitted that the movie had left him “stressed” and that he was “too afraid” to approach co-star Pedro Pascal during filming.

“I can’t tell you how stressed I am talking about that film in particular, because it’s definitely the biggest one I’ve done,” he told Esquire. “I feel really excited, but, like, it’s difficult to get away from the legacy of the [first] film a bit.”

Gladiator 2 will hit theaters on November 22. All of Us Strangers is currently in release.

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