Conversations with Friends, the second televisual adaptation of a Sally Rooney novel, details the emotional intricacies of navigating a relationship in an age of nontraditional romantic entanglements. For Nick and Melissa Conway (Joe Alwyn and Jemima Kirke), their life as a married couple is turned upside down after the two unexpectedly agree to enter into a polyamorous relationship with Frances (Alison Oliver), a student who establishes a deeply passionate exchange with Nick. Meanwhile, Melissa begins to grow increasingly fond of Bobbi (Sasha Lane), the ex-girlfriend and best friend of Frances, as Nick and Melissa maneuver outside the strict confines of monogamy on this complicated journey of self discovery.
S/ recently spoke with Kirke and Lane about how this series relates to its source material, the intricacies of personal connections, and the importance of emotional intelligence.
What initially drew you both to your roles within the show?
Jemima Kirke: “Initially, I put off reading the script because I was in the middle of shooting Sex Education and I couldn’t imagine doing another job, especially since it would be on location, and I would be away from my kids for weeks. I kept ignoring the email, but then finally my agent stepped in and said, ‘You must do it, trust me!’
The more I prepared for the audition, the more I loved the content. I have done so many auditions, which are not really my strong suit, so I didn’t have high expectations for myself—but I ended up getting the part!”
Sasha Lane: “First off, I really liked the book so that initially had me intrigued. My character Bobbi is very bold, blunt, and many would consider her the life of the party. It was kind of exciting to take all those things but also bring more sensitivity to who she is and understand why the people around her have this opinion of her.”
Do you feel like that was a bit of a departure from how you usually are as a person outside of a role?
SL: “In a weird way it was bringing myself to into the role. Frances is exactly how people would view me—they think I am super wild, an extrovert, and that I have all this energy. But at the same time, I care deeply about how my words and actions can affect people, even if I do am inclined to speak the truth and tell things like they are. It was nice to finally be able to portray someone who is very brash but not be typecast as being devoid of emotion. ‘Cool girls’ can also be sensitive and emotionally intelligent.”
How do you feel that the trials and tribulations the characters endure throughout the show nuance the human experience?
JK: “My character Melissa is up against a situation that would have most people questioning how they would act in a similar circumstance. Some might find her heroic for allowing her husband to engage in another relationship, but at the same time trusting the strength of their own romantic bond. However, I personally don’t view it as being purely selfless—I think there is a strategy involved into why Melissa would agree to this arrangement. I don’t think she’s lacking in ego that’s for sure.
Melissa probably never considered polyamory, which is why it is fascinating to watch how someone who thought they were in a monogamous relationship deal with that shift. We have all probably asked ourselves that question at least once.”
SL: “It’s interesting being a spectator and watching this experiment unfold. Once the initial rush of being in this relationship has simmered down and the passionate sense of romance at the beginning starts to fizzle, you really see a clear picture of each other and realize that maybe this wasn’t meant to be.”
JK: “This is a way to put Melissa in a more attractive light, because she’s thinking if she allows this to happen, then she is the best wife in the entire world. She knows her husband well enough to understand that he won’t be able to handle two women at the same time, especially since my character is a little older and more mature, which he will eventually come to realize while dating a more naïve 21-year-old.”
Do you feel that it can be quite daunting working on a project that’s an adaptation of a book? Is there a pressure to do its source material justice?
SL: “Working on an adaptation is like walking into a situation where you know people will already have reservations about the project before they’ve even seen it. However, you need to have faith that you can do the story justice and that both the book and the show can coexist at the same time and express the story in their own unique ways.”
JK: “Fans of the book will be more scrutinizing, but I think a well-made adaptation doesn’t need to be the same as the book—if someone’s looking for an exact replica, they most likely won’t like the show. Sally Rooney was hardly involved in this production, so it will exist as its own entity.”